Minnesotans Escalate Calls to Divest from “Virtual Border Wall” Company Elbit

St. Paul, MN – Local organizers have accused the state of Minnesota of “funding the wall” between both the Mexico-USA border and further between Palestine and Israel. Anti-war and migrant justice activists turned up the pressure on Minnesota legislators to divest an estimated $1.25 million in state funds from notorious border militarization company Elbit Systems.

Activists’ sense of urgency has increased as Elbit’s local wing “Elbit Systems of America” nears completion on the “virtual border wall” that’s been appearing over the past decade in the southwestern United States borderlands. Ten of the 160-foot-tall “Integrated Fixed Towers” are planned to cut through reservation land of the Tohono O’odham Nation, courtesy of the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Indigenous rights activists, immigrant rights activists, and anti-war activists now must contend with the same company, who is quickly laying groundwork for increased federal border enforcement between the states of Arizona (USA) and Sonora (Mexico).

Two photos side-by-side showing a surveillance tower in Palestine (L) and on the Mexico-US borderlands (R), both built by Elbit Systems

2015 tweet comparing two Elbit spy towers: in Palestine(L) & on the Mexico-U.S. borderlands (R)

On August 22, a few dozen local residents united at the MN Capitol to demand the state of Minnesota cease investing in Elbit Systems. Community organizers Aadarsh Akula and Autumn Lake urged the Minnesota State Board of Investments (MN-SBI) to put forth a motion to divest from Elbit, asserting that Minnesotans do not want their retirement funds to play any part in “making a killing on killing.”

This is the second time in 2019 legislators on the Board have heard from their constituents about Elbit Systems. This time the MN-SBI was presented with over 1,000 petitions signed by local voters, each stating that their home state should not continue to profit from the actions of the Israeli weapons manufacturer.

Akula offered some statistics to the MN-SBI, highlighting an apparent connection between greater border militarization and increased mortality rates of migrants attempting to cross into U.S. America. He pointed to how rates of deaths per year at the border are nearly 1000% of what they had been a decade prior, explaining:

In 1990 when there wasn’t actually a lot of border militarization, there were about 18 deaths per year on the border. But as the 2000s rolled around and Congress put about $500 million into border militarization, we actually saw that number skyrocket to about 200 deaths a year.” – Aadarsh Akula, MN Immigrant Rights Action Committee

Akula also provided examples of other financial investment groups similar to the MN-SBI that have already divested from Elbit: Danish Pension Fund; French insurance company AXA; Norway’s pension fund; and British multinational HSBC, which is still seeing protests over its investments in other companies complicit in Israeli violations of international law.

Lake stated that Minnesota should invest neither in companies that profit from human rights abuses, “nor in a country that bans our own members of Congress from entering to investigate those human rights abuses.”

This summer Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar was barred from visiting the lands of Palestine and Israel after U.S. President Trump encouraged Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to ban her, otherwise risk seeming “weak”. Michigan Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Muslim congresswoman with Palestinian heritage, was also barred from freely visiting Palestinian territory.

The crisis of imprisoned migrant children and the crisis facing the Palestinians are both enabled by the same corporation. The MN State Board of Investments is complicit in the violence against Palestinians and against immigrants here in the United States through their investment in this company.” – Autumn Lake, MN Anti-War Committee

Based in Haifa, Israel, Elbit provides border surveillance tech and weaponry along Israel’s internationally-condemned apartheid wall through the West Bank and around the Gaza Strip.

That the company maintains a militarized border that was declared illegal in 2004 by the International Court of Justice makes the company complicit in a breach of international law. The deployment of Elbit technology in Israel’s everyday warfare against Palestinians allegedly made Elbit seem a competent, attractive candidate to provide the USA with border militarization tech.

In addition to the planned intrusion of nearly 50-meter-tall spy towers into the territory of the Tohono O’odham Nation, over 300 smaller surveillance towers have already been deployed to various spots along the borders between the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

After Akula and Lake had finished speaking at the Board, Governor Tim Walz thanked them “for [their] testimony and for the information [they] provided to the board.” He then motioned to adjourn the meeting. This course of action of the MN-SBI had been expected by community organizers, who immediately announced a follow-up event the coming week at the Governor’s Mansion in Saint Paul, currently home to Governor Walz.

The MN-SBI is the ruling body that can act to re-invest state funds, meeting four times a year and made of the Minnesota Governor, Attorney General, Auditor, and Secretary of State. Presently the SBI is composed of four Democratic politicians who have all spoken publicly against Trump’s border wall.

Anti-War Committee posted online, asking why Gov. Walz (who was elected on promises of opposing Trump's border wall) was using state funds to invest in the company helping to build it.

Social media post by the Anti-War Committee asking why Gov. Walz won’t divest state money from the border wall.

The following Thursday, August 29, a protest was held outside the Governor’s Mansion on Summit Avenue. The coalition organizers advocated withdrawal of state support for border walls “from Palestine to Mexico.”

Many community organizers that had been at the SBI meeting were also present at this event. Akula voiced “losing hope” that their continued demands for divestment had been gone unheeded at the last meeting.

Mary Vanderburg, a retiree and a first-time speaker at a protest, reminded those present of how Governor Walz described his own budget plan as “not only a fiscal document — it’s a moral document” earlier this year. She called on the Governor to reflect the morals of the people of Minnesota and put forth the motion to divest from Elbit Systems.

On Tuesday, September 3, defense Secretary Mark T. Esper agreed to release $3.6 billion from the Pentagon budget for President Trump’s border wall. Increasing government surveillance and social control is only made possible through elected government officials opting to allocate public money to these systems. Residents of Minnesota have been pressuring private companies, as well as the state government, to divest from for-profit private detention centers and weapons companies.

Taxpayer funds should be used to meet human needs such as housing, healthcare, and education, and not for war. MN investments should also reflect these tenets.” – Autumn Lake, MN Anti-War Committee

Palestine, a country that has been forcibly splintered into checkpoints, has seen increasing losses of its territory over the decades. The borders of Israel have expanded many times to include what had been Palestinian land only years prior.

Anti-war activists have pushed for divestment from Elbit Systems as a part of the Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (BDS) movement, an international effort launched in 2005 by a massive coalition of Palestinian unions, refugee networks, political parties, women’s organizations, and other civil bodies. The goal of the BDS movement is to pressure Israel to respect international law and cease discriminating against Palestinian people.

In December 2008, Israel invaded the Gaza strip in what is known as Operation Cast Lead in Israel (Hebrew: מִבְצָע עוֹפֶרֶת יְצוּקָה) or The Gaza Massacre in the Muslim world (Arabic: مجزرة غزة). Elbit Systems is said to have provided White Phosphorous shells used there, a chemical weapon illegal under international law. Five years later, Israel’s Operation Brother’s Keeper and then Operation Strong Cliff/Protective Edge in 2014 saw another invasion of Gaza by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF, Israel’s military) in retaliation for an alleged Hamas kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens. Thousands of non-combatant Gazans died in the seven-week conflict.

In 2015, it was reported that foreign investment in Israel had dropped by nearly 50% as other countries responded to Israel’s most recent military intrusion into Gaza. Increased international pressure from the BDS movement was credited as what inspired the divestments from Israel. It is because of their open support for Palestinian liberation and the BDS movement that Muslim Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were banned from visiting Palestine by the Israeli Prime Minister.

2015 is also the year non-profit organization Dear Gaza formed, who “foster international solidarity of Palestinians through community art events.

We practice peaceful resistance through art and celebration. We host events highlighting Palestine and its culture while raising funds for medical aid sent directly to the Gaza Strip.” – DearGaza.org

This year in Minneapolis, Minnesota was the fifth annual #DearGaza block party, held in Whittier, “The International Neighborhood”, on 24th Street and Lyndale Avenue.

 

Elbit operates through subsidiaries across the globe such as Elbit Systems of America and Kollsman, Inc. Kollsman was chosen in 2006 by the Department of Homeland Security for the Secure Border Initiative “to supply technology to identify threats, to deter and prevent crossings, and to apprehend intruders along the US borders with Canada and Mexico.

In a 2014 article by Scott Campbell, Elbit’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems (drones) were identified as having been in Mexico since 2008, Chile since 2011, Colombia since 2013, and Brazil since 2014.

While knowledge and protests against this specific Israeli company have been happening locally the past couple years, Elbit has been advancing locally during that time as well. In 2017, it was announced that Elbit subsidiary Cyberbit had developed “a new cyber training and simulation center” at Metropolitan State University’s St. Paul campus. The May 29, 2018 press release from MetroState boasts of the results of their Elbit partnership as:

“[…] a unique opportunity for the state’s businesses, government agencies, and National Guard to partner with Metropolitan State University to address unprecedented cybersecurity workforce and training demands.” – MetroState press release

The need is clear for citizens to remain vigilant when it comes to the complicity of local financial institutions in international corporations. State Boards of Investment, private financial institutions, and public universities have all noticed that it can be profitable to invest in companies such as Elbit Systems. Since politicians, CEOs and schoolmasters may all choose to say “no” when asked to divest, ever-increasing pressure may be required by community members in order to achieve the desired result.


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