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.