If "Initiative 97? makes it on the ballot in the fall, citizens of Seattle will be asked to approve a measure that would prohibit the city from investing its pension funds in corporations that benefit from the Iraq war, or companies that provide material support to the Israeli government within the so-called "occupied territories." The opposition to the initiative is being led by StandWithUs.org. It strikes me as a bit odd that a measure that seems to be intended to protest the U.S. Iraq policy also includes divestment from Israel.
What is the connection?
Is it because the sponsors were worried about human rights violations that they believe both Israeli and U.S. forces are committing? Couldn't be, could it? After all, I didn't see any reference to other countries in the region who are role models when it comes to human rights. For example, with all the freedoms they enjoy, we all know that women are living it up in some countries in the mid-east. I even heard that they are now allowed to uncover the bridges of their noses as well as their eyes!
But seriously, I find the sponsors of the measure to be an interesting group. You have the ANSWER Coalition, SNOW, the Palestine Solidarity Committee and the Green Party. The Green Party? When I was discussing this whole issue with my partner Zack Miller, he said," Isn't that ironic. Israel happens to be the world leader in GreenTech, CleanTech, WaterTech, and virtually every other environmentally friendly technology that's being developed. What are the Green's thinking?"
According to the Seattle-PI: " The measure would not restrict city investments in The Boeing Co., backers said. Rather, it takes aim specifically at Halliburton Holding Co. and Caterpillar Inc." Hum… Halliburton must be as a punishment to VP Cheney. But why not Boeing? They do work with Israeli defense company Elbit Systems (eslt)? What about Microsoft (msft)? The software giant has purchased 7-8 Israeli hi-tech start-ups over the last few years and just announced the launch of an R&D center in Israel.
The fact is that pension funds have a fiduciary responsibility to do their best to make as much money as possible for their clients, period. Over the last few years investing in Israel has been one of the most profitable places in the world to invest. If these groups want to make a political stand, let them stand out in front of the Federal building on 2nd Ave. and protest. You don't like the Iraq policy, vote for Obama. But don't force money managers to invest in companies that they believe will produce inferior returns and impact the retirement of thousands and thousands of your neighbors, to fulfill your own political agenda.
In any event, divesting won't help. Without knowing it, we all use Israeli ingenuity every single day of our lives. From voice mail (developed by CMVT.PK), to instant messaging (ICQ), to the firewall that sits on your computer (chkp), to the generic drugs you are taking (teva) and to the cell phone you just spoke on. Like it or not, your life is powered by Israel.
If you are against the war in Iraq, drop the divestment idea and pick up a picket sign instead. If Israel is your problem, then be consistent; start divesting from the Israeli innovation that you use, unknowingly, each and every day.
Disclosure: Author's fund has a position in ESLT, TEVA, CHKP, CMVT.pk He has no position in any other stock mentioned as of 5/22/08.
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