NLG International Committee supports California “Divest from Israel” initiative
On Wednesday, September 8, 2010 Californians committed to peace and justice for Palestine-Israel will launch the statewide campaign of California ballot Initiative 10-0020 with a signing ceremony in front of the Israeli Consulate in Los Angeles. Although California has adopted policies requiring divestment from Sudan, Iran and other nations, this is the first ballot measure in the nation aimed at changing Israeli policies through divestment by State agencies. It directs California’s large public employee and teacher pension funds to be consistent with their responsible investing policies and to divest from companies that violate the human rights of Palestinians. The description provided by the office of the Attorney General when it approved the measure for circulation says that the initiative “prohibits state retirement funds from investing in companies engaged in certain business activities in Israel.”
According to Chris Yatooma, the official proponent of the initiative, “Our government has done nothing to end Israel’s brutal occupation and violation of internationally recognized human rights, UN Resolutions and the Geneva Conventions.” In fact, as campaign organizer Yael Korin, notes, “our tax dollars now help fund these violations of human rights to the tune of more than $3 billion a year in grants, adding up to a staggering $106 billion over the past five decades.”
“California retirement funds have their own disturbing record,” said local campaign organizer Sherna Gluck, a member of the Public Employee Retirement System (PERS). “Our public retirement systems have more than $1.5 billion invested in at least eight companies that provide war materials and services used in violation of internationally recognized human rights, including support for the illegal Israeli settlements and the “Separation Wall.”
Public pension funds in Norway and Sweden have already divested from one of the companies identified by the initiative organizers.
Organized by a diverse group of Californians, the initiative has been endorsed by two Nobel Peace Laureates: Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the principal leaders of South Africa’s successful struggle to end Apartheid and Mairead Maguire, renowned Belfast peacemaker.
Leading local endorsers include Marcy Winograd, former California congressional candidate; Stanley Sheinbaum, well-known peace advocate and organizer of the historic meeting in which the PLO expressed its willingness to abandon armed struggle and recognize Israel; and Executive Director Hussam Ayloush of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-LA). Local clergy, labor activists and members of PERS and the State Teachers Retirement System (STRS) have also endorsed the initiative. Several key endorsers will be present on Wednesday to become the first signers of the ballot initiative. For a complete list of the current endorsers, see: www.israeldivestmentcampaign.org/endorsements.htm.
In endorsing the Divestment Initiative, Marcy Winograd, former congressional candidate and a STRS participant noted: “Because I am a teacher, I am particularly concerned that my retirement funds might be used to further colonize Palestinian land or to erase the beautiful olive groves planted by the indigenous residents of the West Bank.”
Californians who do not want their state retirement funds to contribute to the violation of human rights are mobilizing a statewide campaign mirroring the worldwide anti-Apartheid movement that toppled White rule in South Africa. Their work draws moral support from Archbishop Tutu’s August 22nd endorsement message to Californians: “We defeated Apartheid nonviolently because the international community agreed to support the disinvestment in Apartheid campaign. A similar campaign can help to bring peace in the Middle East and do so nonviolently.”
Shakeel Syed, Executive Director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California will moderate the event with speakers Rev. Dr. DarELL T. Weist, retired, Senior Minister United Methodist Church of Los Angeles; Israeli-American researcher Yael Korin; Palestinian-American Mahmood Ibrahim, Professor of History, California State Polytechnic University Pomona; Rosie Martinez, labor activist, Latino Caucus, SEIU 721; and Andy Griggs, retired teacher LAUSD, STRS members, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) activist.