TIAA-CREF Divests from Caterpillar

by Melinda Thompson

We applaud the actions of our friends at Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) that have been instrumental in causing TIAA-CREF to divest its $72 Million holdings of Caterpillar stock from the investment funds it markets as socially responsible.

TIAA-CREF’s social-responsible screening is guided by ratings published by MSCI-ESG, part of Morgan Stanley. It was MSCI that downgraded Caterpillar’s rating to a level that expelled it from the ESG index. This downgrading, in turn, led TIAA-CREF to immediately drop the company from its social investment portfolio.

Not your grandfather's tractor?

As early as 2004 Caterpillar has been the target of criticism from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and watched by the MRTI Committee of PCUSA. Caterpillar equipment is used to demolish Palestinian homes, water cisterns, orchards and olive groves. An Israeli military commander has referred to CAT bulldozers as “the key weapon” in the military occupation of Palestinian land.

An article from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) reporting on the de-listing of CAT from the MSCI-ESG index (based on Environmental, Social or Governance standards), and other articles downplaying the divestment movement, use the benign-sounding word "tractor" to refer to the equipment used by the Israelis in the occupied Palestinian territories. Does the image above look like your ordinary Illinois farm tractor?

The JTA article cites a senior official at MSCI-ESG, who said Caterpillar already had a low rating before its delisting earlier this year, in part because of its association with the Israeli army’s use of the tractors in the West Bank and past use in the Gaza Strip.

Other groups have agreed: the Quaker institution Friends Fiduciary recently pulled out its $900,000 investment in Caterpillar. The Church of England made this decision in 2006.

The JVP We Divest Campaign, launched in 2010, will continue to urge TIAA-CREF to divest other funds from Caterpillar and to divest from all companies that profit from the Israeli occupation—including Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard. The campaign was initiated by Jewish Voice for Peace and now includes six organizations, including the American Friends Service Committee, Adalah-NY, Grassroots International, the US Palestinian Community Network, and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.

Members of JVP have been working with divestment proponents in the PCUSA and will be joining us at GA to support the movement for divestment.

Here is a plea from JVP that came today by email:

“The movement to pressure Israel to be accountable to international law is now on the verge of a historic breakthrough at the Presbyterian General Assembly in Pittsburgh next week. Can you chip in $18 or $36 or more to help us get our delegation there?

The Presbyterian Church (USA), one of the largest Protestant denominations in the US, will be meeting to decide whether to divest from Caterpillar and a few other companies profiting from the Israeli occupation. This is by far the most contested divestment vote in the US, and our pro-occupation opponents will be out in full force.

We need your help to send a large delegation of Jewish activists to Pittsburgh.

We don’t have the hundreds of thousands of dollars for paid ads or celebrity speakers that our opponents have—but we do have committed, knowledgeable and dedicated Jews who can walk the aisles side by side with our Palestinian allies and tell Presbyterian voters face to face to go with their conscience and vote on behalf of justice for all people.

To help them with a donation, go to See you at GA.