TIAA-CREF Clients Ask Fund to Divest from Leviev’s Africa-Israel Due to Israeli Settlements

(CORRECTION: The report that Adalah-NY references showing TIAA-CREF investment in Africa-israel was actually dated March 31, 2009. This report seems to be no longer available on the TIAA-CREF website, though a copy is available from Adalah-NY. The June 30th report has been made available online in its place as of the past several days by TIAA-CREF. After at least several years of investment in Africa-Israel, TIAA-CREF’s June 30th report does not show an investment in Africa-Israel. The June 30th report shows that TIAA-CREF continues to be complicit in funding settlement activity through investments in Israel Discount Bank, Cellcom Israel, Bezeq Israeli Telecommunications Corp, Bank Leumi, and Motorola, among others.)

New York, NY, September 11, 2009 – In an open letter published today, 59 clients of TIAA-CREF (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, College Retirement Equities Fund) called on the multi-billion dollar financial services and retirement firm to divest from its holdings in Lev Leviev’s company Africa-Israel due to Africa-Israel’s construction of Israeli settlements in violation of international law. The divestment call comes shortly after Africa-Israel announced that it is unable to repay debts, sending its stocks plummeting, and triggering emergency bondholder meetings.

According to TIAA-CREF’s Schedule of Investments Report published on June 30, 2009, TIAA-CREF owns $257,000 in Africa-Israel Investments stock. Leviev’s companies have been the target of a boycott and divestment campaign since November 2007 in reaction to their settlement construction and their involvement in human rights abuses in the diamond industry in Angola and Namibia. BlackRock recently divested from Africa-Israel, as has the Swedish government pension fund AP1. The Norwegian government pension fund is also under pressure from activists to divest from Africa-Israel.

Among the signers of the letter to TIAA-CREF are historian Howard Zinn, professors Noam Chomsky, Saree Makdisi from UCLA, George Bisharat from UC Hastings, Joel Beinin from Stanford University, Juan Cole from the University of Michigan, Sherna Berger Gluck of California State University, Long Beach, and longtime TIAA-CREF activist and professor Neil Wollman.

The letter explains, “TIAA-CREF’s policies on socially responsible investing repeatedly cite respect for human rights as a standard for screening its investments.” According to the signers, “As clients, we expect TIAA-CREF to live up to its motto of “Financial Services for the Greater Good.” No TIAA-CREF funds should be invested in a company that builds settlements in violation of human rights and international law. In its decision to divest from companies involved in supporting human rights abuses in Darfur, TIAA-CREF has demonstrated leadership in socially responsible investing. Let it continue to lead the way by divesting from Africa-Israel.”

The letter continues, “Through its subsidiary Danya Cebus, Africa-Israel is responsible for building homes in the settlements of Har Homa, Ma’ale Adumim, and Mattityahu East…. In addition to building settlements, Africa-Israel owns Anglo-Saxon Real Estate. Anglo-Saxon has offices in two expanding settlements, Ma’ale Adumim, and Efrat from where it sells settlement homes.” Leviev’s company Leader also owns and builds settlements in Zufim on the land of the village of Jayyous, and Leviev donates to the settlement organization the Land Redemption Fund.

In May, eleven organizations called on the Norwegian Government Pension Fund to divest from Africa-Israel. The fund is reportedly the fifth-largest shareholder of Africa-Israel. In late August, the investment giant BlackRock confirmed that it had divested from Africa-Israel. Although BlackRock, reportedly Africa-Israel’s seventh largest investor, denied that settlements were the reason for their divestment, the move followed expressions of concern over settlements by three Scandinavian banks. BlackRock is in the process of purchasing Barclays, reportedly the second largest investor in Africa-Israel, but it is not yet clear if BlackRock’s divestment will extend to Barclays. On September 9, Swedish activists informed Adalah-NY that the Swedish pension fund AP1, reportedly the tenth largest investor in Africa-Israel, had also divested from Africa-Israel, though no official reason has been given. In March, following an international campaign, the government of the United Kingdom decided to drop plans to move its Tel Aviv embassy into a building owned by Africa-Israel. Leviev has also been renounced by UNICEF and Oxfam, while major Hollywood stars have quietly distanced themselves from the settlement-builder.

The campaign to boycott Leviev’s companies is part of a growing global movement of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) that aims at stopping Israeli rights violations against Palestinians, and has gained momentum following Israel’s assault on Gaza that killed 1400 Palestinians.

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I'm a teacher, writer, and activist based in Bangalore. I am dedicated to various issues including #BDS and Palestine, living a Zero Waste life, and putting the carbon back into the soil through composting!

Posted in Divestment, U.S. Academica
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