July 17, Oakland, CA – On Tuesday, July 16th at TIAA-CREF offices in over a dozen cities nationwide, human rights advocates protested the retirement giant’s investments in Israeli military occupation, on the same day that TIAA-CREF held its annual shareholders meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina. The protesters sang, chanted, handed out thousands of flyers, and performed street theater, also signaling their displeasure with TIAA-CREF’s refusal to allow investors to vote to vote on a shareholder resolution, which calls on TIAA-CREF to divest from companies such as Veolia, Caterpillar, and Northrup Grumman which profit from segregated services, home demolitions, militarized violence, and other human rights abuses.
The protests, organized by the national We Divest campaign, come as the international campaign to boycott companies operating in Israel’s illegal settlements is gaining mainstream traction. On Tuesday the EU announced new measures focusing on Israeli settlements.
On Monday We Divest announced that TIAA-CREF had dropped its investment in the Israeli settlement company SodaStream, a target of the We Divest campaign. In 2012, the policy-making bodies of the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church USA each voted to boycott products made in Israeli settlements.
“It is becoming increasingly controversial, if not downright shameful, to be in any way associated with products made in illegal settlements in occupied territory,” said Sydney Levy of the We Divest Campaign. “No matter TIAA-CREF’s motivations to drop SodaStream, it was the right decision for a company claiming to provide ‘financial services for the greater good.’”
In Cambridge, over 90 protesters marched from Harvard Square to the Cambridge office of TIAA-CREF. Two shareholders – professors at local universities – were not allowed into the TCREF office to deliver a letter.
As 40 protesters and passersby looked on outside the Manhattan office of TCREF, three suit-clad mimes sporting TIAA-CREF logos held their hands over their eyes, ears and mouth, parodying TIAA-CREF’s reluctance to act on Israeli human rights abuses and rejection of the shareholder resolution.
In San Francisco, over 40 people from diverse groups gave speeches and sang and chanted to the accompaniment of a ukulele in front of TCREF offices on Mission Street.
Outside the TCREF office in Denver 25 people chanted to the beat of drums and sang ‘This Plan is my Plan’, before marching around a section of downtown. In Los Angeles, 15 people held signs and passed out flyers about TIAA-CREF and the We Divest campaign out side TCREF’s LA Office.
Protests were also held outside TCREF offices in Baltimore, Ann Arbor, Ithaca, Chicago and Sacramento. On Sunday, at the Columbia Heights Mall in Washington, DC, about 25 activists sang, chanted, held signs, and passed out flyers to educate the public regarding TIAA-CREF’s investments in Israel.
The TIAA-CREF annual meeting on Tuesday did not include a vote on a resolution submitted by over 200 TIAA-CREF shareholders, calling on the pension fund giant to divest from companies involved in egregious human rights violations, including those companies whose products are used by the Israeli military to commit grave and systematic human rights abuses against Palestinians, and to enforce Israel’s 46-year-old military occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands.
This is the second time that TIAA-CREF officials have refused to allow investors to vote on the shareholder resolution calling on TIAA-CREF to divest from companies supporting Israeli military occupation.
We Divest campaign activists and shareholders attended the meeting and challenged CREF leadership on their decision to invest in Occupation. TIAA-CREF leadership maintained they don’t take a position on this issue, while continuing to taut their commitment to socially responsible investing.
In 2012, TIAA-CREF dropped Caterpillar, Inc., a company targeted by We Divest, from its Social Choice fund. Caterpillar’s bulldozers have been used for countless and egregious Israeli human rights violations in occupied Palestinian Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.
In that case, TIAA-CREF’s decision was based on the downgrading of Caterpillar stock by ethical investment ratings agency MSCI, which said in a statement that one of the “key factors” in Caterpillar’s downgrading was ‘on-going controversy associated with use of the company’s equipment in the occupied Palestinian territories.’
— TIAA-CREFF Financial Services invests Retirement Plans, IRAs, Mutual Funds and Life Insurance