A few dozen Twin Cities-based leftist activists involved in an ongoing anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement called for the Minnesota State Board of Investment — whose members include Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison — to pull the state government’s investments out of businesses associated with the Israel-Hamas war Wednesday.
The protesters, led primarily by the Twin Cities-based Anti-War Committee, have regularly appeared at the SBI meetings in recent years demanding the board “divest from its investments in Israel and weapons manufacturers.”
The board, which is comprised of the state’s four elected constitutional officers, is tasked with monitoring and evaluating the state’s investment programs as a fiduciary with the goal of making sound investment decisions. It makes decisions on how the state manages its pension funds for public employees.
At the meeting on Wednesday morning BDS activists filled the gallery inside a State Senate Building hearing room. They chanted several politically-charged slogans at Walz, Secretary of State Steve Simon, and State Auditor Julie Blaha that attempted to place blame on the American federal government for its support of Israel’s current military conflict with Hamas in Gaza. Attorney General Ellison, also a member of the State Board of Investment, was not present at the meeting. His office did not return a request for comment on Wednesday.
“Not another nickel. Not another dime. No more money for Israel’s crimes!” the protesters inside the Senate hearing room shouted, with several holding signs or wearing keffiyeh scarves, a sign of solidarity with Palestinians. “Israel bombs. USA pays. How many kids did you kill today?”
Ellison absent from meeting, Walz’s office didn’t return requests for comment
Earlier in the morning, Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, held a joint press conference with the Jewish Community Relations Council condemning the BDS activists’ protest calling for the State Board of Investment to divest from Israel.
“The BDS movement is a campaign aimed at delegitimizing Israel through support of isolating Jews like me who support Israel’s right to exist,” said Rhona Shwaid, a board member for the Minnesota-based JCRC, during the press conference. “Instead of advocating for a peaceful two-state solution, the BDS movement seeks to dismantle Israel and end the right of Jewish self-determination.”
Latz pointed out to members of the media gathered for the press conference that in 2017 he and Republican state Sen. Warren Limmer co-sponsored a bill that prohibited state contractors from discriminating against Israel or against persons or entities doing business in Israel when making decisions relating to the operation of the vendors’ businesses. That legislation passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law by then-Gov. Mark Dayton.
“Do we need to address the moral reasons to not divest from Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East?” Latz said. “Divestment would move the needle in the wrong direction. Instead it would give comfort and encouragement to a movement fundamentally dedicated to the destruction of Israel.”
Latz also said the BDS movement is part of a history of anti-Israel efforts to delegitimize Israel even after its military left Gaza in 2005.
“Hamas turned (Gaza) into a terrorist haven and launching pad for attempted military annihilation of Israel by igniting the Iranian wing of its resistance surrounding Israel,” Latz continued.
“Rather than turning itself into a thriving economic and cultural center for Palestinians and Muslims, we have seen in recent weeks how poisonous Gaza has become for Israel … Now Palestinian children are taught at (schools in Gaza) that Jews should be killed. Palestinian youth dream of the opportunity to achieve glory and even martyrdom by killing as many Jews as possible.”
Following Latz’s comments, the Anti-War Committee that organized the BDS protest took to social media to endorse several pro-BDS movement advocates who condemned Latz’s comments as racist and called on him to resign.
Minnesota Democratic Senator Ron Latz is facing criticism from members of his party for stating at a press conference Wednesday: "Palestinian youth dream of the opportunity to achieve glory and even martyrdom by killing as many Jews as possible." pic.twitter.com/oTkyqFCHBt
— Alpha News (@AlphaNewsMN) November 30, 2023
Alpha News contacted communications staff at the office of the governor, secretary of state, and state auditor on Wednesday seeking comment on the Capitol protests and Latz’s comments condemning the BDS activists. Staff for Walz and Blaha never returned requests for comment. Simon’s communications director declined to comment.
When asked by reporters how Democratic Socialists of America-affiliated legislators in his DFL caucus would react to his comments, Latz acknowledged that there is a “variety of ideological views within our Senate DFL caucus and within our House DFL caucus as well,” which have downplayed or outright ignored the atrocities associated with the Oct. 7 Hamas massacre of hundreds of civilians in Israel. A few weeks ago Latz publicly criticized 15 of his DFL legislative colleagues who he said ignored the atrocities perpetrated by Hamas in their call for a ceasefire.
Republican legislative leaders condemn BDS activism
Republicans in the House and Senate on Wednesday said they “unequivocally oppose the ‘Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions’ movement protesting the State Board of Investment” meeting on Wednesday.
“The Minnesota Legislature has made clear BDS is not welcome in our borders and certainly not as a financial tool for state pensions,” said Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, and House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, in a joint statement.
They referenced the 2017 legislation and said “we see absolutely no reason why the State Investment Board should completely reverse that position after the gruesome and appalling attacks on Israel since October 7, 2023.”
“We will continue to protect the state’s investments from harmful political ideology and encourage the State Board of Investment to put first the financial interests of the states’ pensioners.”
The BDS protests at the Capitol on Wednesday were just the latest in a string of protests the loosely affiliated progressive organizations have held in recent weeks as Israel’s military has actively fought to uproot Hamas terrorists in Gaza following the Oct. 7 massacre.
One week ago, a group of BDS protesters marched to the governor’s temporary residence at East Cliff Mansion along the east bank Mississippi Riverfront. The group claims 3,000 people attended the march that called on Walz, as a member of the State Board of Investment, to support divestment from Israel.
Several Marxist and socialist organizations joined with pro-Palestine organizations and the Minneapolis-based Anti War Committee in a Tuesday evening protest on the steps of the Capitol calling for the State Board of Investment to divest from “apartheid Israel.”
The BDS movement in Minnesota predates the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, as activists have protested for several years calling for an “end to Israel-led apartheid in Gaza and the West Bank.’”
In August the Anti-War Committee delivered a petition to the State Board of Investment calling for it to “divest from its investments in Israel and weapons manufacturers.” The group has also held a number of BDS protests outside the governor’s mansion. Its members have routinely appeared before the board calling for divestment from Israel during public comment periods at meetings.
Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.