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Shareholders respond to TIAA-CREF refusal on divestment vote

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(Ed. note: On background read TIAA-CREF asks feds for OK to dodge Israeli divestment vote at annual meeting)

Press Release:  

Yesterday, lawyers for the We Divest Coalition filed two letters (see here and here) with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in response to retirement fund giant TIAA-CREFF’s continued refusal to allow a shareholder vote on a proposal to divest from companies that support egregious human rights violations, including those supporting Israel’s occupation and colonization of Palestinians. The proposal calls for a shareholder vote in the proxy package that the company plans to mail to participants on June 10, 2013.

On April 22, 2013, CREF asked the SEC for a statement saying that the regulatory agency wouldn’t take legal action against it for refusing to allow a vote. The request followed several filings by both CREF and the concerned shareholders since the proposal was originally submitted.

“CREF’s arguments have no merit,” said Barbara Harvey, a member of the National Lawyers’ Guild International Committee, and an attorney submitting the response to the SEC on the We Divest Coalition’s behalf. “In essence, CREF is claiming that the Israeli occupation is not an important policy issue for shareholders to discuss, that it is too complex for them to understand, and that CREF need not handle this question because it has already divested from Darfur.”

“CREF is hiding behind the empty threats of the Israeli legal organization Shurat HaDin, which has a history of attempting to bully American universities into treating campus divestment initiatives as anti-Semitic and illegal,” said Daniel Strum, a member of the We Divest Coalition. “We will not be intimated by Shurat HadDin’s threats, and neither should the trustees of CREF.”

“This resolution is in the tradition of the U.S. civil rights movement and shareholder resolutions against South African apartheid,” added James Marc Leas, a member of the National Lawyers’ Guild International Committee, another attorney submitting the response to the SEC on the We Divest Coalition’s behalf. “Resolutions addressing such significant social policy issues have long been approved for a vote under SEC rules, and the First Amendment’s free speech clause protects such resolutions from claims that they are unlawful.”

“CREF should listen to the voices of its clients,” said Steve Tamari, one of over 200 shareholders who filed the proposal on February 8, 2013. “We have a right to have a say in how our money is spent, and we want CREF to live up to its motto of ‘Financial Services for the Greater Good.’”

We Divest is a national, coalition-led initiative by Adalah-NY, the American Friends Service CommitteeGrassroots InternationalJewish Voice for Peace, the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and the US Palestinian Community Network.

Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani

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12 Responses

  1. doug on April 30, 2013, 6:32 pm

    I’ve had the opportunity to suggest a shareholder resolution that was written up and allowed by the SEC Staff. While that one was not political I am familiar with the fairly limited structure of these things. The SEC has long allowed these sorts of resolutions so long as they comport with the laws in the corporate domicile. OTOH, this is pushing more buttons and the buttons are firmly embedded. I expect the SEC to issue another “No Action” letter.

  2. Mike_Konrad on April 30, 2013, 7:26 pm

    There is more to this than most people realize. You are running up against anti-boycott legislation which was passed by the US Congress.

    BDS is in a gray area in the USA. Already the Israeli Law Center has threatened to sue boycotters.

    The Israelis will fight because this is hurting Israel. They do not like to admit it, but it is scaring them.

    http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/167127#.UYBRX7WHtac

    In a letter sent to the pension giant’s executives, Darshan-Leitner pointed out that New York law defines boycotts as “unlawful discriminatory practice” and that any decision to “refuse to buy from, sell to or trade with, or otherwise discriminate against any person, because of the…creed…[or ]national origin” is unlawful and even places secondary actors, aiding the policy, under liability.

    The Israeli Law Center has threatened to TIAA-CREF.

    http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/167127#.UYBRX7WHtac

    The Tel Aviv-based civil rights group Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center is threatening legal action against the U.S.-based Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association – College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF) if it chooses to adopt a resolution boycotting Israeli firms and investments.

    Darshan-Leitner noted that if the anti-Israel group succeeds in having the resolution go to a vote, she hopes that TIAA-CREF’s officers and directors will ensure that the voting participants understand that the resolution compels the TIAA-CREF to do something illegal and that, even if the resolution passes, the pension fund will be unable to comply.

    Now, if you are a board member of TIAA-CREF, you want to avoid that at all costs. They are not being aloof. They are stuck between a rock and a hard place.

    They asked the government to excuse them from applying a majority vote to avoid a lawsuit, possibly leading to an indictment, started by the Israeli Law Center.

    I know you people have sympathy for the Palestinians Arabs, but the Jews of Israel feel they are fighting for their survival.

    • annie on May 1, 2013, 10:40 am

      They do not like to admit it, but it is scaring them.

      gee, ya think. they’ve only invested millions in hasbara fighting the storm ahead.

      Already the Israeli Law Center has threatened to sue boycotters.

      yes, we know. open the first link at top of article to read their pathetic op ed screed that is supposed to scare us. here’s the link again; http://mondoweiss.net/2013/04/tiaa-cref-asks-feds-for-ok-to-dodge-israeli-divestment-vote-at-annual-meeting.html

      then scroll to the comment section.

      You are running up against anti-boycott legislation which was passed by the US Congress.

      i don’t think so http://mondoweiss.net/2013/04/tiaa-cref-asks-feds-for-ok-to-dodge-israeli-divestment-vote-at-annual-meeting.html/comment-page-1#comment-555420

    • Cliff on May 1, 2013, 10:58 am

      @Mike_Konrad

      There are Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel.

      And why should Jews of Israel be threatened by a boycott of settlement products and association?

      Why do Jews get to colonize and war profiteer and get away with it whilst propagandists like you characterize this ethno-religious privilege of theirs as ‘a fight for survival’?

      You draw lines as between sympathy (arbitrary apparently) for ‘Palestinian Arabs’ – as if this is simply ethnocentrism on our part.

      The issue is not ‘Palestinian Arab’ ethno-religious-nationalistic identity bias.

      The issue is human rights abuses – decades and decades and decades ongoing – and anti-colonial/anti-imperial and pro-equality/pro-civil rights beliefs.

    • American on May 1, 2013, 11:51 am

      Here’s the actual law.
      http://www.bis.doc.gov/complianceandenforcement/antiboycottcompliance.htm

      And guess what?….it has resulted in exactly–jack shit..LOL…as far as stopping anyone (in US commerce) and most Arab countries ‘still boycott Israel.

      If I had bids out to purchase some material abroad for import all I have to do is avoid ‘putting in writing’ that I wont accept Isr goods or anything containing Isr goods …and quote what any Israeli source has bid so others can come in under it…which isn’t illegal…done every day to get suppliers to under bid each other…..you cant be prosecuted for accepting a cheaper price or telling bidders what another supplier has bid..
      It’s aimed mostly at Arab firms..as in you are suppose to report them if they specify that they won’t buy goods from you as a US company containing anything Israeli n them.
      And the law doesn’t apply US citizens boycotting in their own purchases—like stock in a company ….or bar them from protesting any US company…..and it does not address US companies investing or disinvesting in Israel, it’s government or any of it’s public or private companies. It deals with US companies honoring Arab or whoever’s request to not have Israeli suppled anything in what they want to buy..
      It’s basically a useless law. I’ve only seen two small cases where it was ever applied in the 40 years since it was created.

      No doubt though our Israel loyalist in congress have their staff hard at work to come up with congressional law that requries each and every private US citizen and every US corporation to purchase x amount of Israel made products each month and to submit proof of their purchases to a special congressional created agency who will fine or imprislon you if you fall below the amount you are required to purchase.

    • eljay on May 1, 2013, 12:57 pm

      >> … the Jews of Israel feel they are fighting for their survival.

      Their lives aren’t threatened – their oppressive, supremacist and colonialist project is threatened. And rather than…
      – end their 60+ years, ON-GOING and offensive (i.e, not defensive) campaign of aggression, oppression, theft, colonization, destruction and murder; and
      – offer to enter into sincere negotiations for a just and mutually-beneficial peace,
      …the best plan they can come up with is to keep on oppressing, killing, stealing, colonizing and destroying.

      Aggressor-victimhood sure is hard work… :-(

  3. IL1948 on April 30, 2013, 7:47 pm

    Sorry, what was that? (I was drinking my sodastream water and rubbing ahava lotion into my skin when you were speaking…)

  4. Blownaway on April 30, 2013, 9:35 pm

    These are critical votes. If companies realize that divestment from these large funds is an option it becomes a risk factor that must be disclosed. what fund or fiduciary would invest in a company that is subject to boycot and divestiture? The hasbarists know that this will snowball.

  5. pabelmont on May 1, 2013, 7:45 am

    Important story, Didn’t know an Israel-concerned LAWFARE group was likely involved, Shurat Ha-Din:

    Shurat HaDin – Israel Law Center is an Israeli based civil rights organization and world leader in combating the terrorist organizations and the regimes that support them through lawsuits litigated in courtrooms around the world. Fighting for the rights of hundreds of terror victims, Shurat HaDin seeks to bankrupt the terror groups and grind their criminal activities to a halt – one lawsuit at a time

    One sees, from this HOME PAGE lead paragraph that involvement with TIAA CREF is not part of Shurat Ha-Din’s nominal area of concern * * * or that their nominal area of concern is a smoke-screen,

    Wonder if TIAA CREF is headquartered or incorporated in a STRIKE SUIT protection state. Would be lovely to try to bankrupt Shurat Ha-Din, assuming it has threatened TIAA CREF, as it apparently tries to bankrupt other groups.

    • annie on May 1, 2013, 10:24 am

      pabelmont, re the Israel Law Center ..open the first link in the ed note at the very top of this article on background. there’s a copy of their “Shurat HaDin op ed” press release on reuters. and the commenters chew it apart in the comment thread below.

  6. Citizen on May 1, 2013, 9:47 am

    The Israeli organization is using “law fare” to block free speech in USA via divestment vote of pension shareholders. Lawsuits cost a lot of money.

  7. HarryLaw on May 1, 2013, 1:33 pm

    Professor Messick speaking on Israeli National News to Yoni Kempinski said occupation was a crime, Yoni was amazed “occupation a crime, what are we talking about here, in 1967 Israel was attacked, Israel fought back and liberated these lands the facts on the ground have not changed what crime are you talking about?”
    The ignorant fool is living in a bubble, if everyone in Israel thinks like Yoni, Israel is doomed.

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