JCRC Head Says BDS Is ‘Essence Of Antisemitism’

While a small rally urging Minnesota to divest funds from Israel as part was happening in the Capitol Rotunda, two floors below, the executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas reminded people that this is hardly the first time that people tried to use economic means to harm Jews.

“On Dec. 2, 1945, the Arab League announced the boycott of all Jewish products and commerce in Mandatory Palestine saying, ‘Jewish products and manufactured goods shall be considered undesirable in the Arab countries,’” Steve Hunegs said. “That’s three years before the creation of the state of Israel. And yet there was economic warfare where there could be no other justification but antisemitism. What you’re seeing today at the State Capitol is the so-called BDS rally is nothing but the progeny and legacy of this pure economic warfare against Israel, simply because people living in Israel are Jewish. It’s by definition the essence of antisemitism.”

The press conference, arranged by State Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park) and the JCRC was meant to counter an earlier press conference by the supporters of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction movement; TC Jewfolk nor several other media outlets were notified of it prior to its occurrence. 

Latz talked about a number of atrocities attributed to Hamas on and since the Oct. 7 attack of Israel which left 1,200 dead and resulted in 240 people kidnapped into Gaza. Many have since been released during the current negotiated ceasefire, in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

“It is against this backdrop that we again must confront and answer the question of what is BDS?” Latz aid. “In my view, BDS is simply another manifestation of ubiquitous Jew hatred and Israel hatred and anti-Zionism.”

Latz went on to quote Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the BDS movement who has said, “Jews aren’t indigenous just because you say you are. Jews are not a people,” and “Most definitely we oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine. No Palestinian – rational Palestinian and not a sell-out Palestinian – will ever accept the Jewish state in Palestine.”

Latz said BDS proponents were looking for mechanisms to promote the elimination of Israel under the guise of appearing more rational. 

“We saw them and even more clearly now false were their proclamations of benign intent,” Latz said. “Israel withdrew all of its military and civilians from Gaza in 2005. Hamas turned it into a terrorist haven a launching pad for attempted military annihilation of Israel. Israel also made direct offers of two-state solutions over the years and faced rejection by Palestinian Liberation Movement leaders each time. There is little left for Israel to concede that would not jeopardize it’s very existence.”

Rhona Shwaid, a JCRC board member and speaker at the event, said that while BDS is largely non-violent, it has aims similar to that of Hamas.

“BDS campaigns which treat Israel as an oppressive pariah, are one-sided, distorted, and further contribute to a hostile environment toward Israelis and Jewish people who overwhelmingly view Israel as central to their identities,” she said. “Instead of supporting constructive measures to our peace, building and Israeli-Palestinian engagement and negotiations. BDS recognizes only the rights of Palestinians to self-determination instead of both equally, and ignores other actors and factors that contribute to the conflict.”

Investment meeting draws a crowd

Advocates for divesting from Israel at the State Board of Investment meeting on Nov. 29, 2023. (Photo by Lonny Goldsmith/TC Jewfolk).

Advocates for divesting from Israel at the State Board of Investment meeting on Nov. 29, 2023. (Photo by Lonny Goldsmith/TC Jewfolk).

Roughly 40 people were in attendance at the State Board of Investment meeting at the Minnesota Senate Building. The State Board of Investment is made up of the state’s constitutional officers – Gov. Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison, Secretary of State Steve Simon, and Auditor Julie Blaha – as well as Executive Director Jill Schurtz. The SBI is responsible for managing the assets for the State of Minnesota, as well as the assets of the three statewide retirement systems, and more.

One speaker talked about divestment from oil and gas companies, and another more generally about divesting from arms companies. But the other five speakers were there to encourage divestment from Israel.

“I don’t know of a single educator that wants our money invested in weapons companies, and bombing elementary schools and racist wars,” said Drake Myers. Myers said he is an associate educator at Bancroft Elementary School in Minneapolis, and an Education Service Professional member of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers which approved a ceasefire and BDS  resolution last month. He referred to Israel as “apartheid Israel” during his remarks. “On top of morality and legality, these are not safe investments for our retirements as apartheid had fallen before. I just want to point the road forward for you and Minnesota to be on the right side of history, instead of being remembered as apartheid supporters.”

Ethan Roberts, the deputy executive director of the JCRC, said at the end of the press conference before the SBI meeting, that he didn’t expect the SBI members to take up the call to divest.

“No reasonable constitutional officer would do that. And we have four reasonable constitutional officers,” said Roberts, although Ellison was not at the meeting due to a scheduling conflict. “If they were really consistent, they would probably demand divestment from Medtronic. Or divestment from Apple or Google. Every aspect of what you’re using to do this press conference has Israeli technology. They’re not rational actors.”

After the SBI meeting concluded, the pro-BDS supporters led pro-Palestinian chants, including the antisemitic “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”