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In three cities, pension fund TIAA-CREF urged to end complicity in Israeli occupation

ActivismIsrael/Palestine
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Activists protesting outside of TIAA-CREFF’s shareholder meeting in New York City 17 July 2012. (Photo: Daniel Strum/Adalah NY)

Buoyed by recent divestment victories, dozens of Palestine solidarity activists in three cities gathered outside the offices of the pension fund TIAA-CREF this afternoon.

In New York, Chicago and San Francisco, activists protested against companies TIAA-CREF is invested in that supply the Israel Defense Forces with crucial equipment needed to carry out the occupation of the Palestinian territories. One sign at the New York protest read: “Apartheid Walls Are Not for the Greater Good,” a reference to TIAA-CREF’s former slogan of “for the greater good” and their investments in companies that supply equipment to Israel’s separation barrier.

The New York action occurred right outside TIAA-CREF’s Midtown Manhattan office as their annual shareholder meeting took place. It was the second year in a row TIAA-CREF’s shareholder meeting was greeted by Palestine solidarity protests.

“We will not let them continue to use our pension dollars for occupation,” said Mindy Gershon, a Jewish-American activist with Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel. Adalah was the lead organizer of the NY protest, which was also endorsed by CODEPINK NYC, Brooklyn for Peace, the Occupy Wall Street Global Justice Working Group and a host of other organizations.

While New York activists chanted slogans like, “T-CREF, it’s past time, to divest from Israel’s war crimes,” shareholders involved with the campaign to pressure TIAA-CREF were inside talking to the company’s leadership about their investments.

In response to questions from shareholders part of the Jewish Voice for Peace-led We Divest campaign, TIAA-CREF CEO Roger Ferguson said that he would not engage with the six companies–Northrop Grumman, Caterpillar, Veolia, Elbit, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard—on the issue of Israel.

Ferguson also said that it was not clear whether “shareholder activism can have the same effect with Israel/Palestine as it did with apartheid-era South Africa,” according to a We Divest press release. But Ferguson did “agree to report to ethical investment ratings agency MSCI concerning the companies discussed during today’s meeting,” the We Divest coalition said. Members of the right-wing Zionist group Stand With Us were also inside the shareholder meeting, according to one activist inside.

The protest action came a month after it was revealed that TIAA-CREF divested about $73 million in “social choice fund” investments in Caterpillar, whose bulldozers are weaponized by the Israeli army and used to crush Palestinian homes.

The other companies targeted also play integral roles in the occupation. Veolia, the target of BDS campaigns around the world, is involved with transport systems that serve illegal West Bank settlements, like the Jerusalem light rail system that serves to connect illegal settlements near Jerusalem with the main city. Northrop Grumman supplies the Israeli military with weapons technology, while Elbit provides surveillance equipment for the separation barrier that eats up Palestinian land in the West Bank.

The move to divest from Caterpillar was spurred by a decision by MSCI, a Wall Street firm that provides companies with socially responsible investment indexes. Caterpillar was taken off MSCI’s list of “socially responsible” companies, and TIAA-CREF uses that list to determine where “social choice” funds should go. Caterpillar’s business with the Israeli military played a “key” role in the MSCI decision.

Still, the work of BDS activists is not over with regards to TIAA-CREF. The pension fund still invests over a billion dollars in companies complicit in the Israeli occupation. According to We Divest, $98 million of TIAA-CREF’s “social choice” funds remain invested in Motorola, Veolia and Hewlett-Packard, and almost $1 billion is invested in those companies in the pension’s general portfolio.

“That 72.9 million is only the beginning,” Gershon said, referencing TIAA-CREF’s partial divestment from Caterpillar.

Riham Barghouti, a lead organizer with Adalah, echoed that point. “We know that TIAA-CREF continues to invest millions in unsocially responsible companies,” she said.

As the action wound down in the sweltering heat, Barghouti vowed that protesters would be back every year until TIAA-CREF divests from companies helping the Israeli military.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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12 Responses

  1. Bumblebye
    July 17, 2012, 8:54 pm

    I so hope they succeed.
    Perhaps highlighting the goi “inviting tenders” for settlement building – which we all know means theft of land, destruction of livelihoods, intimidation, home destruction, and so on – in what is supposed to be Palestine would make plain their total complicity and sponsoring of the destruction what should be a neighboring state, according to international law.
    And also, highlight the fact that the Ariel (settlement, of course) college has just been given University status. Need to push cultural and academic boycott in the wake of that.

  2. ColinWright
    July 17, 2012, 9:32 pm

    “T-CREF, it’s past time, to divest from Israel’s war crimes,”

    There needs to be a ban on the rhyming chant.

    Every time I hear one, I feel like switching sides.

    • Ethan Heitner
      July 18, 2012, 7:50 am

      What do you propose to replace it? Nonrhyming blank verse? May have more literary sophistication but works much less well to keep a crowd together and active. I’d much rather chant (especially if the chants are funny and innovative, as Adalah-NY’s tend to be) than listen to boring speeches or stand around in stony silence.

  3. atime forpeace
    July 17, 2012, 10:07 pm

    Are those waves crashing on the seashore?

    No it’s the U.S waking up from an Israel myth nightmare.

    and it’s only just beginning.

    This is the Dersh being interviewed for the Herliya conference back in 2007 he and Hoenlein knew the storm was coming they could smell it in the air…listen carefully.

    “I believe there are four conditions that are likely to bring about perfect storm in relations between Israel and the United States.”

    (1)” The first has received more attention in US than in Israel. This is the publication of Carter’s book which uses the word apartheid to describe the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. This is a watershed moment both for Israeli-American relations and for the American Jewry.”

    (2) “The second event that warrants discussion is the paper written by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer that was published in Harvard, which legitimized in academic circles what Carter legitimized publicly. He brought people like Finkelstein, Chomsky. Mearsheimer, who is a middle of the road, mainstream academic, brought the concept of the Jewish lobby being a threat to America into mainstream academia.”

    (3) “The third point, which you are familiar with in Israel, is that Hezbollah and Hamas have found way of fighting wars against Israel that plays into the media war against Israel all overt the world. Hezbollah and Hamas use the killing of civilians against Israel”

    (4) “Fourth are claims that the American Jewish lobby is pushing the United States into unfavorable foreign policy. An example is wesly Clark, who is actually a friend of Israel, talked about “New York money people” pushing the US into war with Iran and cornering the US in Iraq.”

    He finishes by giving this piece of wise advise….

    “Israel must be prepared to lose American support over the coming years, diplomatically and economically. My message to Israel is: Be strong, and be prepared to go it alone.
    I am sorry to deliver such a pessimistic view, but you asked for my honest assessment.”

    And I say…the sooner they lose our support the better for us and them.
    If your’e so tough then go it alone make friend or make enemies but don’t bring us in to do your dirty work any longer.

  4. Keith
    July 18, 2012, 12:10 am

    Speaking of pension funds and Israel. When is BDS going to go after all of the union pension funds invested directly in Israel via Israel bonds? One of the worst kept secrets around is the extent to which the AFL-CIO and its affiliates are staunchly pro-Israel. Of course, unions are the sacred cow of the left, Marx’s image of the proletariat superimposed upon an organization which is part of the capitalist political economy. Please don’t misunderstand. I am not against unions, just the system friendly unions which have evolved, the inevitable consequence of business unionism, which, in turn, is probably inevitable given the distribution of power.

    • Ethan Heitner
      July 18, 2012, 7:47 am

      It is in my anecdotal experience especially those BDS activists who are union members who would like to work on making their union pension funds more ethical by divesting from Israel, but most of the strategic discussions I have witnessed have focused on the fact that it is not practical yet. It is precisely because most union leadership in this country is so “staunchly pro-Israel” as you point out that any divestment campaign within the union would be extremely difficult. The TIAA-CREF campaign has been a massive undertaking and is still going to be a long road until victory. I’m not saying those union campaigns won’t come– but it’s going to be a tough fight that we want to be well prepared for.

    • Citizen
      July 18, 2012, 8:42 am

      Keith,
      And let’s not forget all those municipality investments in Israel bonds–all over America, from sea to shiny sea.

  5. AllenBee
    July 18, 2012, 10:57 am

    Individuals can take individual action.
    Persons whose pension funds are held at TIAA CREF can transfer at least part of the funds (the non-annuity portion) to a brokerage of their choice.

  6. lobewyper
    July 18, 2012, 5:02 pm

    Hey, I live near Chicago, have money with TIAA-CREF, and would have gone to the protest had I known about it!

    • unverified__g822m1jc
      July 19, 2012, 1:42 am

      Too bad, we wish you could’ve been there! To receive updates from Chicago Divests, sign our petition at snipurl.com/22cuvqu. You can also like us on facebook at facebook.com/chicagodivests. We host a vigil every 30th of the month at noon outside of TCREF’s Chicago office. We hope you can make it to the next one!

  7. proudzionist777
    July 19, 2012, 8:48 am

    Partially divested sounds like ‘partially pregnant’ .

    But hey. Mazal tov guys!

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