Video: students “mic check” TIAA-CREF head over investment in Israel’s occupation

The head of pension fund giant TIAA-CREF was met by activists at a public lecture at Cornell University in New York last week, who protested the fund’s investment in companies profiting from Israel’s abuses of Palestinain rights.

Activists with unfurled a banner reading “Divest from Israel’s occupation: Free Palestine” and using a tactic made popular by the Occupy movement, “mic-checked” CEO Robert Ferguson to demand that TIAA-CREF pull its investments in companies that profit from Israel’s occupation and apartheid structure. 

“TIAA-CREF invests in Caterpillar. They manufacture bulldozers that dispossess Palestinians,” activists with Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace and the We Divest Coalition stated.

The activists also called on the pension fund to pull its investments from Northrup Grumman, Hewlett-Packard, Veolia and British-Danish security firm G4S — which holds contracts inside Israeli prisons where Palestinians are detained and incarcerated.

Invested in occupation

TIAA-CREF invests nearly $2 billion in corporations that profit from Israel’s human rights violations, according to the We Divest Coalition, which monitors and reports on the pension fund’s holdings. Earlier this year, faculty at Columbia University and Barnard College launched a new campaign calling on TIAA-CREF to drop its investments in such companies.

In June 2012, TIAA-CREF announced it was dropping $72 million in investments in Caterpillar from its Social Choice Funds portfolio after it was removed from the Morgan Stanley Capital International World Socially Responsible Index, a list used by socially responsible investment funds to discern acceptable companies for investment. TIAA-CREF still holds Caterpillar investment holdings in other portfolios, however.

In the above video of last week’s action, the audience can be seen laughing and jeering at the activists at various points. At the end, several police officers appear to have been called to escort the activists off stage.

But the video also shows that activists were able to get their point across for more than five minutes, delivering the message that the pension fund cannot invest in Israel’s ongoing violations of Palestinian rights without protest.


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).