Some Seattle citizens have reached back to 1967 in crafting an initiative they hope to put before the City Council. Initiative 97, which is sponsored by a local group called Seattle Divest From War and Occupation, uses broad strokes in its call to have the city’s retirement investment board discontinue investing in any business that “prohibits investment in corporations that do business in or with certain Israeli settlements or in disputed territories,” as well as in Iraq.
This initiative is an affront to anyone who believes that Israel has the right to defend itself, in particular from repeated attacks in the 41 years since the end of the Six Day War. We believe the language (even after a lawsuit filed by the StandWithUs Israel advocacy organization prevailed in getting its title changed) is troublesome, in large part because it reduces Israel, a complex and multi-faceted democracy, to a single issue: its status as an occupying power.
Seattle Divest’s initiative language names two specific companies: Defense contractor Halliburton and Caterpillar, the manufacturer of bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian houses. No public American companies that we know of have set up shop in Israel specifically to profit from warfare.
To explain why Boeing is not a target of divestment, Seattle Divest says on its Web site: “[I-97] has a narrow scope, and is meant to target companies that have a direct presence in illegally occupied land.” We note that Caterpillar has dealers in Israel and the Palestinian territories — but Coca-Cola sells its products in both areas as well. Because of this, the group’s intentions appear nefarious to us.
We recognize the divisions in the community over Israel’s presence in the West Bank and, until nearly three years ago, the Gaza Strip. We also sympathize with Palestinians’ need for a homeland and a cessation of the hardships of army checkpoints and refugee camps. Jewish activists in Seattle, more than most communities in this country, have sought to create a peace in the region that would be fair for both sides. By ignoring the work of those activists who might otherwise agree with Seattle Divest’s position on Iraq, this proposed legislation undermines those efforts as well.
To use the city’s retirement funds as a battle ax in this group’s fight against occupation — funds that invest millions, if not billions, of dollars each year using several different fund managers — is not only wrongheaded, it would likely be an administrative nightmare.
It would also be 180 degrees from what the state’s investment board has done in directing its own fund managers to divest from Iran’s energy sector, as was reported by JTNews on March 21 of this year — an effort promoted by the same players who are most vocal in opposing I-97.
We urge Seattle residents to not sign the I-97 petition.