The Anti-Israel Divestment Campaign
City Councils and Other Public Initiatives
Posted: October 9, 2006
The only national American political party to embrace divestment from Israel is the Green Party. The resolution was introduced by the Wisconsin Green Party and passed in the Green Party's national committee in November 2005. It calls for the "divestment from and boycott of the State of Israel until such time as the full individual and collective rights of the Palestinian people are realized." A number of Green Party activists are attempting to lobby other party members to overturn the resolution.
Grassroots organizations have presented resolutions to a number of city councils calling on cities to divest from Israeli companies and companies that do business in Israel. Again, these initiatives have been unsuccessful.
Los Angeles, California
The United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) Human Rights Committee planned, but later cancelled, a pro-Palestinian rally at their union headquarters in October 2006. The rally, co-sponsored by Movement for a Democratic Society, would have been in support of an economic boycott of Israel, Israeli companies and American companies doing business in Israel. After hearing from concerned Jewish groups, including ADL, the union president cancelled the event, citing "… concerns that this meeting is inappropriate."
The Somerville initiative, launched in fall 2004, called for the town to divest its $137.4 million pension fund from Israeli bonds and companies which sell military equipment to Israel (the proposal named Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, General Electric, United Technologies, and Caterpillar). The nonbinding resolution presented to the Board of Aldermen passed an initial hearing in October, with the sponsorship of seven aldermen. Upon learning of the resolution, Jewish groups, labor groups and political leaders countered the effort. Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone (who held the power to veto the resolution if passed) spoke out against the initiative. In a letter to the Board of Aldermen he wrote: "Fair and just treatment of the Palestinian people is essential to building peace in the region, however, I also support Israel's right to defend itself and safeguard its people...In rare exceptions, the moral imperative is so clear and unambiguous as to warrant divestment. In this case, the complexity of the situation makes granting an exception unwise." At the final vote on December 9, the resolution was defeated overwhelmingly, 10-0 (with one recusal). The Somerville Divestment Project has also made a failed attempt to get the issue on election ballot. In contrast to other local campaigns, however, the Somerville group is still very active despite the 2004 failure.
Ann Arbor, Michigan
In December 2003, the Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission adopted a draft resolution to end U.S. military aid to Israel. In September 2004, the resolution was brought to the city council, which rejected it. Council members and the mayor criticized the commission for neglecting local human rights issues.
In 2001-2002 there were several appeals by city residents asking the council to divest from Israel. However no resolution to that effect was passed. Supporters of the measure further antagonized the council when one of their speakers, Blain Coleman, handed out fliers that said: "Israel – a Ku Klux Klan state, defended by a Ku Klux Klan City Council."
City of Berkeley, California
A proposal to halt all contracts of the city of Berkeley with companies that "do business in or with Israel and Palestine" and pull out all investments in such companies was brought to the City Council of Berkeley in April 2002. The proposal was rejected.
A member of the city's Peace and Justice Commission, which sponsored the bill, Commissioner Steve Freedkin said "We feel that all parties [Israel and the Palestinians] need to respect human rights and provide for peace and security in the region." But Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean stated "While [the proposal] purports to be even-handed, it clearly is aimed at Israel." She pointed to the fact that none of the firms listed in the proposal had any ties to the Palestinians.
In 2002, a group calling itself the Coalition against Occupation and Apartheid coordinated an effort to lobby Dallas City Council members to adopt a resolution that will divest the city from holdings in Israel. The coalition was made up of local members of national organizations like the American Muslim Alliance and SUSTAIN. One local activist, Marvin Crenshaw, appeared in front of the city council in August 2003 to argue in favor of the measure. According to a Green Party member who was present, Crenshaw "attacked Mayor (Laura) Miller and two other city council members from the podium, saying they were not neutral on the Israel/Palestinian question because they were Jewish" and called the mayor "Zionist" after she said that the issue was not a local issue.
In June 2002, a local group called Seattle Palestine Solidarity Committee started a campaign under the slogan "Seattle Divest from Israeli Apartheid." It launched a petition to demand the city to divest from companies that sell products that are used by the Israeli military, including Caterpillar, Boeing and General Electric. It is not clear if a draft resolution was ever brought to the city council.
A major target of the different divestment campaigns is the Illinois-based company, Caterpillar, Inc. To the campaigners, the maker of heavy machinery, which does business in Israel, and more specifically, supplies the Israeli army, became a symbol and a major battleground. As with other military and non-military related industries, campaigners sought to persuade universities, churches and public institutions to take Caterpillar out of their investment portfolio, but also lobbied the company's shareholders to a vote on a resolution to stop doing business in Israel. Though they did manage to get the resolution on the agenda of the shareholders' annual meeting, it was overwhelmingly defeated in April 2005.