BDS roundup: Protesters demand TIAA-CREF drop investments in companies profiting from Israel’s occupation

TIAA-CREF continues to invest in companies that profit from Israel’s illegal occupation. 

Issam Rimawi APA images

In this regular roundup of news from the global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement: Protesters in three US cities demand TIAA-CREF drop investments from companies profiting from Israel’s violations of international law; For Ramadan, a nationwide boycott of “Hadiklaim” dates grown in Israeli settlements; a Disney descendant renounces her share of family’s profits in Israeli settlement cosmetics company Ahava; Israeli bottled water “flushed” at University of Dundee in Scotland; Edinburgh International Festival director pressured by BDS activists to disinvite Israeli dance troupe from 2012 program; BDS activists to jazz musicians: “Don’t bring your jazz to apartheid”; and US academics respond to recent tour of Israel by university presidents: “Honor the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions!”

National Day of Action against TIAA-CREF’s continued investments in companies that profit from Israel’s occupation

A national day of action was called for 17 July as Palestine solidarity activists and BDS campaigners in New York, Chicago and San Francisco rallied outside the offices of pension fund giant TIAA-CREF during the annual shareholders’ meeting in New York City.

Even though last month TIAA-CREF announced that it was divesting more than $72 million worth of shares in Caterpillar from its Social Choice Fund after the company’s stock was downgraded by the Morgan Stanley Capital International because of the Israeli military’s use of Caterpillar bulldozers in ongoing house demolitions in Palestine, shareholders challenged the fund’s continued investments in companies that profit from Israel’s violations of international law.

According to a press release from Jewish Voice for Peace’s We Divest campaign, which has been at the forefront of divestment activism involving TIAA-CREF, concerned shareholders “confronted trustees over the pension fund giant’s investments in companies such as Caterpillar, Northrop Grumman, Veolia, Elbit, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard, whose products are used by the Israeli military to violate international law and the human rights of Palestinians.”

Simultaneously, the press release added, “protesters rallied in front of TIAA-CREF offices across the country to urge trustees to divest from these and other companies that profit from and enable Israel’s 45-year-old military occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands.”

JVP stated that inside the shareholders meeting, James Schamus, CEO of Focus Features, professor at Columbia University, and TIAA-CREF shareholder, challenged TIAA-CREF CEO Roger Ferguson.

Schamus asked:

“When will TIAA-CREF provide clients like me with a fund that is Israeli-occupation clean?” In response, Ferguson claimed that TIAA-CREF cannot address concerns from individual shareholders through their Social Choice fund.

While stating that he has no intention of engaging with the companies in question, a prerequisite to divestment, and that he believes it is not clear that shareholder activism can have the same effect with Israel/Palestine as it did with apartheid-era South Africa, Ferguson did agree to report to ethical investment ratings agency MSCI concerning the companies discussed during today’s meeting, which included not only ones profiting from the Israeli occupation, but also Nike, Coca-Cola, and private healthcare companies such as Aetna and Cigna.

Last month it was revealed that TIAA-CREF had sold more than $72 million worth of shares in Caterpillar from its Social Choice fund after the latter’s stock was downgraded by MSCI as a result of the Israeli army’s use of Caterpillar products in human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Ferguson also acknowledged that the We Divest campaign has influenced TIAA-CREF and its decision to drop Caterpillar from its Social Choice fund, and that they will be monitoring developments in the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005.

“If TIAA-CREF trustees wish to live up to their motto of investing for ‘the greater good,’ they cannot continue to profit from companies whose products are used to destroy Palestinian homes, schools, and agricultural land, to build illegal Jewish-only colonies on occupied land, and to deny Palestinians basic freedoms such as freedom of movement,” said Riham Barghouti of Adalah-NY, speaking outside the meeting in New York. “Change is in the air and the time is now.”

In San Francisco, more than two dozen persons from different activism groups protested, chanted and sang songs outside TIAA-CREF’s offices in the Mission District. The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah took part in the Chicago protest, as did Cantor Michael Davis, a member of the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace.

“The occupation is a betrayal of our values,” Davis stated in a speech he gave at the Chicago rally (the speech transcript was emailed to The Electronic Intifada by Davis).

He added:

And we are benefiting from it. Our pensions, our corporations, our financial future is built on the backs of the occupation industry. … The occupation is profitable. To Israeli and American companies.

The Torah teaches: “lo ta’amod al dam re’echa.” You shall not stand idly by as your fellow human being suffers. But the English translations misses the emotional heart of this verse. The literal translation is: “you shall not stand on your fellow man’s blood.”

We abhor financial advancement that came at the price of another human being’s life. We reject the blood diamonds of various regions in Africa. We reject the profiteering of slave factories around the world.

The same shame is attached to the profits that come from the occupation. From Caterpillar and Veolia, Motorola and Elbit. And many others.

We are here today to say: The state of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinians is not legal, it is immoral and we will not fund it. And we demand that are corporations and our pension funds divest from this occupation.

Jewish Voice for Peace commends TIAA-CREF for its historic decision to drop Caterpillar from its Social Choice Fund. We call on the shareholders of TIAA-CREF to go further, to be bold and to divest from the occupation.

For Ramadan, a nationwide boycott of “Hadiklaim” dates grown in Israeli settlements

American Muslims for Palestine announced on 17 July that a nationwide boycott was called of dates grown in Israeli settlements just days before the month of Ramadan began.

In a press release, AMP stated that “dozens of Arab- and Muslim-owned grocery stores in nearly a dozen cities across the US have pledged to boycott Israeli occupation dates. AMP chapters in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago, New York, New Jersey and the Washington DC area are participating, as are volunteer groups in Philadelphia. While the first phase of the boycott is targeting ethnic grocers and the Muslim community, the boycott eventually will be widened to include the general public and major chain retailers.”

The press release added:

“Muslims typically break their fasts in Ramadan by eating dates and drinking water,” said Mr. Awad Hamdan, AMP national programs director. “Unfortunately, many Muslims unknowingly use Israeli dates, most of which are grown in Israeli settlements built illegally on Palestinian land.”

… “AMP is asking everyone to refuse to buy dates marketed by Hadiklaim under the names of Jordan River, Jordan River Bio-Tops and King Solomon,” Hamdan said. “Instead, people can support the American economy by purchasing dates produced in California and Arizona.”

The national campaign, “This Ramadan Make a Date with Justice: Choose Occupation-Free Dates,” answers the 2005 call from Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel as means to peacefully pressure Israel to abide by international law and end its occupation of Palestine; allow Palestinians refugees the right to return to their homeland; and to secure equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel.

In the United States, dates are grown in California and Arizona, which together produced about 28,000 tons in 2011, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center. However, a vast amount of dates are imported into the US as well. Israel produces more than half the world’s premier date, the Medjool; and Israeli exports to the United States were valued at $51 million in 2011, according to the USDA.

A 2006 investigative report by Israeli newspaper Haaretz exposed many of these unfair labor practices, which include leaving workers, including children, on the tops of date palm trees in the grueling sun for up to nine hours, in some cases, at a stretch with no breaks.

Palestinian workers are paid less than their Israeli counterparts, in violation of Israeli law. In addition, Palestinian child laborers are also subject to exploitation in the settlements. In 2008, the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics found that more than 7,000 children between 5 and 17 years of age were working in the Jordan Valley alone, according to an AMP report.

Disney descendant renounces her share of family’s profits in Israeli settlement cosmetics company Ahava

Israeli daily Haaretz reported on 16 July that Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of Roy Disney (the co-founder — with Walt — of the Walt Disney Company) “said Monday that she is renouncing her share of the family’s profits in the Israeli cosmetics company Ahava, saying it is engaged in the ‘exploitation of occupied natural resources.’”

Ahava products are made in the illegal West Bank settlement colony of Mitzpe Shalem, and are produced with resources taken from the Dead Sea. Global actions and pressure on retailers have resulted in Ahava being deshelved in stores on three continents. As the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee stated in its 7th anniversary report of worldwide BDS victories earlier this month, “a sustained campaign against Ahava … forced the company to close its flagship London store and retailers in the UK, Norway, Japan and Canada to announce boycotts of the company.”

For more on the ongoing Ahava boycott initiative, visit the Stolen Beauty campaign website.

Israeli bottled water “flushed” at University of Dundee in Scotland

Activists at the University of Dundee have spiked bottled water products from Eden Springs UK, a subsidiary of Mayanot Eden — an Israeli company which takes water from a spring in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights and bottles it in a nearby settlement — becoming the latest academic institution in Scotland to “flush Eden Springs out of its campus,” according to a press release.

In a statement, the Dundee University Action Palestine Society said that the BDS campaign to have Eden Springs removed began in 2009, with help from other student groups and university staff.

The statement reads:

Eden Springs UK is entirely owned, controlled and managed by Mayanot Eden which steals water from the Salukia spring in the occupied Syrian Golan, where it is bottled in the illegal Israeli settlement of Katzrin. Eden Springs UK and Eden Springs Europe themselves do not steal water from the Syrian Golan — they source water locally, and this is precisely the objection that was put forward by certain individuals in Student Council meetings. However, what seems to be overlooked is that Eden Springs UK is, by virtue of being a subsidiary of Mayanot Eden and therefore a beneficiary of the stealing of water, directly linked to the criminal activities committed by its parent company.

… Dundee University can now say that it no longer does business with companies that deny people the fundamental element of life in one part of the world, while profiting from it in another.

We’re also aware of the timing of the latest BDS victory against Eden Springs, coming on the back of similar victories at Glasgow Caledonian University and the University of Glasgow; [and a] recent motion passed at the National Executive Committee of the National Union of Students (NUS) and the ongoing campaign against the Scottish Government’s £200,000 grant to Eden Springs which flies in the face of the progressive vision of Scotland the SNP government claim to have and the strong rhetoric against Israel’s many crimes used by [Scotland Minister] Alex Salmond.

There is undoubtedly a gathering momentum against Eden Springs, particularly in Scotland and we think we have helped contribute to this.

Edinburgh International Festival director pressured by BDS activists to disinvite Israeli dance troupe from 2012 program

In other news from Scotland, following recent protests by activists in the US against the Batsheva Dance Company’s performances — which is financially sponsored by the Israeli foreign ministry — officials of the Edinburgh International Festival are facing pressure by Palestine solidarity activists to disinvite the dance troupe from the upcoming 2012 program at the end of August.

The “Don’t Dance with Israeli Apartheid” coalition of activists and organizers say that the festival’s officials have received an open letter urging them to rescind their invite to Batsheva, and reject the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ attempts to “present positive spin about Israel and whitewash its oppressive regime and human rights abuses” via its “Brand Israel” propaganda campaign. The letter has already been signed by more than seventy European, Palestinian and international human rights and civil society organizations, as well as dozens of high-profile academics, artists and journalists.

The press release adds:

The open letter also highlights the situation for Palestinians, including artists and performers, who face restrictions and harassment because of Israel’s occupation and system of “apartheid … an aggravated and state directed form of racial discrimination in which one group dominates and oppresses another.”

A coalition of Palestine solidarity organisations and activists coming together as ‘Don’t Dance with Israeli Apartheid’ are planning protests at all Batsheva performances at the end of August should the Festival go ahead with the scheduled programme.

The Edinburgh International Film Festival issued an apology after taking sponsorship from the Israeli Embassy in 2006 and again in 2009. After returning the money, then-chairman, Iain Smith, admitted that “our festival cannot keep itself entirely detached from very serious geopolitical issues and I am instituting a review of our procedures to ensure there can be no repeat incident.”

BDS activists to jazz musicians: “Don’t bring your jazz to apartheid”

Activists with the cultural BDS group Don’t Play Apartheid Israel have written an open letter to several jazz musicians scheduled to play at the annual Red Sea Jazz Festival in Eilat.

Reminding the musicians that earlier this year, jazz legend Cassandra Wilson canceled her scheduled gig in Holon due to the boycott, DPAI’s letter urged the musicians to join other artists of conscience and refuse to play in early August.

The letter adds:

Dear Carmen Souza, Theo Pas’cal, Filipe Melo and Mauricio Zottarelli,

We are a group of over 900 members, representing many nations around the globe, who believe that musicians and other artists can play a role in ending apartheid by heeding the call of Palestinian civil society and joining in the boycott of Israel. We also believe that by playing in Israel, artists are condoning the suffering of millions of Palestinians through conducting business as usual with that state.

All we are asking you to do is to first do no harm — to stay home, and refrain from playing. It is up to you, and would be highly appreciated, if you would like to support and join the boycott movement by making a statement in support of universal human rights. Although some artists try to remain apolitical, surely you could not make the conscious choice to endorse the crimes of Israel’s government by playing in Israel despite the boycott, thus becoming a propaganda trophy on its shelf.

Carmen Souza, Theo Pas’cal, Filipe Melo and Mauricio Zottarelli, you are on the schedule to play on August 1 and 2 at the Kaminsky in Eilat for the 26th Red Sea Jazz Festival. Many people are unaware of the gravity of the Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people under occupation, the suffering of Palestinians in refugee camps and the severely curtailed rights of Palestinians within Israel. We hope you’ll do some research before you board your plane for Tel Aviv and that you will decide that human rights are not selective, they are universal, and you will want to choose to be artists of conscience.

US academics respond to recent tour of Israel by university presidents: “Honor the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions”

Following the participation of US university presidents on a recent tour of Israel designed to strengthen academic cooperation between US and Israeli universities — which, as professor Terri Ginsberg pointed out in her recent article in the The Electronic Intifada, was sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, “an unreservedly Zionist organization” — academics with the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel have drafted a letter strongly urging university officials to reject “the Israeli academy’s participation in Israel’s ‘systematic regime of segregation and discrimination, occupation and ethnic cleansing.’”

USACBI’s letter was signed by prominent academics and scholars, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Angela Davis, and Richard Falk, among many others. The letter states, in full:

Dear Presidents and Chancellors,

It has come to our attention that you participated in a recent delegation of U.S. university presidents to Israel (July 1-9, 2012), the purpose of which was to bolster bilateral academic exchange and cooperation with Israeli universities, and to explore opportunities for academic and research collaboration between your universities and Israeli universities.

We are writing to urge you, in the strongest possible terms, not to pursue institutional relationships between your universities and Israeli universities, and to discontinue any existing institutional relationships that might already exist. We ask you instead to honor the call for the worldwide academic and cultural boycott of Israel, initiated in 2004 by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, and supported by the U.S. Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

Four Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, and Mairead Maguire have described Israel as an apartheid state, and this description has been supported by the Russell Tribunal and the Human Sciences Research Council of South Africa. Far from being the exemplar of “a richly diverse country” or representing “Martin Luther King’s ideals of equality, integration, peace, collaboration and the value of education,” Israel is founded upon discrimination, ongoing ethnic cleansing, and the segregation of access to infrastructure, resources and even education. Indeed, the racist nature of the state of Israel is so extreme that University of Miami president Donna Shalala, who participated in a delegation similar to yours, was detained, interrogated, and humiliated at Ben-Gurion International Airport, in July 2010, simply because of her Arab ethnicity.

Israel’s institutions of higher education are not innocent in relation to this systematic regime of segregation and discrimination, occupation and ethnic cleansing. To give only a handful of examples, Tel Aviv University, which you visited, currently has some 55 joint projects with the Israeli military, especially in the “innovative” field of electro-optics that directly serve and supply the occupation. Hebrew University is built on and continues to expand into occupied East Jerusalem, from which Palestinians continue to be “transferred”, despite its internationally recognized status as the future capital of any independent Palestinian State.

Academics in Technion and other institutions have been directly engaged in furnishing the hydrological and demographic surveys that have guided the construction of the separation wall and the illegal settlements on the West Bank. Technion has been directly involved in the development of a remote-controlled “D9″ bulldozer used by the Israeli army to demolish Palestinian houses in acts of collective punishment or ethnic cleansing. All Israeli academic institutions are involved in structural discrimination against Palestinian students.

Earlier this year, a delegation of US professors went on an alternative tour, organized by USACBI, and witnessed the impact of the Israeli occupation on the Palestinian people. They wrote eloquently of their experiences, and their commitment to sever ties with Israel until it abides by international law, in a widely-circulated statement.

Returning from that delegation, the eminent African American historian, Robin Kelley commented in an account of his visit there on “the efforts Israel puts into and invests in normalizing the situation there.” He is correct: the gradual recognition in the media and among an increasing segment of the US and global public of the nature of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, supported by ample documentation of Israel’s egregious abuses, has dealt a serious blow to Israel’s image in the West. As a result, the Israeli government has launched a rebranding campaign (“Brand Israel”), to fix its image, with no attempt to alter the policies that have tarnished this reputation. Delegations such as yours are part of this government campaign, which seeks to distract attention from its violations of international law and of the Palestinian people’s inalienable human rights, by shining a very partial light on Israel’s academic and cultural accomplishments.

Under these circumstances, the establishment of institutional links between your universities and Israeli universities would be de facto recognition and support of Apartheid and colonialism. It would be the moral equivalent of supporting South African institutions during its Apartheid era, and would place you on the wrong side of history.

We urge you to resist the temptation to collaborate with Israeli academic institutions until Israel satisfies the requirements of international law and universally recognized human rights. And we encourage you to inform yourself more fully of the nature of Israel’s discriminatory regime and occupation. The signatories of this letter write on behalf of the US Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, a representative of which would be happy to meet or talk with you to clarify our concerns. We can be reached at usacbi AT usacbi DOT org.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).