TIAA-CREF asks SEC for OK to skip vote on Israeli divestment

TIAA-CREF officials are asking the SEC to allow it to take no action on a shareholder proposal by activist group Jewish Voice for Peace that would require it to consider divesting from companies that contribute to violations of human rights, including companies whose business supports Israel's occupation of the West Bank.

Jewish Voice of Peace filed a shareholder proposal with the College Retirement Equities Fund on Feb. 8 that was signed by 200 investors, requesting that shareholders be allowed to vote on the issue at CREF's July annual meeting. The date and location of the meeting have not yet been set.

CREF officials in a March letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission requested that they be allowed to take no action on the proposal, said a company source, who asked for anonymity.

TIAA-CREF spokesman John McCool said in a statement that the letter to the SEC will be made public only after the SEC staff has a chance to respond.

In 2011, Jewish Voice for Peace filed a shareholder proposal calling for CREF to divest from three companies doing business in the Jewish settlements in the West Bank — Caterpillar, Veolia Environment and Elbit — if the companies did not change how they operated their businesses in the West Bank. The matter was never heard by the CREF shareholders after the SEC sided with CREF in a similar request to avoid the matter.

CREF officials had argued in a 2011 letter to the SEC that the proposal would have interfered with CREF's investment-making decisions.

Sydney Levy, a spokesman for Jewish Voice for Peace, said the shareholder proposal was rewritten this year not to require divesture of a specific company.

Attorney Nitsana Darshan-Leitner of the Israel Law Center said in an interview that the Jewish Voice for Peace resolution was “anti-Semitic” and “anti-Israel.”

Ms. Darshan-Leitner said her organization would sue TIAA-CREF if the shareholder proposal was enacted to ensure the enforcement of state and federal anti-discrimination and anti-boycott laws and to ensure that Israeli companies and businesses are not harmed.