As TIAA-CREF gathers for annual meeting in North Carolina, trustees should heed lessons of the civil rights movement

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Two years ago, just as TIAA-CREF’s Board of Trustees was due to hold its annual meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for the financial giant to divest from the Israeli Occupation.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner, and voice of conscience in the struggle for freedom and equality in South Africa, reminded the Trustees that South Africans would not have gained their freedom “without the solidarity of people around the world who adopted non-violent methods to pressure governments and corporations to end their support for the apartheid regime.”

The Trustees chose to ignore his call. Thankfully, others have not.

Over the past several years students across the country organized themselves to examine the impact of their colleges’ and universities’ investments and demand they end their financial support of companies profiting from the Israeli Occupation.

Corporations like Caterpillar and Hewlett-Packard provide products and services the Israeli government routinely uses to violate human rights and international law through the demolition of Palestinian homes and the targeting of specific ethnic groups for surveillance.

Here in North Carolina, we know that student leadership on issues of human and civil rights can change the world. Every day I pass by the Woolworth’s on Elm Street in Greensboro where the sit-in movement began on February 1, 1960. What started with students demanding they be served a cup of coffee helped lead to the passage of the Civil Rights Act, desegregating public spaces across the country.

And yet today, TIAA-CREF supports that same kind of racism through its investment in Veolia Environment, a company directly connected with the operation of segregated buses in the Occupied West Bank.

Archbishop Tutu told the Trustees he was not without hope, and neither am I.

The divestment campaigns growing on college campuses, in religious institutions, and in communities across the country are working, non-violently, and will continue to pressure organizations like TIAA-CREF to end their support of Israel’s occupation.

Last year, TIAA-CREF sold the shares of Caterpillar stock held in its Social Choice accounts.

I recently learned TIAA-CREF dropped its investment in SodaStream, a company producing water carbonation devices at a factory in an illegal Israeli settlement in the Occupied West Bank.

The Trustees may deny a connection between these actions and the suffering of Palestinians living under occupation, but it is a fact that companies doing business with today’s apartheid nation, Israel, are finding themselves the targets of stronger boycott and divestment campaigns.

Today, for the second time, I will join others at the shareholder meeting in Charlotte to demand that TIAA-CREF stop profiting off the human rights violations the Israeli government inflicts on Palestinians each and every day. TIAA-CREF should fully drop its investments in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, Veolia, and other companies complicit in the Occupation.

The TIAA-CREF Trustees should pay close attention to the history of the sit-in movement here in North Carolina. So long as they continue to profit off Israel’s violations of Palestinians’ human and civil rights, we’re just getting settled in.

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Zionism may win a few more of these votes but only because of compromise based around ‘give them a chance’. And Zionism won’t do anything in the meantime. It’s all bad faith. Not even remotely interested in justice. Very hard for ordinary people to understand. Or support.