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December 2, 2012

Profiting from Israeli Apartheid

The Canadian Charger

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The Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade (COAT) has just provided part two of its exhaustive study, in Press for Conversion, of Canada Pension Plan (CPP) investments, detailing companies included in the CPP portfolio which are "corporations supporting Israel's military/police/surveillance/prison industrial complex."

As a bonus a table provides information about those companies that are also included in the portfolios of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, the Quebec Pension Plan, Public Sector Pension Investments, and Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System.  This report is nothing short of amazing in its detail.  Here is an example, including an extract for one company.

In its report on BAE Systems, the researcher, Richard Sanders, cites 15 sources.  This extract provides the flavor:

“Many of these BAE weapons systems are now part of Israel’s arsenal, including:

  • M113 Armoured Troop Carriers
  • M88 Armoured Recovery Vehicles
  • M109 155 mm ‘Doher’ howitzers
  • M110 203 mm howitzers.”

And in terms of consequences of use of BAE equipment and supplies, citing the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “Jawaher Abu Rahmah ‘died . . . after she was exposed to tear gas that was shot by IDF (Israel Defense Forces) soldiers to disperse the crowd of demonstrators against the separation wall’” at Bil’in. 

Entries for some other companies carry juicy tit-bits about fraudulent behavior by officers of the companies.  In short, this is a piece of scholarship worthy of praise.

Many of these entities that supply Israel with materials of war and oppression, like BAE, are major multinationals—Caterpillar, Cisco, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Honeywell, Hyundai, Intel, Microsoft, Mitsubishi, Motorola, Sony, Toyota, and so on.

So what is to be done about CPP and other pension plans including such corporate instruments in their portfolios?  The position taken by COAT is that CPP should divest itself from these companies.  There are many companies listed, well over 60. It is not necessarily their desire to aid Israel or oppress Palestinians. In most cases it is simply a matter of making a buck.  And companies own pieces of each other.  One that is not involved with Israel directly may buy shares in a company that is.  It is difficult to avoid any participation in the oppression.  Ambrose Bierce defined a non-combatant as “a dead Quaker.” 

The magnetic influence of the mighty dollar also affects CPP.  Both CPP and the corporate world operate on the ancient Roman principle, “Pecuniam non olet.” (Money does not smell.)  The idea that CPP can be convinced on the basis of morality to divest from all these corporations is far-fetched.  We simply lack the kind of pressure that would be needed to bring that about.  But that does not mean that there is nothing that can be done.  Take Caterpillar for instance. 

When CAW union members in London, Ontario, refused a company negotiation ultimatum to accept a cut in pay of around 50%, Caterpillar shut down their Electro-Motive diesel plant and moved the operation to the United States.  Caterpillar divested itself of London.  We could argue that Caterpillar does not fit in the CPP portfolio because instead of benefiting Canada it is hurting the country. 

With the leadership of the CAW, whose members were terminated, might an anti-Caterpillar campaign be waged?  London would be the obvious place to start.  City Council might blacklist Caterpillar equipment and could then urge other municipal and provincial governments to follow suit.  Local campaigns in other places could develop in support of the campaign.  While the death of Rachel Corrie at the hands of an Israeli soldier driving a Caterpillar bulldozer may motivate us, Caterpillar’s labor record may carry more weight here.

One aspect of Sanders’ list that catches the eye is the large number of Israeli corporations on it, many of them strictly military.  Over a dozen of the outfits are Israeli.  Why not ask CPP how many Palestinian companies are in their portfolio?  And why do they not add some?

At the consumer level, we lack information on whom to boycott.  The Palestinian Authority should be providing leadership on this question.  What Israeli and multinational companies are operating in the West Bank?  Recently Unilever bowed to international pressure, especially from organizations in their home country, the Netherlands, and moved the factory of their subsidiary Beigel & Beigel out of the West Bank.  General Mills is still there.  While it is virtually impossible to target the huge number of products they produce, according to Peace Now, Pillsbury products are the things they produce in the West Bank.  Thus, Pillsbury products are a good target. 

In order for a boycott of Pillsbury is to be effective, it needs to be more than North American in scope.  The issue is not salient for enough of us to make the difference here.  Again, one would hope for leadership from the Palestinian Authority to spread the word throughout Europe and the Arab world.

A subscription for Press for Conversion may be ordered from COAT, 541 McLeod St., Ottawa ON K1R 5R2.  Three issues cost $25 Canadian or $30 U.S.  For the issues reviewed here, request #66 and #67.

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