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Students tell retirement-fund provider it’s time to divest from occupation

"Future teacher"
Cornell University students pose for the "photo shoot for justice" to send a message to TIAA-CREF. Photo: AFSC

On Feb. 26, 2013, college students across the U.S. took part in a spirited National Day of Action to get financial-services giant TIAA-CREF to divest from companies profiting from the occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel.

TIAA-CREF is one of the largest financial services companies in the world. Currently, it invests more than $2 billion in corporations that profit from the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territory—corporations like Veolia Environment, which runs a segregated Israeli-only bus line in the West Bank and operates other transportation and sanitation services that benefit illegal, Jewish-only settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Last month, over 200 current clients of TIAA-CREF filed a resolution calling for divestment from Veolia, asking TIAA-CREF to live up to its mission of socially responsible investing.

“Successful divestment would have a major impact on the Israeli government, pressuring them to abide by international law,” says Daniel Kaplan, one of the organizers of the day of action, working with the American Friends Service Committee and the We Divest campaign’s student leadership team. “Divesting from companies that are complicit or directly support human rights abuses or violations of international law is an important step towards change.”

As future doctors, professors, nonprofit workers, and other potential clients for TIAA-CREF, the students took photos of themselves and others holding signs urging the retirement fund provider to listen to current shareholders’ call for divestment.

“Even though we don’t currently have retirement plans with TIAA-CREF, our voices matter,” says Nashiha Alam, a first-year philosophy student at Loyola University Chicago. “We are showing TIAA-CREF that if they want to attract socially responsible investors in 20 years, they must pay attention right now to students across the country calling for divestment from the Israeli occupation.”

These campus “photo shoots for justice” were held from coast to coast, including at Harvard University, Boston University, Temple University, Earlham College, DePaul University, University of New Mexico, and University of Washington.

We Divest’s student leadership team complied the photos on Tumblr and will share them directly with TIAA-CREF.

We Divest, a coalition in which AFSC plays an active role, is working to bring TIAA-CREF in line with its stated values of “financial services for the greater good.”

College activists play a big part in the campaign. In March, AFSC will host a weeklong workshop for student organizers involved in divestment work.

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