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The War of Ideas in the Middle East

CalPERS Investment Committee Meeting
May 13, 2013, Sacramento

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DAVID MANDEL, IDC Coordinating Committee - PERS Member

My name is David Mandel. I'm an attorney, an American Jew, and also as an Israeli, having lived there for many years. A decade ago, we and Jewish Voice for Peace initiated a campaign to hold Caterpillar accountable for its direct contribution to severe violations of human rights and international law by Israel.

I'm going to skip a minute's worth of details about some of those violations, and the fact that protests both within the occupied territories and around the world have pretty much come to naught.

But now a wall-to-wall coalition of Palestinian parties and NGOs has called for more assertive, but purely non-violent forms of help. One of these is a campaign for divestment from the corporations whose actions help the occupation function, and which profit from the blood and tears of Palestinians.

Caterpillar was on the short list originally put forth to CalPERS by IDC, but back in 2011 it was placed on a back burner.

In 2012, however, the campaign begun by Jewish Voice for Peace a decade ago began to bear fruit. Morgan Stanley's socially responsible index delisted Caterpillar. TIAA-CREF divested $73 million worth of Caterpillar stock from its Social Choice Fund. The Society of Friends and many other funds around the world divested. Methodists and Presbyterians moved closer to voting for it. This year AFSCME proposed a shareholder resolution asking that Cat be required to report on its sales in light of the human rights issues and labor policies. JVP and the Presbyterian church submitted resolutions demanding a policy that would not violate human rights. If CalPERS took the lead in support, these resolutions may well pass.

In light of the world attention focused on Caterpillar, IDC last year asked CalPERS to reconsider the implications of its large investment, but to date staff has declined. We believe this is wrong, and we think that most CalPERS members would too, if presented with the facts.

In the past, CalPERS divested from companies involved in South Africa and Sudan. It has recently divested from corporations that manufacture automatic weapons illegal in California. It could make a huge statement by doing the same with Caterpillar, a blatant violator of U.S. and international law, as well as labor relations in many of its operations.

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