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Divestment Movement Breakthrough

23 July, 2010


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.

TIAA-CREF is one the largest retirement funds in the world, and it holds investments in companies that profit from the Israeli occupation.

I can't tell you what it meant to have so many people at the TIAA-CREF meeting asking them to do better. 15,300 people to be exact . Each one had signed a petition or a postcard, or secured hundreds of postcards in their own community asking the fund to divest from the Israeli occupation. And you know what? That made all the difference --- to us, and to the leadership of TIAA-CREF .

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  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 join our call and help us grow the 15,300 to 25,000 and then 50,000 .

Please sign the TIAA-CREF petition now.

In that meeting, the 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 the 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 - statement after statement opposing 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 .

Please join our call! We are already having an impact at 15,300 but want to grow to 50,000. Please sign our petition today.

Thank you for listening. 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.

Aaron Levitt
Jewish Voice for Peace

P.S. At the 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 sign our petition and help us get more signatures , especially from TIAA-CREF participants who are predominantly professors, teachers, medical and nonprofit workers.

Contact us directly at Jewish Voice for Peace. 1611 Telegraph Avenue, Suite 550. Oakland, CA 94612 510-465-1777 info@jvp.org