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.

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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… Read more »

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. In a letter sent to the pension giant’s executives, Darshan-Leitner pointed… Read more »

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

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.

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… Read more »