TAKE STEPS TO START A DIVESTMENT CAMPAIGN TODAY!
STEP ONE: Getting Started
You can start by considering two different models of municipal and state divestment campaigns being tried out in the US. Both “Seattle Divest from the Israeli Occupation” and the Boston-area “Divestment Project” are situated within a human rights framework and see divestment as a moral imperative. Where they differ is in their choice of targets and their method of gaining support.
STEP TWO: Research
• An essential ingredient of any divestment campaign is research. You have to find out the relevant investments of your town’s retirement pension board, your state’s pension board, teachers’ pension fund, your trade union, or other bodies you have decided to target. This information may not be readily available, but it cannot be hidden from the public.
One way to get it is to call or visit the town or city hall as a member of the public who wants “to know where my money is going.” Once you have been given some information about investments, you then should find out who exactly makes decisions on those investments.
• At an early stage in the campaign you should schedule an appointment to talk to the managers of the pension funds. They might personally have very little interest in supporting Israel, but considerable fear about being the target of public pressure. If Israel Bonds are a focus of your campaign, you might be able to persuade them that such a poor investment is not in the public interest. It may be possible to get concessions before the public phase of the campaign kicks in.
You can get started on a campaign without knowing about the full range of investments made by a particular municipality. As soon as you have identified some targets, you can begin the work of assembling community or organizational support and when you are ready, publicly turn up the heat.
• Judging from the opposition’s response to university divestment, municipal campaigns may well open your group to a barrage of criticism and may even spur investment in Israel Bonds. This happened in Philadelphia, when Mayor John Street called the university divestment campaign “immoral,” and recommended to the city’s pension board that it buy $10 million more in Israel Bonds, a six-fold increase in its investment. It also happened in New York City, where the comptroller announced that the city teachers’ pension fund was, for the first time, purchasing $5 million of Israel Bonds. In California, the university divestment petition led to a bill being passed by the California State Assembly calling on the university to reject calls to divest its pension funds from companies with ties to Israel.
But this should not be permitted to silence our voices: we need to make the case that divestment is a moral response to Israel’s human rights abuses and military occupation, and a non-violent way of pressuring Israel to bring that occupation to an end. This was the approach adopted by Howie Hawkins, the Green Party candidate for State Comptroller of New York. During the 2002 election he stated that he would divest from the $78 million in State of Israel Bonds purchased by the Common Retirement Fund and boycott investments in the Israeli government until Israel withdraws from the occupied territories.