The Minnesota Break the Bonds Campaign plans to sue the state for its investments in illegal projects that violate the human rights of Palestinians.
Since 1967 more than 500,000 Israeli Jewish settlers have moved into the occupied Palestinian territory of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, inviolation of Article 49 of the Geneva Conventions. The United Nations Security Council passed Resolution Number 446 in 1976 declaring the settlements and settlers illegal. They were also declared illegal by the International Court of Justice, and by the United States State Department [PDF].
In order to settle that many people in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, infrastructure must be built. Many of the settlers live in the West Bank and work inside of Israel, and roads were built to facilitate their commute. Electricity was brought out to the settlements; water distribution networks were constructed; and the more than 430-mile apartheid wall was constructed, all of which is equally as illegal as the transferred civilian population itself. All of the land on which these construction projects were built is confiscated Palestinian property, and in the projects have left thousands of Palestinians homeless and destitute, devastated the Palestinian economy and violated Palestinians’ human rights.
The settlements, their infrastructure, and the separation wall are paid for through Israel’s Ministry of Finance, which sells Government of Israel Bonds to finance these projects. Israel Bonds can be purchased by individuals, organizations and states. Currently 22 U.S. states and the District of Columbia invest in these Israel Bonds, often as part of state pension and retirement funds. Minnesota currently holds over $18 million in Israel Bonds, an amount that is small compared to the overall state investments, but is a significant amount given that the money isused for illegal projects.
Holding investments in illegal projects that violate human rights and international law exposes Minnesota taxpayers to potential lawsuits from aggrieved individuals under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA), an 18th century law allowing foreigners the ability to sue entities in the United States for aiding and abetting in the commission of crimes against those individuals.
Illegal under Minnesota law
In addition to the international law violations, Minnesota state statutes governing the activities of the State Board of Investment (SBI) prohibit investment in the government bonds of any foreign country, with the exception of Canada. So, the purchase of Israel Bonds is illegal under Minnesota law. The SBI is madeup of Gov. Mark Dayton, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie, Attorney General Lori Swanson and State Auditor Rebecca Otto and is the agency charged with managing investments for state retirees. The Minnesota Legislature passed divestment bills prohibiting investments in companies doing business in Iran and Sudan, but in neither case did the Legislature prohibit investing in the government bonds of those countries. This was unnecessary since existing legislation already prohibited it.
Minnesota Break the Bonds Campaign (MN BBC) is an organization of volunteers dedicated to human rights and justice who are urging the state to divest from Israel Bonds. Members spent many months meeting with both state legislators and SBI personnel to urge them to divest from the Israel Bonds. Even after it was pointed out to the SBI that the investments were illegal, the SBI refused to divest.
Lawsuit to demand divestment
On Tuesday, MN BBC will serve the State Board of Investment with a lawsuit demanding that the board immediately divest from the Israel Bonds that it holds and refrain from purchasing any more. This lawsuit, carrying no monetary settlement, demands divestment on the grounds that 1) the SBI’s investments in foreign government bonds (with the exception of Canadian bonds) are illegal according to Minnesota statutes; 2) investments in Israel Bonds aid and abet Israel’s continuing violations of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention; and 3) by investing in illegal settlement activity, the SBI exposes Minnesota taxpayers and the state pension plan to potential lawsuits.
MN BBC believes strongly that the law is on our side, and that by divesting, Minnesota will stand on the right side of history. People of conscience must stand up for justice and demand equal rights for all. Minnesota must end its complicity with Israel’s human-rights and international-law violations.
Sylvia Schwarz is a water/wastewater engineer in St. Paul and a member of the Minnesota Break the Bonds Campaign (MN BBC).