Minnesota has $1.2 million invested in company surveilling U.S., Israel borders

Elbit Systems has been installing surveillance towers on the U.S.-Mexico border.

Elbit Systems has been installing surveillance towers on the U.S.-Mexico border. Hannah Jones

Last spring, Brad Sigal and a few other members of the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee took a trip to the U.S.-Mexico border. What they saw was a snapshot of an ongoing “human rights catastrophe” -- and a series of spindly-looking towers equipped with cameras.

A guide from the Tohono O’odham Nation explained they’d been built on tribal land by Elbit Systems, the largest weapons manufacturer in Israel. It was supplying the United States with technology to surveil asylum seekers trying to cross the border. They'd already been “battle-tested” in Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank… mostly against the people of Palestine.

On Thursday morning, Sigal was back in Minnesota on the Capitol steps. He was joined by members of Jewish Voice for Peace and the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee with one shared goal: They want Minnesota – which they say holds about 10,000 shares in Elbit worth more than $1.2 million – to divest from the company.

Theirs was a small but passionate group. Some carried signs that read “NO BAN! NO WALL! NO WAR!” Some carried clipboards for signatures. Their ultimate destination was the morning meeting of the Minnesota Board of Investments.

Their hopes were high, but tempered. Sigal says when they approach people with their petitions, “some” know what they’re talking about, but most aren’t familiar with Elbit or the fact that Minnesota has money riding on it.

The majority agree Minnesota should pull its funds once they hear the facts. But not everyone’s immediately persuaded.

“It’s not the first time we’ve come (to the Capitol),” volunteer Anthony says. (Anthony requested not to share his last name.) “We haven’t really seen any action yet.”

But he keeps showing up. As a Jew, he feels “responsibility” to denounce Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. And as Minnesotans, many of the volunteers don’t want their tax dollars to be spent on policing the southern U.S. border. Together, they’ve collected about 1,000 signatures from people who feel the same way.

The organizers got their chance to speak after a fairly brief budget meeting, and they didn’t pull any punches.

“The funds used to comfort [Minnesotans] in their retirement years should not be gained through investment in a company that benefits from war and imperialism,” Anti-War Committee organizer Autumn Lake told Governor Tim Walz and the board. She pointed out that investment giants, like Sweden and Norway’s state pension funds, have already divested.

Walz thanked Lake and the other speakers and adjourned moments after the address. Then, with a mild-mannered shuffling of feet and papers, the meeting was over.

There was no discussion, no movement either way. But Sigal thinks the whole thing went well. The Anti-War Committee will be rallying outside the governor’s mansion next week, but the next step begins next quarter, when the board meets again.

And, if need be, the quarter after that, and the quarter after that. Whatever it takes to get an answer.