Jewish Voice for Peace Response to TIAA-CREF’s Statement
(July 20, 2010) Last month TIAA-CREF responded to our campaign requesting that the fund divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. On the occasion of the meeting of the CREF leadership, we have some questions in response to their statement.
TIAA-CREF says: “Our responsibility to earn a competitive financial return on the retirement savings entrusted to us by 3.7 million participants obliges us to invest in a diverse line-up of companies across all sectors of the global economy.”
We ask: What about the increasing financial and reputational risks of investing in companies that profit from the occupation?
Simply put, investing in the occupation is not a good way to earn money!
TIAA-CREF invests in ELBIT, a company that profits from the confiscation of Palestinian land by providing surveillance equipment that is mounted on the Separation Wall. Concerned about their double bottom-line of economic and social benefits, financial funds are waking up to this reality. Europe’s largest investment fund, the Norway’s Pension Fund, has already divested from Elbit. The Swedish National Pension Fund has already divested from Elbit as well. Additional financial institutions have divested too: Kommunal Landspensjonkasse (one of the largest life insurance companies in Norway), Danske Bank (the largest bank in Denmark), PKA Ltd. (one of the largest Danish pension funds).
TIAA-CREF invests in VEOLIA, a company that profits from the construction and expansion of illegal Jewish-only settlements by operating a landfill in the West Bank, exploiting Palestinian natural resources to serve the settlements, and by contracting for the future operation of an illegal light rail system connecting these settlements with Jerusalem. ASN, a Dutch bank divested from Veolia as early as 2006. Veolia has already lost about $7.5 billion dollars in contracts because of its corporate wrong-doing in Palestine, including the non-renewal of contract by the City Council in Dublin, Ireland last May and Swansea, Scotland Councillors last June. And Veolia is on the road to lose even more contracts.
Investing in the occupation might incur additional risks. In April 2009, a French court declared itself competent to hear a case against Veolia because of its activities in support of the Israeli occupation and against international law. This precedent may be repeated elsewhere with other companies in TIAA-CREF’s portfolio.
TIAA-CREF says: The holdings at issue comply fully with U.S. law.
We ask: Since when compliance with U.S. law has been the golden rule for boycott and divestment movements?
When Rosa Parks sparked the Montgomery bus boycott, was she in compliance with existing laws?
When a large number of campuses divested from companies doing business with Apartheid South Africa in the late 1970’s, the businesses being divested were in full compliance with existing U.S. laws.
In any case, existing international law already condemns the building of Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the building of the separation wall. The first goes against the Geneva Conventions; the second against a ruling by the International Court of Justice.
TIAA-CREF says: Our decision to sell shares in certain companies with ties to Sudan culminated a three-year effort to encourage them to take affirmative steps to ease human rights abuses and end genocide in the region in which they operate.
We ask: How many more years will we have to wait to divest from the Israeli occupation?
If companies had been encouraged for 3 years to improve its Sudan record, Caterpillar has been encouraged to take responsibility for the sale of its bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes for almost a decade. Caterpillar has been the target of 7 shareholder resolutions, and has been denounced in 2004 by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. That same year, Caterpillar received a letter from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights sent a letter to Caterpillar warning the company that the sale of its bulldozers to Israel "might involve complicity or acceptance on the part of your company to actual and potential violations of human rights, including the right to food.”
The New England Methodist Conference contacted Caterpillar and Northrop Grumman in 2006 and 2007, but was not given the courtesy of a response. The same group expressed its concerned around that time to Motorola and Veolia, and engaged them both, without a resulting change in their practices.
In 2008, both Methodists and Presbyterians in the U.S. considered divesting from Caterpillar and decided to give it another chance. This year, Presbyterians considered Caterpillar again and issued a strong statement of denouncement after acknowledging that Caterpillar had been “dismissive” of the concerns presented to it.
TIAA-CREF says: Our divestment action [re Darfur] was consistent with U.S. foreign policy.
We ask: Shouldn’t TIAA-CREF divest from companies that assist in the building and maintenance of Jewish-only settlements against U.S. foreign policy?
The Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are neither consistent with U.S. foreign policy nor international law.
Only last week, the State Department publicly deplored the demolition of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem.
TIAA-CREF says: We believe that concerns about the situation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are best addressed by U.S. foreign policy and lend themselves less to using one’s shareholder status to influence portfolio companies.
We ask: Why not?
Divestment and boycott campaigns complement U.S. foreign policy, and in many cases precede it, as we mentioned in the case of South African Apartheid and many others. Israel an Palestine are no exception.
In fact, there is already a established record of companies yielding to economic pressure. For example, the Israeli daily Maariv has reported that targeted boycott and divestment campaigns have forced a number of small companies to move from their location in illegal settlements in the West Bank to locations inside of Israel. This means that using boycotts and divestments is an effective tactic. Imagine how much more effective it would be if a financial giant the size of TIAA-CREF took a stand.
Even if divestment would not yield results, the question remains: Why would TIAA-CREF want to make a profit out of the Israel occupation? The occupation is both unethical and illegal under international law. Why would TIAA-CREF not follow the lead of Norway's Minister of Finance Kristin Halvorsen, who simply stated "We do not wish to fund companies that so directly contribute to violations of international humanitarian law” as it ordered the divestment of Elbit from the the Norwegian State Pension Fund.