For nearly a decade, Palestine solidarity activists in Minnesota have been organizing and campaigning to have state funds pulled from millions of dollars worth of bonds invested in Israel’s occupation.
“The more people we talk to, the more people agree with us,” Benson explains in an interview with The Electronic Intifada.
“We can estimate that since a percentage of Israel’s general treasury goes to illegal activities, every dollar that [Minnesota puts] into Israel’s general fund by purchasing these bonds contributes to those activities. That’s a violation of [the state’s] fiduciary duty to the pension plan holders and the retired state employees and the taxpayers of Minnesota,” he says. “That’s our key argument.”
In 2011, MN-BBC officially filed a lawsuit against the State Board of Investment (SBI), demanding that Minnesota pull its massive investment in Israeli violations of Palestinians’ rights. Campaigners referred to the Israeli army’s violent suppression of weekly, nonviolent protests by villagers in the occupied West Bank village of Bilin. “We argued that Minnesota was financially complicit in Israel’s human rights violations,” Benson says.
The suit was dismissed in both the lower court and the appeals court, but activists say they are not deterred and are pressing on with this campaign.
Last December, more than two dozen members of MN-BBC presented a report to executive officers of SBI reviewing Israel’s human rights record. Citing settler violence, the Israeli army’s use of lethal ammunition, targeted assassinations, military incursions into Gaza, arbitrary detention, forced confessions under torture and discriminatory laws, amongst other rights violations, MN-BBC asserted that state investments in Israel should be “prohibited.”
On 4 March, MN-BBC members will again be present at the quarterly State Board of Investment meeting at which the renewal of the $10 million Israel bond holding will be discussed.
“Since the money is being put into Israel’s general fund, it’s been doled out to activities that are involved in settlement construction, weapons procurement and different ministries in Israel without any restrictions at all placed on the use of the money,” Benson says. “Which means that Minnesota, essentially, is being complicit in violating international law and human rights standards.”
Minnesota Break the Bonds campaigners sent a letter last week to Minnesota’s secretary of state and SBI board member, Steve Simon, urging him to recuse himself from the 4 March SBI meeting because of his position on the board of directors with the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of Minnesota and the Dakotas. The JCRC, a national organization, has an Israel advocacy wing that activists say “is inconsistent with its claims that it promotes tolerance and advocates for social justice.” The letter was seen by The Electronic Intifada.
“Because the government of Israel has designated the international boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, a peaceful nonviolent protest movement, as an ‘existential threat,’ the JCRC has characterized its statewide efforts to resist BDS, including our attempts to persuade the SBI to divest from Israel bonds, as a ‘major initiative,’” MN-BBC writes.
Activists say that the JCRC has disseminated false information about the Palestinian-led BDS movement and Minnesota Break the Bonds, including claims that the group has engaged in “an endless campaign to delegitimize and demonize Israel in Minnesota.”
Benson said that those charges are mere attempts to crush their growing campaign.
Sylvia Schwarz, a fellow campaigner with MN-BBC, told The Electronic Intifada that there are nearly eighty different Israel bonds held by municipalities and states around the country. “We thought that [the Israel bond] was a good target because everybody in the state is involved with their taxpayer money,” she explained.
Listen to the interview with Benson and Schwarz via the media player above.