Wednesday, July 20, 2011

New Yorkers demand retirement-fund giant TIAA-CREF divest from the Israeli occupation

Adalah-NY is a coalition member of the US Campaign


July 19, New York, NY – At rush hour Tuesday in midtown Manhattan, seventy-five New Yorkers from diverse backgrounds protested outside the headquarters of US retirement-fund giant TIAA-CREF, demanding that it end its investment in the Israeli occupation. The New York demonstration is a part of national divestment campaign initiated by Jewish Voice for Peace which saw similar actions in twenty cities nationwide marking the day of TIAA-CREF’s annual shareholder meeting, held this year in Charlotte, NC.

According to reports from Charlotte, the TIAA-CREF shareholder meeting was dominated by discussions about divestment from Israel, despite TIAA-CREF’s quashing of a shareholder resolution on the issue. Last week Israel sparked worldwide controversy by passing an anti-boycott law in an attempt to stop divestment efforts like the TIAA-CREF campaign by making support of boycotts a punishable offense.

During the New York protest, three TIAA-CREF participants delivered to a TIAA-CREF communications officer at the entrance to the building a copy of the shareholder resolution that company leadership had blocked.  One of the TIAA-CREF participants, James Schamus - Columbia professor, screenwriter, producer and CEO of Focus Films - told the crowd of protesters, “We refuse to retire on profits derived from a cruel and unjust regime of ethnic cleansing, dispossession, land and resource theft.” He added, “TIAA-CREF’s management will surely have to make its choice of where to stand, without recourse to subterfuge and censorship.”

With chants such as “T-CREF, pay attention: No apartheid in our pension,” protestors called on TIAA-CREF, the premiere retirement fund for US educators, health professionals, and cultural workers, to divest from companies in its portfolio like Caterpillar, Veolia, and Northup Grumman that profit from the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.  The protesters parodied a well-known US folk tune, singing, “This plan is your plan, this plan is my plan; No room for violence; Or occupation; For peaceful retirement; There's one requirement; T-CREF, divest for you and me.” They also reprised, to great applause, a song and dance calling for TIAA-CREF to divest that was originally performed as a flashmob in New York’s Times Square a few weeks earlier.

Riham Barghouti of Adalah-NY told the Manhattan protesters, "The TIAA-CREF divestment initiative is the largest campaign of its kind in the US. It has the potential to send a very strong message to not only the companies that are being targeted, but all US companies, that Americans don’t want their money being invested in war and occupation. Americans don’t want their money funding companies that are violating human rights."
 
The New York City protest was organized by the groups Adalah-NY: The NY Campaign for the Boycott of Israel; CODEPINK-NYC; Jewish Voice for Peace-NYC; Jewish Voice for Peace-Westchester; Brooklyn For Peace; WESPAC Foundation; Women in Black, Union Square; and Jews Say No!

In 2005, a Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel was endorsed by over 170 Palestinian civil society groups. The Palestinian-led BDS movement is a nonviolent campaign for Palestinian rights inspired by the international boycott campaign that helped to abolish apartheid in South Africa. On Sunday, former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu published an op-ed in the Charlotte Observer calling on TIAA-CREF to divest from the Israeli occupation, just as companies divested from apartheid South Africa.