TIAA-CREF should hear us, divest from Israeli apartheid
As shareholders with the retirement giant TIAA-CREF head to Charlotte this week for their national meeting, there is one issue they will find conspicuously absent from the agenda: divestment from the Israeli Occupation. Despite pleas from shareholders, including medical professionals, students and academics from universities across the United States, the pension fund refused to allow a vote on a resolution that would have compelled TIAA-CREF to consider divestment from companies such as Caterpillar or Elbit. These are companies that profit substantially from the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land.
In an effort, presumably, to avoid the topic altogether, TIAA-CREF even went so far as to move its annual meeting to Charlotte from its usual location in New York City. But even in Charlotte, they will not be able to escape from "occupation." Throughout the United States and the world, people will continue to speak truth to power about the apartheid perpetrated in the Holy Land.
I, for one, never tire of speaking out against these injustices, because they remind me only too well of what we in South Africa experienced under the racist system of apartheid. I have witnessed firsthand the racially segregated roads and housing in the Occupied Palestinian territories. I have seen the humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children at the checkpoints and roadblocks. I have met Palestinians who were evicted and replaced by Jewish Israeli settlers; Palestinians whose homes were destroyed even as new, Jewish-only homes were illegally built on confiscated Palestinian land.
This oppression, these indignities and the resulting anger are only too familiar. It is no wonder that so many South African leaders in the anti-apartheid struggle, including Nelson Mandela and numerous Jewish leaders, have found ourselves compelled to speak out on this issue.
Though the situation deteriorates daily, I am not without hope. Before apartheid ended, most South Africans did not believe they would live to see a day of liberation. They did not believe that their children, or even their children's children, would see it. But we have seen it, and I know that if apartheid can end in South Africa, so too can this occupation.
We could not have won our freedom in South Africa without the solidarity of people around the world who adopted non-violent methods to pressure governments and corporations to end their support for the apartheid regime. Faith-based groups, unions, students and consumers organized on a grassroots level and catalyzed a global wave of divestment, ultimately contributing to the collapse of apartheid.
More than two decades later, another wave of divestment has emerged, this time with the goal of ending Israel's 44-year-old occupation and its unequal treatment of the Palestinians.
The TIAA-CREF campaign is important because it is one of the most broad-based divestment efforts in the U.S.: thousands of professors, doctors, students, and many other people of conscience are coming forward demanding that the suffering of the Palestinians not be ignored in the company's bottom line. The campaign originated with a call from the American group Jewish Voice for Peace, whose members understand that ending the occupation means a better future for both Israelis and Palestinians; a future in which both the violence of the occupier and the violent resistance of the occupied come to an end, where one people no longer rule over another, and where the cycles of suffering, humiliation and retaliation are broken.
In South Africa we understood that true peace could be built only on the basis of justice and an unwavering commitment to universal rights for all humans, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, national origin or any other identity attribute. I encourage TIAA-CREF, whose slogan is "for the greater good," to heed the call for divestment, to refuse to profit from oppression of a people, and thus to stand on the side of what is right: a safe, secure and peaceful future for Palestinians and Israelis.