Israel: Billionaire with settlement links targeted in divestment campaign

New York, 11 Sept. (AKI) - Fifty-nine clients from a US-based financial services and retirement firm have called for it to divest from a company involved in the construction of Israeli settlements and owned by Israeli billionaire Lev Leviev. The move came just over a week after the Norwegian government decided to withdraw all its investments from an Israeli defence firm involved in the separation wall in the West Bank.

The clients of the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association, College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF) launched an appeal for it to divest from Leviev's Africa-Israel holding group.

The TIAA-CREF clients made the appeal in an open letter published by Adalah-NY, a non-governmental organisation involved in a campaign calling for divestment against Israel.

Signatories of the letter include renowned author, philosopher and University lecturer Noam Chomsky, American historian Howard Zinn and prominent law professor George Bisharat among others.

"Increasingly we are witnessing investors, organisations and celebrities disassociating themselves from Leviev as more information surfaces of his companies' human rights violations, " Adalah-NY spokesperson Dena Qaddumi told Adnkronos International (AKI).

The divestment call came shortly after Africa-Israel announced that it was unable to repay debts, sending its stocks plummeting, and triggering emergency meetings of shareholders.

"The movement to boycott and divest from Leviev's companies, the government of Norway's decision to divest due to it's role in building the apartheid wall, and the protests over the Toronto International Film Festival's focus on Tel Aviv all show that the movement for a boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel is breaking new ground," Patrick Connors, a media specialist from Adalah-NY told AKI.

According to TIAA-CREF’s Schedule of Investments Report published on 30 June, it owns 257,000 dollars in Africa-Israel Investments stock.

Leviev’s companies have been the target of a boycott and divestment campaign since November 2007 over their settlement construction and involvement in alleged human rights abuses in the diamond industry in Angola and Namibia.

Investment firm BlackRock recently divested from Africa-Israel, as has the Swedish government pension fund, AP1. In May, eleven organisations called on the Norwegian government pension fund to divest from Africa-Israel.

"Through its subsidiary Danya Cebus, Africa-Israel is responsible for building homes in the settlements of Har Homa, Maale Adumim, and Mattityahu East," the letter said.

In addition to building settlements, Africa-Israel owns Anglo-Saxon Real Estate, a company which sells settlement homes in the two expanding settlements of Maale Adumim, and Efrat.

Jewish settlements and outposts, considered illegal under international law, are a major source of friction between Israelis and Palestinians.

"I am shocked that TIAA-CREF, a non-profit that says it works for the greater good, would fund Israeli settlements with my money," Alexis Stern, a TIAA-CREF client told AKI.

Last week, Norway's finance minister Kristin Halvorsen said her country would divest from Israeli defence company Elbit Systems Ltd.

"We do not wish to fund companies that so directly contribute to violations of international humanitarian law," said Halvorsen.

The campaign to boycott Leviev’s companies is part of a growing global movement of boycotts, divestment and sanctions aimed at stopping what Adalah-NY calls "Israeli rights violations against Palestinians".

The movement and has gained momentum following Israel’s assault on the Gaza Strip in December and January that killed over 1,400 Palestinians.


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