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Friday, June 22, 2012

Another fake BDS "victory," Forward falls for it

Earlier today, the Forward reported:


Pension Giant Dumps Caterpillar Over Israel Ties
TIAA-CREF Boots Company From Responsible Investing Fund
By Blair Thornburgh
Published June 21, 2012.


Retirement giant TIAA-CREF has dumped Caterpillar from a socially responsible investment fund after over two years of pressure from human-rights groups that say the company bolsters Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.


The pension fund had held $72 million in Caterpillar shares in its Social Choice Funds portfolio.


The Illinois-based construction company sold bulldozers to the Israeli government, which critics say are used in the destruction of Palestinian homes and buildings.


The move comes after campaigning against TIAA-CREF spearheaded by the We Divest Campaign in 2010 and a high-profile call to action by Archbishop Desmond Tutu last July.


The U.S. group Jewish Voice for Peace initiated the We Divest movement and gained support from the Palestinian BDS National Campaign and over 30 other organizations worldwide with petitions and grassroots activism.
It turns out that the truth is quite different.

As Divest This! reports:
Once more, a hoax tale seems to be centered on TIAA-CREF.  If you recall, the boycotters were caught red-handed several years ago trying to pass off a generic business decision by the retirement giant as a response to their request to get the organization to divest from Israel. 

Rather than simply act as though the whole incident never happened, the BDSers took the unusual step of launching a multi-year campaign to get TIAA-CREF to actually do what they had simply pretended they did the year before. 

The response to date from CREF has been a series of polite “please piss off” messages.  Which is why this recent announcement that their divestment campaign has borne fruit seems mighty suspicious indeed.

To begin with, the story is not accompanied by any statement from TIAA-CREF itself that it has taken any action that could be described as political in nature.  Which makes sense once you realize that CREF is still heavily invested in the company the boycotters are claiming as a divestment win (the long suffering Caterpillar Corporation).

In fact, if you dig a little deeper it looks like CREF did not make any politically related investment or divestment decision at all, but rather that one of its funds (one targeting social investors) was following the lead of an independent research firm (MSCI) which generates an index which many “Social Responsibility” investment funds use to determine what will and will not be included in their portfolios.

Now earlier this year, MSCI downgraded and eventually removed Caterpillar from their index, which means that CREF was just following along with a decision made by an independent researcher, not making a judgment regarding Caterpillar on its own (as reflected by the fact that other funds managed by CREF still hold millions in Caterpillar stock).

Indeed, we can see that TIAA-CREF still has tens of millions invested in Caterpillar in other funds: $21 million in their Growth and Income Fund, a similar amount in their Large Cap Growth Fund, and $10 million more in their Enhanced Large Cap Growth Fund.

Doesn't sound like divestment, does it?

In fact, TIAA-CREF has explicitly said why they won't divest from Caterpillar:
While TIAA-CREF acknowledges participants’ varying views on Israeli and Palestinian policies and the Gaza Strip and West Bank, we are unable to alter our investment policy in accordance with those views. Our responsibility to earn a competitive financial return on the retirement savings entrusted to us by 3.7 million participants obliges us to invest in a diverse line-up of companies across all sectors of the global economy.

The Forward simply believed the false press release of the "Jewish Voice for Peace," complete with lots of quotes from the usual suspects praising this "victory": the Corries, Omar Barghouti and others.

As soon as The Forward was told that they were duped, they silently removed the article, although at the moment you can still see that they index it in their search page.

(h/t DK, CHA)