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Pro-Palestinian groups and supporters of Israel in Minnesota clash over state investments in the country

Pro-Palestinian activists push Minnesota investment board to divest from Israel
Pro-Palestinian activists push Minnesota investment board to divest from Israel 02:04

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Tensions surrounding the conflict in the Middle East spilled over to the Minnesota Capitol on Wednesday, where pro-Palestinian groups and supporters of Israel clashed over the state's investments in Israel.

The State Board of Investment manages nearly $130 billion in assets, including retirement investments for public employees. A spokesperson for the board in an email said the scope of investments linked to Israel is $116 million, including government bonds and stocks in publicly traded companies.

The board drew a larger crowd than a typical quarterly meeting as activists pushed members to pull state funds invested there, while Jewish leaders and members of the community condemned the request and urged the board to reject it.

Ultimately, the panel did not take any action, but heard public testimony asking the board to divest.

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"We refuse to have the money reserved for our futures to destroy the futures of the Palestinian people. I'm calling on you to divest our pension and other state investments from the Israeli weapons developers, banks, bonds, and other companies profiting off of apartheid and genocide," said Max Vast, a University of Minnesota clerical worker and the parent of a Palestinian teenager.

The calls for divestment are key part of the BDS movement which supports boycotting, divesting and sanctioning Israel in pursuit of Palestinian rights in the region.

Supporters of Israel decry the strategy as antisemitic, and say the campaign is aimed at dismantling Israel and isolating Jews who support its existence.

"Divesting from Israel would be supporting and motivating a terror group to repeat the October 7 atrocities again, as they have themselves promised to do," said Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, referencing the Hamas attack on Israel last month that killed more than 1,200 and captured 240 others.

Hostages have been released over the last couple of days during a temporary cease-fire between Israel and the militant group that governs Gaza. Another group of them was freed on Wednesday, including an American citizen. More than 13,000 people have died in Gaza since the war began.

"I receive a pension through Teachers Retirement Association, and I wish I didn't need it because it implicates me in the horrible violence of Gaza," Lucia Smith, a retired teacher, testified to the Board of Investment.

Ethan Roberts, deputy executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, said in a news conference ahead of the meeting that the board had never made the decision on its own to divest holdings in response to complaints or protests.

Last year, though, state lawmakers in bipartisan fashion passed a law instructing the board to divest assets in Russia and Belarus following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. A similar law prohibits state investments in Iran.

Separately, Minnesota has a law seen as "anti-BDS" legislation, which prohibits state contracts with vendors that discriminate against Israel.

"BDS recognizes only the rights of Palestinians to self-determination instead of both peoples and ignores other actors and factors that contribute to the conflict," said Rhona Shwaid, board member of the JCRC.

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