Students rally against Minnesota-Israel trade

A group of about 15 protestors Friday attempted to enter government offices âÄî leased by two agencies that facilitate trade between Israeli and Minnesota businesses âÄî in the second attempt to decry Minnesota connections to Israeli actions in Palestine. For the protestors, mainly consisting of Macalester College students who called themselves âÄúconcerned Minnesotans,âÄù this was the third protest in the last month against the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development , which has offices at the 1st National Bank Building in downtown St. Paul. The protest started at 3:15 p.m. and was over by 5:30 p.m. After the students handed out pamphlets on the buildingâÄôs sidewalk, they went inside and attempted to gain entrance to government offices, which security guards closed to them and the media. Given the groupâÄôs first protest activities âÄî the group staged a sit-in Jan. 30 for almost an hour, chanting slogans at government workers inside the offices âÄî the guards did not hesitate to call the police. In another parallel to the first protest, the group left when the police said they would arrest the group for trespassing, a Macalester student calling herself Sophie Smith , who was present for both protests, said. On the sidewalk and in the office building, the protestors decried the Minnesota Trade Office, a wing of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. The office facilitates trade between Minnesota businesses and organizations in Israel, which aids the Israeli âÄúoccupation of Palestine,âÄù acts protesters said were human rights abuses and part of the disproportionate Israeli response in the last Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to pamphlets handed out by protestors. Overall, Israel is the âÄúlargest U.S. market in the Middle East,âÄù and the country imported $121 million in manufactured goods from Minnesota in 2007, according to a news release sent out in December when Gov. Tim Pawlenty led a trade mission to the country. The Minnesota Trade Office runs trade missions around the world and helps to promote international trade for Minnesota businesses, Kirsten Morell , spokeswoman for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, said. Max Specktor, a cultural studies junior and one of FridayâÄôs protestors, said he stood against Israeli actions even though he is Jewish. âÄúI donâÄôt think itâÄôs a Jewish thing, a Jewish issue to stand with IsraelâÄù he said, even though he said he âÄútotally understands why people say itâÄôs anti-Semitic to not.âÄù âÄúItâÄôs important to think globally and act locally,âÄù Specktor said. Specktor is currently being tried for terrorism charges due to actions leading up to the Republican National Convention last September. But Morell said the protestors donâÄôt have a legal right to be in the trade office because personal information and private business information could be overheard, even in the reception area. The St. Paul police responded to security guardsâÄô calls and told the protestors they would be arrested for trespassing unless they left the building, which they did immediately. Since there were fewer than 24 protesters âÄî the number at which a gathering in St. Paul needs a permit âÄî the protestors were allowed to chant on the sidewalk until they disbanded. And even though several staff, who would not provide their names, said the protestorsâÄô chants could be heard on the ninth floor, St. Paul police Sgt. John Pyka said the protest and response went without incident. âÄúNobody was a problem. [They] just wanted to get their point across,âÄù he said.