TIAA-CREF: Divestment from Israel Dismissed, Again

For the fourth year in a row, the TIAA-CREF Board refused to put divestment from Israel to a vote at its annual share holders’ meeting. TIAA-CREF, the leading provider of retirement services in the academic, research, medical, and cultural fields and a Fortune 100 financial services organization was supported by a recent ruling of the Securities and Exchange Commission in chosing not to plunge its four million investors into the controversial geopolitical issue of sovereignty of disputed areas in the West Bank/ Judea Samaria.

A handful of proxy activists from “We Divest,” a fringe group which condemns any self defense on the part of Israel and downplays all threats to Israel, was joined by a lone representative from a Unitarian Church in their call for withdrawing all investments from six multi-national companies, which do business with Israel as well as many other emerging and developing nations. There was no call to examine the human rights records of any of the other nations as “We Divest” is targeting Israel only.

The divestment spokespeople claimed several successes in their campaign to economically and culturally isolate Israel, all of which were disputed by TIAA-CREF Board Chair Roger Ferguson. Most notable in the divestment “wins” were the reallocation of funds from one portfolio of Caterpillar and Soda Stream. Ferguson clarified several times that the decisions about the two companies were about labor issues in countries other than Israel and that Israel had no bearing on the investment strategy. 

StandWithUs, along with the Jewish Federation and Israel Action Network, countered the divestment arguments as being at best being “non-helpful” and at worst encouraging of violence. 

Sue Worrell, Executive Director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte, stated:

What I am hearing is an over simplification of a very complex issue being debated at much higher platforms than the one we are at today. She urged TIAA-CREF “to maintain your current financial relationships and not allow this institution to be distracted by objections that are not only incompatible with US government policy but also with what TIAA- CREF is trying to accomplish with your socially responsible investment policies. Frankly, what we are hearing today are folks advocating changes that will ultimately not help Israelis or Palestinians who are actively pursuing peace.

Vida Velasco, Midwest High School Coordinator of StandWithUS, thanked TIAA-CREF for refusing to make its investment decisions on biased, ill-informed lobby of a few extremists. 

“It’s much too simple and far from accurate to demonize one party and succumb to the global campaign that wishes erode Israel’s legitimacy rather than bring a resolution to the problem which will bring peace to both peoples," Velasco said. "Thank you TIAA-CREF for your principled wisdom in your investment decisions. Thank you TIAA-CREF for understanding the complexities of the situation on the ground.” 

Although the shareholders meeting ended with no new resolution about divestment from Israel, it appeared that patience among some of the shareholders was beginning to wear thin because this one issue, already settled twice, was monopolizing the meeting to the exclusion of all their other concerns. 

Roger W. Ferguson, President and Chief Executive Officer of TIAA-CRE, calmly invited all opinions, yet stayed the course, maintaining that TIAA-CREF owes its shareholders effective, transparent, principled investment and not geopolitical advocacy.


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