Tag Archives: IDF

TIAA-CREF Divests from Caterpillar

By Julia Glauberman

In recent weeks, TIAA-CREF, a leading financial services organization that manages nearly $500 billion in assets, has announced that it will remove Caterpillar, Inc. from its socially responsible investment portfolio and to sell Caterpillar’s shares, which are worth around $73 million. Like the company’s move to divest from companies with business ties to the Sudanese government three years ago, this decision comes after much contentious debate on the subject.

Caterpillar has recently been the target of criticism for selling bulldozers to the IDF, which uses the machines to demolish Palestinian homes in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. However, TIAA-CREF’s public relations department has avoided citing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the source of its decision, instead pointing to Caterpillar’s recent downgrading in MSCI’s Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) ratings index.

TIAA-CREF’s apparent desire to distance itself from this decision and any related controversy is not surprising. Prior to MSCI’s revision of its ESG index, TIAA-CREF released a statement in response to calls to divest from Caterpillar that included the following: “While TIAA-CREF acknowledges participants’ varying views on Israeli and Palestinian policies and the Gaza Strip and West Bank, we are unable to alter our investment policy in accordance with those views.” But unlike TIAA-CREF, MSCI has acknowledged the conflict as one of three “key factors” that led to the ESG index revision.

Since TIAA-CREF’s announcement of its decision to divest, groups like Jewish Voice for Peace, BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), and the Rachel Corrie Foundation are claiming the divestment as an indisputable victory. Whether or not the MSCI and TIAA-CREF decisions resulted directly from the actions taken by these groups, advocates of divestment surely have reason to celebrate. This is especially true for Craig and Cindy Corrie, parents of the late Rachel Corrie and creators of the foundation that bears her name. Rachel Corrie, a college student from Olympia, Washington, was killed in Gaza in 2003 after putting herself between a bulldozer and a Palestinian home.

Since Rachel’s highly publicized death, the Corries have brought lawsuits against both the State of Israel and Caterpillar. While they are still waiting on a decision from the Haifa District Court, which will be handed down in late August, their case against Caterpillar in the United States has already been dismissed, appealed and dismissed again. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision on the basis that, among other things, the judicial branch cannot and should not make rulings that affect foreign policy.

The decision also noted that even if the court possessed the power to make such rulings, Caterpillar could not be held accountable on the charges of aiding and abetting war crimes or violating any other international laws because the corporation is not a “state actor.” Furthermore, Judge Wardlaw, the author of the final decision, points out that the case is further complicated by the fact that all of Caterpillar’s contracts with the IDF have been approved and financed by the U.S. government as far back as 1990.

Despite the clearly controversial nature of Caterpillar’s involvement with the IDF and the potentially massive negative impact of the downgrading in MSCI’s ESG index, Caterpillar seems to still be faring well financially. Recent reports from Bloomberg, Forbes, and the Wall Street Journal point to impressive risk-adjusted gains, high dividend payouts, and increased global sales. Nevertheless, it should be interesting to see how the ESG downgrading, as well as the divestments by more firms like TIAA-CREF that may follow, will impact Caterpillar and its involvement with Israel.

The Shalit Conundrum . . . Or Opportunity

By Leigh Nusbaum

When Gilad Shalit was kidnapped more than five years ago, I was almost 17 years old and en route to Israel for the first time. I still remember how the situation deteriorated even further that summer. Now he is free, at home in a country and a world far different than five years before.

Personally, I am thrilled that Shalit is coming home alive and at least somewhat well. I also realize that the cost at which he was freed presents both problems and opportunities for Israel and the Palestinians.

As for conundrums, Israel has come into conflict with some of its own core values with Shalit’s release. Israel, as well as the IDF, is known for two tenets. One, they never leave a soldier behind. In fact, soldiers in training have to perform the “stretcher march” in which they carry one of their heaviest comrades up hills and down valleys, just to drive home this point of never leaving a man behind. The second tenet is that Israel never negotiates with terrorists. Despite Avigdor Lieberman’s public threat to collaborate with the Kurdistan Workers Party, this too, is almost always upheld, but history has given us exceptions. The case of never leaving a fellow soldier behind, even if behind enemy lines, is one of them.

Israel has freed 13,509 people in exchange for 16 soldiers. That’s an average of 844.31 people per soldier. For Shalit alone, 1,027 prisoners were freed, some of them served life sentences for murder. This idea of never leaving a soldier behind, while noble, opens up a very dangerous situation for Israel. Now, every Israeli soldier is a target and can be used to generate ransom for any terrorist group. I don’t have an answer or suggestion as to whether or not Israel should change its policy, but it does merit some concern.

It is particularly fitting that this exchange happened near Simchat Torah, where we read the end of Deuteronomy and begin again with Genesis. Gilad Shalit’s freedom has the potential to become a symbolic “reset” button on the peace process and Israel’s image in the world. As of late, both the process and Israel’s image have been tarnished. Even if Israel has had successful military campaigns, it is losing the PR campaign in a huge, huge way. Israel’s current popularity or respect within the world today pales in comparison to 2006. For that matter, I don’t remember hearing about “Israel Apartheid Week” five years ago. Now, it’s commonplace.

With the release of the prisoners that can change Israel’s image, not to a state that acquiesces to terrorism, but one that is truly committed to peace. You see, as much as it may be clear to Jews who support Israel that peace is the route to long term stability and survival, many don’t see it that way. If Israel is continually forgiving, such as returning prisoners, even dangerous ones, it decreases global criticism of the Jewish state. Additionally, I would argue that Shalit’s return conjures up memories of the “1990s” Israel and of some one like Yitzhak Rabin, who was so committed to peace that he paid the ultimate sacrifice for it. That’s the Israel that showed through Shalit’s release, and if Israel wants to survive 30 to 40 years from now, that Israel needs to remain.

Time is running out. With the upheaval of the Arab Spring, the deterioration of ties with Turkey, Abbas’s submission to the U.N. for Palestinian Statehood, Israel’s window to achieve an end to this conflict, especially in the form of the two-state solution, is closing because fewer and fewer people are okay with what they perceive as stubbornness and belligerence on the side of Israel. Merely writing this off as delegitimization only closes the window faster. Celebrating a success like Gilad Shalit coming home is a perfect excuse to restart the talks between Palestinians, even if it means freezing the settlements. After all, as Hillel once said, “If not now, when?”

Arab Spring, Flotilla Summer

By Adina Rosenthal

‘Tis the season. Flotilla season, that is. Summertime marks a new tradition of groups gathering in boats and sailing to the Gaza Strip, with the alleged aim of providing humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, though many think the main objective is to test Israel’s resolve by breaking its naval blockade.

Last year, the flotilla made headlines when IDF commandos clashed with Turkish activists on board the Mavi Marmara, a ship sponsored by the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), a Turkish NGO accused of having links to Hamas and al-Qaida. With nine killed and several injured, including Israeli soldiers, the aftermath of the conflict resulted in an inquisition and finger pointing that has torn holes in the alliance between Israel and Turkey and has given the international community another excuse to vilify Israel. Since the disaster, Israel has added the IHH to its terror watch list.

Keeping with tradition, the “Freedom Flotilla 2” plans to set sail at the end of June. However, there’s something different in the air this summer. World governments and the U.N. are pleading with participants not to sail to Gaza and elicit a showdown with the Israelis, even in the name of humanitarianism. Even more surprisingly, the Mavi Marmara, now seen as a symbol of the Gaza struggle, recently announced it would not be part of this summer’s brigade.

So what gives? Why has “Flotilla: the Sequel” lost the wind in its sails? While the IHH cites damage from last year’s IDF raid as the reason for the Mavi Marmara remaining docked, it’s possible that the overall initiative has lost steam due to the strong winds still lingering from the Arab Spring.

While the Arab Spring didn’t directly hit Israel, its implications have reverberated throughout the Jewish state, particularly from neighboring Egypt and Syria. With Hosni Mubarak pushed out of power and democracy trying to take hold, Egyptians reopened the Rafah Crossing, ending their participation in the four-year blockade of Gaza, which began in response to Hamas’ takeover. The combination of Egypt reopening Rafah and Israel allowing more aid into Gaza seem to have deflated the rhetoric and the apparent urgency of the mission.

In Syria, the Arab Spring uprisings against Bashar al-Assad’s government have spread to the Israeli frontier. After 37 years of quiet on the border, al-Assad allowed thousands of Syrians to protest, perhaps to detract from attention at home. One opposition group—Reform Syria—claimed on their website that the protesters were poor farmers, paid $1,000 by the Syrian regime to protest and promised $10,000 for their families if they were killed. Moreover, the Syrian chaos has spilled into Turkey, with thousands of Syrian refugees fleeing oppression across their shared border.  Perhaps Turkey is trying to hedge its bets, keeping Israel happy by discouraging flotillas as violence encroaches on its borders.

Despite clear differences from last year, flotilla advocates still believe there is work to be done. “While we wholeheartedly welcome the decision of the Egyptian government to regularly operate the Rafah crossing… Israel’s unlawful blockade remains in effect,” said a Greek coordinator of the flotilla. Bülent Yıldırım, head of the İHH stated, “In the past, we went there for Gaza, but now we are going for humanity and the law,” highlighting the flexible rationale behind the flotilla missions.

Clearly, the Arab Spring has shifted the playing field of the flotilla initiative. But what does it mean for Israel?

Despite this year’s more tamed rhetoric and the Mavi Marmara’s lack of participation, Israel has thoroughly prepared for any summer showdowns. According to one Israeli diplomatic official, Israel is “continuing to prepare for the flotilla as usual…We have not heaved a sigh of relief, but are continuing to prepare on all fronts, including the diplomatic front.”  Last year, Israel was arguably unprepared for the violence that ensued. Learning from past mistakes, the IDF has spent weeks preparing, training through simulations geared specifically toward a worst-case flotilla scenario. According to Israel Navy commander, Adm. Eliezer Marom, the Navy “will continue to prevent the arrival of the ‘hate flotilla’ whose only goals are to clash with IDF soldiers, create media provocation and to delegitimize the State of Israel.”

Though the flotilla summer is as full of uncertainties as the Arab Spring, Israel must remain vigilant in securing its safety and protecting its borders. In other words, business as usual.

The IDF’s Rightward Movement?

by Lily Hoffman Simon

The Israeli Defense Force is often viewed as a reflection of Israeli ideologies, and of the Jewish state in general. This conception is slightly problematic, as the IDF operates primarily outside the realm of democratic processes. However, it is interesting to consider how recent increases in religious military participation have changed the IDF and the face of Zionism.

In the past few months, religious membership in the IDF has been a hot topic, as the Knesset has discussed the halachic legitimacy of conversions officiated by the IDF. This past week, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual leader of the religious party Shas, approved these kinds of conversions as valid. Much of the motivation behind the controversial bill, which proposed to give legal status to all IDF-performed conversions, was to promote Jewish presence in the IDF. According to MK David Rotem of the right-wing party Yisrael Beiteinu, who introduced the bill, “no one will want to convert during his military service anymore [if IDF conversions are not legitimate], and we will find ourselves in a big problem.”

The Israeli Defense Force is an extension of the Israeli state, and in that light is an extension of the Jewish people. However, this relationship is more complicated than that. In an effort to simplify slightly, let’s ignore the complicated discussion of to what degree Israel reflects the Jewish people, or if there is even a singular Jewish people to represent. The topic at hand is how participation in the IDF reflects different Jewish and Zionist ideologies, and how that reflects on Israel as a whole. The increase in religious participation in the IDF reflects certain nationalist beliefs. These beliefs tend to favor the right wing of the political spectrum, including the transformation of the recent Gaza war into a spiritual battle representing the dominance of Jews (in the extremes). Religious beliefs are permeating into the IDF outside of the battlefield as well. Examples of this include the opposition of the chief rabbi of the IDF to women’s participation in combat units.

The religious influence on the army has some positive effects. For example, the recent adaptations to enable Haredi participation in the IDF have brought traditionally civilly-disengaged citizens into civic service, and therefore national consciousness. However, religious influence and power in the IDF has many negative consequences. First, the integration of religious belief into the army, as well as the emphasis put on rabbinic approval of the IDF, is transforming the secular IDF into an institution for religious militancy, undermining the IDF as a secular institution seeking to embody the democratic state. In addition, religious soldiers are inclined to act according to religious Zionist beliefs. In practice, this could mean, for example, a refusal to fulfill orders to evacuate West Bank settlements. With a growing number of religious soldiers, the IDF increasingly reflects militant religious Zionist ideologies, which encourage expansion of Israel, as well as Jewish strength. As a result, international communities are more inclined to define the IDF, and Israel in general, as a militant force, concerned with expanding Jewish settlement and concerned with the strength of the Jewish people above all else.  This raises the question of the role of nationalism in the IDF. Is nationalist fervor and ideology an inherent part of the Israeli army, or should military nationalist tendencies be solely in defense of the nation?

With a need for an Israeli army, it is also important to remember the need for soldiers within that army from all kinds of Israeli identity. This is especially important in a society with a military draft, suggesting that the IDF serves as a space for civil engagement with other Israelis. However, it is crucial to constantly analyze how different soldiers and influences in the IDF affect its functioning and legitimacy.

Breaking the Silence

By Symi Rom-Rymer

Three thin little black books have been creating a firestorm of controversy in Israel recently.  No, they have nothing to do sex scandals.  Rather, they are publications from Breaking the Silence (BTS), an Israeli human rights group founded by four former Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers.  Their objective is to collect and publish testimony from soldiers who served in the Palestinian Territories between 2001 and 2004.  So far, they have recorded the experiences of 700 soldiers, documenting many harsh, even brutal actions taken by the IDF in the Palestinian Territories.

On the eve of her first US tour, I had the opportunity to sit down with Dana Golan, the 27 year-old Executive Director of Breaking the Silence.  Below is an excerpt from our discussion. Continue reading

Israel-Hezbollah Swap Follow-Up

Yesterday we provided a general recap of the soldier-prisoner exchange that occurred between Hezbollah and Israel.

Today, we are interested in the responses, not just from high-ranking officials, but from everyday people. We want to hear what you believe (you can leave your comments below). Was the swap a good idea? Continue reading

Israel, Hezbollah Complete Emotional Swap

The touchy swap of prisoners and the remains of soldiers captured in 2006 was completed today with the assistance of the Red Cross at the Israeli-Lebanon border.

Although much of Israel held out hope that the two Israeli soldiers—Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser—were still alive, the nation’s fears were confirmed when the two soldiers’ were brought to the border in coffins.

In return, Hezbollah received the remains of 200 of their fighters, as well as Samir Kuntar and four other prisoners. Continue reading