Thursday, July 22, 2010

TIAA CREF action by Jewish Voice for Peace

Wow!
I'm writing you from New York City where I just got back from the TIAA-CREF annual meeting and I'm still a bit overwhelmed by the experience.

I can't tell you what it meant to have each one of you there with us in the room. 15,300 of you to be exact. Each of you signed a petition or a postcard, or secured hundreds of postcards in your own community. And you know what? That made all the difference --- to us, and to the leadership of TIAA-CREF.

Yesterday we finally got a chance to call on TIAA-CREF, in person, to divest from companies like Caterpillar and Elbit that profit from Israel's occupation. As a fellow activist in the room said, "This was a real breakthrough today." I couldn't agree more.

At the meeting, those who have retirement accounts with the company can stand up and speak. We had a designated speaker delivering the postcards to TIAA-CREF management, and we knew a few other people, mostly professors and teachers, would get up and ask that their money not be invested in companies that profit from discrimination, death, and destruction, and push hope and peace ever further away.

But what happened was extraordinary. First 5, then 10, then 14 people, then more got up, one after another, to speak from the heart about why TIAA CREF must not profit from Israel's occupation. These people weren't just JVP members, but included TIAA-CREF shareholders attending the meeting for entirely different reasons, who were spontaneously moved to speak in support of our campaign.

Not a single person spoke to defend Israel's occupation. Not one. But we all know that will change, which is why we need you now to help us grow the 15,300 to 25,000 and then 50,000.

But yesterday, our voice for justice, for full equality, for a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, dominated the room. So many inspiring and courageous JVP activists stood up to say how TIAA-CREF was fueling death and destruction by literally investing in it. To implore TIAA-CREF to find a new way.

During the meeting, we had the honor of delivering our many stacks of petitions and postcards directly to the Chief Financial Officer, and could feel the energy in the room change as the TIAA-CREF executives saw how many people we were representing. The CEO of TIAA-CREF announced they would be meeting with our campaign team tomorrow, and I knew they were taking us seriously.

It was impossible for anyone in that room to not have been affected by what they saw and heard. Just imagine - hours of statements about the Israeli occupation were made in the boardroom of one of the largest financial services companies in the world.The executive managers and board members present listened attentively, respectfully.

We know the struggle will be long to actually get TIAA-CREF to divest, but this is just the beginning. Our story is already spreading across the world, with media coverage in US News and Report, Inside Higher Ed, Israel's Ha'aretz, Tablet and the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

You've made all of this possible, and we plan on bringing you with us every step of the way.Please add more voices to yours! We are already having an impact at 15,300 but want to grow to 50,000. Please tell your friends today.

Thank you. I wish we could have videotaped the statements of every person in that room-I promise you, you would have been moved and inspired. But none of us who were there will ever forget it.

Onward,
Aaron Levitt
Jewish Voice for Peace

P.S. At yesterday's meeting, TIAA-CREF's corporate leadership announced they would be meeting directly with Jewish Voice for Peace this morning, and so they did. This is a very exciting step--and it's also just the beginning. We still need you to help us get more signatures, especially from TIAA-CREF participants who are predominantly professors, teachers, medical and nonprofit workers.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Food Co-Op in Rachel Corrie's Hometown Boycotts Israeli Goods

The Olympia Food Co-op announced last week that no more Israeli products will be sold at its two grocery stores.

by Natasha Mozgovaya
Americans are far more supportive of Israel than Europeans, and most initiatives to boycott Israeli goods or to divest funds from companies working with Israel are unsuccessful in the United States.

[Last week, the board of directors of the Olympia Food Co-op in Washington state decided that no more Israeli products will be sold at its two grocery stores in the city. (Photo by: AP)]Last week, the board of directors of the Olympia Food Co-op in Washington state decided that no more Israeli products will be sold at its two grocery stores in the city. (Photo by: AP)
But such projects have recently become more widespread, especially among students - although most divestment decisions by student bodies are not implemented on the colleges' management levels.
Last week, the board of directors of the Olympia Food Co-op in Washington state decided that no more Israeli products will be sold at its two grocery stores in the city.
"We met last Thursday for the board members meeting and a pretty large group - about 40 people - presented the boycott project and answered our questions," Rob Richards, a board member, told Haaretz. "A couple of board members were concerned about what will be the financial effect on the organization, but it's minimal. For me personally there is a moral imperative that goes beyond any financial concern. So we decided to adopt the boycott which went into effect the next day."
Asked whether the boycott includes all products made in Israel, or only in settlements, Richards explained: "As far as I know - it concerns any Israeli products. We exempted "Peace Oil" - it's a joint product produced by the Palestinian farmers. Any product that is made by the company that works to improve the conditions of the Palestinians will be exempted."
Richards says the decision drew no protests.

"There was very little feedback from the staff that was against the boycott, but it seemed as minority opinion. We have two members on the board from the Jewish community who were supportive of the boycott - it's pretty progressive town. I know that's not universal at the Jewish community."
There is a list of conditions that will lead to the end of the boycott, he says.
"I am trying to be realistic - the Olympia Food Co-Op boycott is not going to change the Israeli policy, but I believe that these small drops will eventually have an effect. I would like to see more co-ops joining the boycott and more voices involved," he added.

It is probably no coincidence that Olympia is the hometown of the International Solidarity Movement activist Rachel Corrie who was killed seven years ago in Gaza - a Caterpillar bulldozer ran over her as she tried to prevent demolition of a Palestinian house. Last month, the student body of Evergreen State College in Olympia, where she studied, passed two resolutions which called for the college foundation "to divest from companies that profit from Israel's illegal occupation of Palestine," and the second one called to ban the Caterpillar company equipment from campus.

"The fact that it is the home town of Rachel Corrie's parents and that it is represented by Rep Brian Baird (who has been to Gaza and is outspoken against Israel) makes this ripe for issues," said Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi of The Israel Project, a pro-Israel organization. "So does the fact that it does not have a very organized pro-Israel community. This went under the radar screen at a time when most groups were focused on Iran sanctions and other macro issues. It is clear that the people who voted on this did not hear both sides of the issues. What is needed is education on facts."

An Israeli diplomatic source told Haaretz that the boycott issue is being checked, and although it seems like a marginal incident. The source added that "we are concerned about every attempt to delegitimize Israel."

The Olympia Food Co-Op boycott is only a tiny part of an effort that the BDS (boycotts, divestment and sanctions) movement is mounting on U.S. companies. On Monday, Jewish Voice for Peace activists planned to attend the TIAA-CREF annual meeting the company headquarters in New York City to deliver thousands of signatures calling on the company to divest its money from Caterpillar, Elbit, Motorola and some other companies, that, as JVP puts it, "profit from the violation of international law through home demolitions, the destruction of life sustaining orchards, the construction of roads and transit that only Israelis can use, the killing of civilians by drones, and many other injustices."
In some places the mainstream Jewish community has reacted vigorously against boycott attempts, but many Israel supporters are worried that the battle "might be already lost at the campuses."

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Call for Next Thursday in NYC

This coming Tuesday, July 20th, CREF will hold its annual meeting in New York City. This is the one time a year where the leadership of TIAA-CREF sits down with fund participants and listens in person to their concerns. We certainly have a concern about the Israeli occupation, and we want to make sure that they hear us loud and clear. 

Israeli bulldozers resumed bulldozing Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem this week. Palestinians suffer and TIAA-CREF earns a profit. Why is TIAA-CREF invested in Caterpillar?

We have barely started collecting signatures for our petition, and as of this morning we have surpassed the 5,900 mark. Help us greet the fund's directors this Tuesday with 10,000 names in favor of divestment! 

We know that TIAA-CREF is taking us seriously, but this is only the beginning. We need your help to keep our momentum growing and let TIAA-CREF know that more and more people are asking it to divest from injustice.

We're coming to the meeting on Tuesday with a large number of postcards. So many of you asked for postcards that we ran out! Please sign our petition online. Whether you've signed the postcard or the petition, we will bring you with us to the July 20 meeting!

Thanks,


Sydney Levy
Jewish Voice for Peace

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

BDS Success:

Corrado's, a large family-owned supermarket, in Clifton, NJ, agreed to stop selling "Jordan Valley" dried dates--Product of Israel. This happened after repeated complaints to two of the younger owner/family members. It definitely helps to be a regular customer to have some say and the possible threat of widespread boycott. It is interesting to note that I had "help" from some of the employees who were from the Middle East who shared my opinions but was too "afraid" to challenge the management. In the end, the Corrados were quite gracious about removing the Israelil products. Sadly, they told me that the wholesaler of the "Made in Israel" products was a Palestinian Arab. Sigh.

Dennis Y. Loh, MD. CNRI (Creative Nonviolent Resistance against Injustice)

Monday, July 5, 2010

IKEA furnishing the occupation

IKEA furnishing the occupation


Swedish Radio reported on 23 June that home furnishings retail giant IKEA in Israel discriminately ships to Israel's illegal settlements but not Palestinian cities in the occupied West Bank.

Swedish Radio's correspondent in Israel, Cecilia Udden, explained that she was moving to the Palestinian city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank and asked the staff at IKEA Israel if her furniture could be delivered there. She reported that behind the store's counter was a huge map of Israel that showed no boundaries for the occupied West Bank, Gaza Strip, or the Syrian Golan Heights. Although IKEA's cost of transport is calculated according to distance, to Udden's surprise, transport to Ramallah was not possible. However, the store did inform her that furniture could be delivered to various Israeli settlements throughout the occupied West Bank.

Ove Bring, a professor of international law, explained to Swedish online magazine Stockholm News that IKEA's policies discriminate against Palestinians. In addition, the shipping policies violate the company's code of conduct, which is published on its website ("IWAY Standard" [PDF]).

IKEA stated in Udden's report that because it relies on local transport companies for deliveries it is bound by local rules. However, Bring challenged the company's assertion and stated that IKEA must examine whether the transport companies are truly unable to deliver to all customers who request the products. Indeed, when Udden insisted on an answer from the transportation company about why her furniture could not be delivered to Ramallah, she was informed that the Israeli military prohibits the deliveries to customers in Palestinian communities in the occupied West Bank.

In its historic 2004 advisory opinion, the International Court of Justice emphasized the illegality of activity that normalizes Israel's illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. Indeed, Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center -- which is building a Museum of Tolerance on a historic Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem -- told the California-based Jewish weekly J. that the opening of an IKEA store in Israel "will be another chink in the attempts that are still out there to boycott Israel" (""IKEA's 1st Israeli store to open in spring," 12 January 2001).

Ironically, before the opening of an IKEA store in Israel in 2001, the retailer was threatened with boycott by the Wiesenthal Center because the company's founder, Ingvar Kamprad, was a member of the fascist New Swedish Movement in the 1940s. The Wiesenthal Center also suspected IKEA of complying with the Arab League boycott of Israel because it appeared to avoid commercial involvement in Israel despite possible opportunities. In a December 1994 letter to the Wiesenthal Center, IKEA President Anders Moberg stated that IKEA had not participated in the Arab League boycott and that company was in the process of investigating the possibility of opening an IKEA store in Israel.

Today IKEA's empire boasts 300 stores in 35 countries, including two stores in Israel; the company intends to open a third store in Haifa in 2012. The IKEA brand survived the revelations of its founder's links to fascism during his youth and the company demonstrated its sensitivity to a possible consumer boycott.

In yet another irony, the boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel movement is already mobilizing in Sweden. At the end of June, the Swedish Dockworkers Union began a week-long blockade of goods to and from Israel. The action by the SDU was in response to a call by Palestinian trade unionists in the context of Israel's three-year blockade of the Gaza Strip and its attack on the Mavi Marmaraaid ship on 31 May. In this context, it remains to be seen whether IKEA will rectify the racist policies of its store in Israel before such practices inspire a new consumer boycott threat.

Adri Nieuwhof is a consultant and human rights advocate based in Switzerland.

 

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