This morning, Minnesota’s State Board of Investment will hear arguments in favor of and in opposition to renewing Minnesota’s investment in Israel bonds. As a Jewish Zionist from Minnesota and as a Palestinian Muslim from the West Bank, we are committed to a better way forward for Israelis and Palestinians. In contrast to the divisive vision of the proponents of divestment, we believe that peace will only come through investing in the people of Israel and Palestine in support of two states for two peoples.
As published on these pages in the past, the argument for divestment is based on the zealous and ahistorical belief that the world’s only Jewish state and the Middle East’s sole democracy is an apartheid-ethnic cleansing-racist nation. The global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is committed to the elimination of Israel and its replacement with a single, Palestinian Arab state. This is a zero-sum strategy, where in order for Palestinians to achieve their right of self-determination, Israelis must lose theirs.
The BDS activists maintain that the only way Minnesota can assist Palestinians is by punishing Israelis. Fortunately, this argument has been rejected by the State Board of Investment, Minnesota’s Court of Appeals, the Minnesota Legislature, and Minnesota’s DFL and Republican parties.
A shared view
Notably, this commitment to investment and rejection of divestment is not just our view, but is one we are proud to share with other moderate, practical voices working toward a two-state solution. For example, just this past December, the highly respected Palestinian American Chamber of Commerce ended its inaugural American “Road Show” in Minnesota with the exact same message. Composed of the most influential business leaders in Palestine, the delegation began its American trip with a formal dinner with Secretary of State John Kerry and meetings with Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken. The delegates concluded their American visit with productive meetings with Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and Secretary of State Steve Simon, as well as a dinner hosted by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas to educate Jewish community leaders about Palestinian business opportunities.
Further underscoring the importance of the Palestinian American Chamber of Commerce “Road Show” for investing in peace, these Palestinian leaders were accompanied on their trip by the American Consul General in Jerusalem, Michael Ratney, as well as members of the American Consulate in Jerusalem’s Economic Section, officials of the U.S. government’s Department of State, and a representative from the Office of the Quartet Representative.
Critically, in its formal letter of introduction to Gov. Mark Dayton, the Palestinian American Chamber of Commerce delegation wrote “through economic development and mutual cooperation, it is our hope that we can play a constructive role in the establishment of an independent State of Palestine alongside the State of Israel. To that point, while we do not oppose American or Minnesota’s investment in the economy of Israel, we do ask that under your leadership, Minnesota will explore ways in which it can invest in the Palestinian economy as well.”
An example to follow
Americans and Minnesotans would be well-advised to follow the example of the Palestinian American Chamber of Commerce and to stop looking at Palestinians as secondary objects, seen only through the lens of Israel and the conflict. Specifically, the delegitimizing of Israel through boycotts, divestment, and sanctions is a demonstrably unproductive way to improve the lives of ordinary Palestinians or bring about the creation of an independent Palestinian state.
By contrast, through a more positive mindset, Minnesotans can play our part in tapping the tremendous potential within the Palestinian people. Through investment, we can isolate the extremists on both sides. In turn, we aim to create the conditions which make it possible for Palestinians and Israelis, equally indigenous in the land which they both call home, to commit to the painful concessions necessary to arrive at a sustainable two-state solution.
As a Zionist Jew, from St. Louis Park, and as a proud Palestinian Muslim, born in a refugee camp in the West Bank, we know that to be pro-Palestine doesn’t mean you have to be anti-Israel and to be pro-Israel doesn’t mean you have to be anti-Palestine. Peace is not a zero-sum game and Minnesota has the opportunity to prove that by investing in collaboration and not succumbing to parochial politics of division.
Steve Hunegs is the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC). For 75 years, the JCRC has been the public affairs voice for Minnesota’s Jewish community. Walid Issa, a native of the West Bank, holds a master’s degree in economics from St. Cloud State University and is the co-founder and U.S. director for the Shades Negotiation Program. Issa accompanied the Palestinian American Chamber of Commerce delegation on their Washington, D.C., meetings and coordinated the Minnesota portion of their trip.
WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?
If you’re interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below — or consider writing a letter or a longer-form Community Voices commentary. (For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at email@example.com.)