14 protestors calling on Walz to divest from Israel cited for trespassing at his residence

protestors hold the Palestinian flag
More than 200 protestors gathered in front of Governor Walz's residence in St. Paul to demand he divest state pensions from Israel, ahead of a State Board of Investment meeting Thursday.
Cari Spencer | MPR News

Updated: 7:39 p.m.

Fourteen protesters were cited for trespassing during a protest on Wednesday evening at the governor’s temporary home in St. Paul.

About a 100 people were there to call on the state to cut financial ties with Israel, ahead of Thursday’s State Board of Investment meeting, where dozens of Minnesotans spoke in favor of divestment from accounts that benefit Israel.

The Minnesota State Patrol said the protesters climbed the fence at EastCliff mansion, where Gov. Tim Walz and his family are living during renovations to the governor’s residence.

Protesters said they staged Wednesday’s sit-in to protest the state’s investments in Israel.

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The governor’s office has previously stated that $116 million is invested in support of Israel. But Pro-Palestinian activists said investments total over $3 billion, including indirect investments and entities that profit from Israel, such as weapons manufacturing companies Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

Gov. Tim Walz — who sits on the board alongside Attorney General Keith Ellison, Secretary of State Steve Simon and State Auditor Julie Blaha — thanked those who spoke. Walz adjourned the meeting without directly responding to pleas from pensioners. The board did not comment, either, on remarks calling for divestment from the fossil fuel industry and private equity.

Rows of people holding Palestinian flags, several with red “blood” on their hands, chanted “Divest now!” as the board left the room.

“I’m ashamed to find out that my pension is made up of blood money,” said Deb Konechne, a public health nurse at Hennepin County. “As a nurse, I’ve worked to protect, heal and improve human lives. How do I reconcile this when our pension funds are invested in the genocide and murder of over 29,000 Palestinians, the majority of whom are women and children?”

a person holding a sign that reads not in my name
Minnesotans in support of Palestine filled multiple rows at a State Board of Investment meeting Thursday, demanding the board, which includes Governor Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison, divest state pensions from investments that support Israel.
Cari Spencer | MPR News

Since Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel, killing over 1,200 Israelis, more than 30,000 Palestinians have been killed in the war, according to Gaza’s health ministry, which says the majority killed have been women and children.

“I’m ashamed to have my livelihood by funded by genocide,” said Jes Sundin, a retired University of Minnesota clerical worker. “This is happening every day, and you are helping pay for it with my pension money. I don’t want that. I don’t want a full refrigerator when there’s no food in Gaza. I don’t want my mortgage paid off over the dead bodies of Palestinians.”

The International Court of Justice has found it “plausible” that Israel has committed acts violating the Genocide Convention and ordered Israel to take measures to stop anything in relation to genocide in Gaza.

United Nations officials have accused Israel of “systematically” blocking aid from reaching Palestinians in Gaza. One official recently said over half a million people are “one step away from famine” and that one in six children under the age of two in Northern Gaza suffer from acute malnutrition.

Two years ago, Gov. Walz signed legislation directing the State Board of Investors to divest from Russia, as punishment for the invasion of Ukraine. Similar moves have targeted Sudan and Iran in the past.

State legislation prevents Minnesota from engaging in “discrimination against Israel,” including “actions that are intended to limit commercial relations with Israel.”

That law is referred to by some as Minnesota’s “Anti-BDS Law.” BDS, short for Boycott, Divest, Sanctions, is a global protest movement that has been around for almost two decades, drawing on the South African anti-apartheid fight and U.S. civil rights movement to push for “resistance to Israeli occupation, colonialism and apartheid.”

Several Minnesotans calling for divestment from Israel referenced previous divestment actions from holdings in South Africa, prior to the end of apartheid.

Some have accused BDS of being antisemitic, asserting that its three primary demands — to end Israel’s occupation of all land captured in 1967, to grant “full equality” to Palestinian citizens of Israel, and to assure the right of Palestinians refugees to return to their homes after being displaced in the violence leading to the 1948 creation of Israel — would lead to eliminating Israel as a Jewish state.

None of the four board members have publicly commented on divestment.

“We don’t believe that Walz should have a moment of rest while he is funding this genocide,” said Palestinian American and Minnesota Anti-War Committee member Samantha Alsadi, in an informal press conference following the SBI meeting. “And we are going to continue to show up to his house and all of the SBI members’ houses demanding they divest from Israel.”

Sundin, the former University of Minnesota employee, expressed disappointed in the silence from Attorney General Keith Ellison, who for years has spoken out about ending the blockade of Gaza.

“When I first met him, he was fighting to divest from South Africa. He used to be out here with us. Today he couldn’t make eye contact with myself or any other speakers,” said Sudin. “The fact is, Minnesota’s investments in Israel are a shame on every one of us, but to the greatest extent, a shame on those who ignore our voices.”

scene from a board meeting
The State Board of Investment meeting was held on Thursday.
Cari Spencer | MPR News

In an interview with MPR News earlier this week, Ellison re-stated his support for a cease-fire and suggested that divestment was unlikely. He said that a long-term international conflict is not suited for resolution at the State Board of Investment.

“This is something that Congress needs to deal with,” he said.

“It’s not my money, it’s not the money of the protestors unless they happen to be a pensioner, and it’s not even the people of Minnesota’s money,” he said. “It’s people who worked a job their whole life and expect to retire. It’s my job to make sure there’s enough money that the pension is funded properly. That’s what I’ll do. And that’s what my job is.”

“Trying to solve this crisis at the SBI is the least effective place to start,” he said.

Wyatt Miller is a member of the Minnesota Anti-War Committee, the group that organized Wednesday’s protest. He said the protesters who climbed the fence staged a sit-in on the lawn before state troopers stepped in.

“People are really, really upset, and rightfully so … to have our state pension money being invested in this way and being complicit in this unimaginable scale of atrocity being committed in Gaza by the Israeli occupation forces,” Miller said.

Minnesota State Patrol Lt. Jill Frankfurth said in a statement that officers cited and released those who climbed the fence at EastCliff around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

“We support the right to exercise ones’ First Amendment rights, but jumping a fence and trespassing on private property is not the way to do that,” Frankfurth said. “This type of behavior will not be tolerated, and enforcement action will be taken.”

Frankfurth said there were no reports of use of force or injuries. The St. Paul Police Department also sent officers to the scene.

For months, activists have called on the State Board of Investment to divest from Israel. After protests at the board’s November meeting, Blaha said the board wouldn’t take immediate action to move the funds.

Since the November protest, Miller said he’s been encouraged to see other governments taking action, including the Minneapolis City Council’s passage of a cease-fire resolution.

“It’s time for the state of Minnesota to catch up and start to take actions that will put us as a state on the right side of history,” Miller said.