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Pension Giant Dumps $73 Million Caterpillar Stock Over Israel Ties

Common Dreams staff

Pension fund giant TIAA-CREF has removed Caterpillar, Inc. from its Social Choice Funds portfolio. As of May 1, 2012, financial data posted on TIAA-CREF’s website valued Social Choice Funds shares in Caterpillar at $72,943,861. Today it is zero.

“We applaud this decision,” said Rabbi Alissa Wise, Director of Campaigns at Jewish Voice for Peace and National Coordinator of the We Divest Campaign. "It’s long past time that TIAA-CREF began living up to its motto of ‘Financial Services for the Greater Good’ when it comes to the people of Israel and Palestine.”

Since 2010, We Divest has been urging TIAA-CREF to drop Caterpillar and other companies profiting from and facilitating Israel’s 45-year-old military occupation and colonization of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip.

“By selling weaponized bulldozers to Israel, Caterpillar is complicit in Israel’s systematic violations of Palestinian human rights,” said Rabbi Wise. “We’re glad to see that the socially responsible investment community appears to be recognizing this and is starting to take appropriate action.”

Caterpillar has come under increasing criticism from human rights organizations in recent years for continuing to supply bulldozers to Israel, which uses them to demolish Palestinian civilian homes and destroy crops and agricultural land in the occupied territories, and to build illegal, Jewish-only settlements on Palestinian land.

In the coming weeks, many will be watching the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly taking place in Pittsburgh, where church commissioners will vote on a motion to divest from Caterpillar and two other companies, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard, that remain in TIAA-CREF’s Social Choice Funds.

Last month, Friends Fiduciary, a Quaker institution, divested $900,000 worth of shares in Caterpillar stating: “We are uncomfortable defending our position on this stock.”

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Israel's Ha'aretz reports:

[...] TIAA-CREF’s divestiture amounted to $72 million in funds, dwarfing previous divestitures by liberal religious groups such as Friends Fiduciary, a Quaker group that divested $900,000.

The news of the delisting comes ahead of the biennial general assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), where divestment from Caterpillar and other companies selling products used by the Israeli army, will be considered. [...]

The death in 2003 of Rachel Corrie, an American pro-Palestinian activist, while she was protesting such a demolition in Gaza, helped spur the BDS movement forward. Corrie’s parents and witnesses say she was caught beneath an armored tractor. The army denies fault and maintains she was killed by debris.

MSCI-ESG – ESG stands for Environment, Social or Governance – has as its clients a number of progressive groups that base their investments in part on social justice issues, including care for the environment, the treatment and safety of employees, and involvement in human rights abuses.

MSCI-ESG’s decision, made in February and effective as of March 1, came to light this week because of claims by groups associated with the BDS movement that a decision by TIAA-CREF – a pension fund for teachers and other academics – to divest from Caterpillar was a result of their pressure.

"It’s long past time that TIAA-CREF began living up to its motto of ‘Financial Services for the Greater Good’ when it comes to the people of Israel and Palestine,” Rabbi Alissa Wise, the national coordinator for “We Divest,” a coalition of several groups, including Jewish Voice for Peace, where Wise is director of campaigns. [...]

Rebecca Vilkomerson, the Jewish Voice for Peace spokswoman said she was “confident” that representations by the We Divest coalition and other groups both to MSCI-ESG and to TIAA-CREF played a role.

In any case, she said, activism by groups such as hers has resulted in a “consensus in the human rights community because of its role in human rights abuses in Palestine, Caterpillar is not an ethical actor.”

Pro-Palestinian groups have for a decade campaigned against the sale of the tractors to Israel. Caterpillar sells the tractors to the U.S. military for resale to allies. Caterpillar says it does not determine to which countries the tractors are resold and how they are refitted for military use.

The pro-Palestinian groups, backed by a number of human rights NGOs, say that Israel uses the tractors to destroy Palestinian homes as a means of inhibiting growth and as collective punishment. Israel says the tractors are used to destroy illegal structures, and in Gaza were used until 2005, when Israel pulled out, to destroy tunnels used by terrorists for smuggling purposes.

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And a press release from Jewish Voice for Peace:

TIAA-CREF Drops Caterpillar from Social Choice Funds
Biggest U.S. Victory Yet for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement

June 21, 2012—Over the objection of Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY), pension giant TIAA-CREF’s Social Choice Funds have divested from Caterpillar.

Ackerman, the top Democrat on the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, has strongly condemned the TIAA-CREF divestment campaign, calling it “ill-conceived and dangerous.”

Ackerman attacked nearly 200 New York University (NYU) faculty and staff for signing a letter urging TIAA-CREF President/CEO Roger W. Ferguson, Jr., to “divest funds from companies that profit from Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories.”

Ackerman remarked, “It would take a great deal of education to rationalize such utter nonsense. But somehow, I feel sure this bunch at NYU will manage it.”

TIAA-CREF ignored Ackerman and did exactly as the NYU faculty asked—divesting more than $72 million of shares in Caterpillar from their social choice funds. Caterpillar shares (NYSE:CAT) are down 1.25% as of 12 p.m. ET today.

TIAA-CREF’s move is yet another sign of surging momentum for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Last month, Friends Fiduciary, a Quaker institution, divested $900,000 worth of shares in Caterpillar stating: “We are uncomfortable defending our position on this stock.”

Ackerman is not alone in fighting TIAA-CREF’s divestment. The Israel Action Network is a $6 million project of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, devoted to undermining divestment campaigns like this one. TIAA-CREF was clearly not convinced by either Ackerman or the Israel Action Network.

“The Israel Action Network is a cynical effort to divide the Jewish community and silence one of the most important moral policy debates in our country,” said Rabbi Alissa Wise, Director of Campaigns at Jewish Voice for Peace and National Coordinator of the We Divest Campaign (

TIAA-CREF had resisted calls for divestment since the We Divest Campaign launched in 2010. The change comes less than a month before TIAA-CREF’s annual meeting, which will take place July 17th in New York.

The We Divest Campaign will continue to urge TIAA-CREF to divest other funds from Caterpillar and to divest from all companies that profit from the Israeli occupation—including Northrop Grumman, Veolia, Elbit, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard. The campaign was initiated by Jewish Voice for Peace and now includes six organizations, including the American Friends Service Committee, Adalah-NY, Grassroots International, the US Palestinian Community Network, and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.

Jewish Voice for Peace is a national grassroots peace organization dedicated to promoting a US foreign policy in the Middle East based on peace, democracy, human rights and respect for international law. With over 115,000 online supporters, 35 chapters and a Rabbi's Council, JVP’s board of advisors includes Tony Kushner, Ed Asner, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, Eve Ensler and others.

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