Financial Services for the Greater Good?

My friend Betsy in Lexington, KY, gave me a heads up that Jewish Voice for Peace is urging the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association and the College Retirement Equities Fund (TIA-CREF) to stop investing in companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank including Caterpillar and Motorola. The organization hopes to deliver 1,000 postcards at the CREF annual meeting July 20 and has a petition to sign online.

The fact that TIA-CREF bills itself as " Financial Services for the Greater Good" should have made it somewhat susceptible to moral suasion. To date, though, the reaction from the fund is:

While TIAA-CREF acknowledges participants’ varying views on Israeli and Palestinian policies and the Gaza Strip and West Bank, we are unable to alter our investment policy in accordance with those views. Our responsibility to earn a competitive financial return on the retirement savings entrusted to us by 3.7
million participants obliges us to invest in a diverse line-up of companies
across all sectors of the global economy.

One wonders just how far "earning a competitive financial return" can be taken. As an American Jew, I flinch when I see a parallel between Israel and one of the reasons for its formation (Nazi Germany and anti-semitism), but the fact remains, that just such an argument about financial returns was used to excuse investments in Germany during the Third Reich. That the Israeli government makes itself susceptible to such comparisons is a source of continuing sadness for me.

Israel, of course, says it's not occupying Gaza. Well, tell that to the families of the eight Turks and the American of Turkish slain by the Israeli Defense Force May 31 in international waters. They were in the lead boat of the Freedom Flotilla. According to the AP, many aboard the flotilla refute Israel's statements that they were armed and dangerous. (The Guardian has a rundown of some the 600 people who took part in the attempt to breach Israel's Gaza blockade and deliver humanitarian aid.)

Obama has warned the Turkish Prime Minister, at least according to London's Al Hayat, newspaper of record for the Arab diaspora (as reported in the Israeli media including YNET and Ha'aretz) that

such an inquiry commission may lead to accusations against several passengers on the Marmara ship, or members of the IHH organization and Turkey must know that its request could turn into a double-edged sword.

To which I wish Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan that had replied,

Mr. President, if we're willing to be subject to such a sword, that should tell you something...
Interestingly, not all the hawks in Israel approve what happened. Ami Ayalon, former Chief of Shin Bet, Israel's secret service, and commander-in-chief of the Navy Ami Ayalon supports a two-state solution (without the right of return) but has criticized the Israeli peace movement. He told Rebecca Anna Stoil for a 07/02/2010 Jerusalem Post story that

Two days before the navy confronted the flotilla... an interviewer found him
participating in a conference at Tel Aviv University, and asked him what he
thought should be done to stop the flotilla. “I asked the interviewer why we
needed to stop it, and he was horrified...We must differentiate between the need
to stop entry of heavy weaponry into Gaza, which is a clear interest that nobody
questions, and between a situation in which we stand looking at six boats about
to come, on board which intelligence knows there is no heavy weaponry – I’m not
talking about a few handguns. Instead, this is a struggle for public relations,
and so I think from the beginning that the system should work completely
differently, involving the international community and only blocking weapons. So
I say to him, ‘Why do you think that the only option is to stop it? Let’s
imagine a situation in which we take a few civilian boats, go out, meet them at
sea, during daylight and with huge pictures of Gilad Schalit on our ships and we
sail together to Gaza. They bring humanitarian supplies and we demand that
Ismail Haniyeh allows us to see Gilad Schalit.’”

According to Stoil, Ayalon would like to see the international community – and particularly “pragmatic” states in the Arab world– take part in inspecting goods going into Gaza.

It is not that I believe that they have become Zionists, but rather that they too do not have an interest in seeing the increase in power of Hamas. Not [Mahmoud] Abbas, not the Egyptian president, not the king of Jordan. It is a confluence of pragmatic interests. And then, with international bodies in charge
of checking ships and goods, even if we get to violent events – say a boat that
wishes to break the blockade – it is them and not us. Thus, I argue that we must
to do as much as possible to integrate the international community.

For such a process to work, you need a lot of time. You need to stop all violent terror activities, and second, you need to stop all settlement activities, because in Palestinian eyes, settlement activity is almost terror. No Israeli government can completely stop the settlements and no Palestinian actors can completely stop terror. And thus the daily friction between Palestinians and settlers does not stop, but leads to events that in the end are what directs the process.

Because of this, he says, peace will require a mediator, someone who will say, according to him.

Gentlemen, you don’t see it – the Israelis say that they agree but the Palestinians don’t want it, and the Palestinians say that they agree but the Israelis don’t want it – but in fact, I am looking from another planet and I know that you both want it.