TIAA-CREF: Don’t Invest Our Pension Funds In Israeli Settlements

September 10th, 2009


We, the undersigned clients, are writing you because of our deep concern upon discovering that TIAA-CREF (Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, College Retirement Equities Fund) is investing pension funds in Africa-Israel, a company that is actively violating human rights and international law. Africa-Israel, principally owned by real estate and diamond magnate Lev Leviev, is building and maintaining illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Israeli settlements exist in violation of international law according to a broad international consensus. So we were very upset to discover that Africa-Israel was listed in TIAA-CREF’s College Retirement Equities Fund. According to your Schedule of Investments Report published on June 30 of this year, TIAA-CREF owns $257,000 in Africa-Israel Investments stock.[1]

(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. 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.)

Through its subsidiary Danya Cebus, Africa-Israel is responsible for building homes in the settlements of Har Homa, Ma’ale Adumim,[2] and Mattityahu East.[3] Danya Cebus’ construction in Mattityahu East, on land belonging to the Palestinian West Bank farming village of Bil’in, not only violates international law, but is also a direct affront to Bil’in’s nearly five-year peaceful campaign to resist confiscation of their land.[4] 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.[5]

Earlier this year, the British government announced it would not rent its new embassy in Tel Aviv from Africa-Israel due to Africa-Israel’s involvement in settlements. “The UK government’s firm stance is that the construction of settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is unlawful under international law; this is an important policy issue for the UK government,” a spokesperson for the United Kingdom said in addressing the government’s decision regarding Africa-Israel.[6] Additionally, the Obama administration has called on Israel to freeze settlement construction.

UNICEF[7] and Oxfam have both explicitly stated they will refuse donations from Leviev. In response to allegations that Leviev had donated to Oxfam, the organization stated: “Oxfam’s policies on donations, corporate and private, are clear. We don’t knowingly accept funds from any business involved in any illegal activity, or operating in any illegally occupied territory, including settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Oxfam abides by international humanitarian law, and thus has a long-standing policy of opposition to such settlements.”[8]

In 2009 BlackRock, one of the world’s largest investment firms, divested its holdings in Africa-Israel following concerns expressed by three client Scandinavian banks due to Africa-Israel’s involvement in settlement construction.[9]

As the largest retirement fund in the US, and especially given TIAA-CREF’s service to clients in the academic, medical, cultural and research fields, all of which “serve the benefit and enlightenment of others,”[10] TIAA-CREF should lead the way in ethical investments and not invest its clients’ money in a settlement-building company. TIAA-CREF’s policies on socially responsible investing repeatedly cite respect for human rights as a standard for screening its investments.[11] The International Court of Justice and all major human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, regard Israeli settlements as a violation of international law. Furthermore, TIAA-CREF is a signatory to the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investing (UN PRI),[12] which calls for signatories to ask the companies that they invest in to adhere to the UN Global Compact.[13] The UN Global Compact requires companies to respect human rights, “ensure they are not complicit in human rights abuses,” and makes specific reference to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).[14] Article 17 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “no one shall be deprived of his right to property.”[15] This right is directly violated by the construction of Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.

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,[16] TIAA-CREF has demonstrated leadership in socially responsible investing. Let it continue to lead the way by divesting from Africa-Israel.

[1] Pg 124,
[2]… and hyperlinks to other media reports confirming the same:…
[3]; and hyperlinks to an apartment contract and other media reports confirming the same:…
[8], and for more from Oxfam on Leviev see:…

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