Thursday, June 5, 2008

Seattle effort to divest from corporations that support Israeli occupation "of West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem..."

"I-97 Seeks War Divestiture"

by Scott McClay

Published in "Eat the State", at:

Volume 12, #19.
May 29, 2008

A grassroots campaign called Seattle Divest From War and Occupation has launched a ballot initiative that would divest city employees' retirement funds from corporations participating in America's illegal wars and occupations in the Middle East.

The initiative takes specific aim at two corporations: Halliburton Holding Company and its subsidiaries, which have a major presence in Iraq, and Caterpillar, Inc. which sells armored bulldozers to the Israeli military for use in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and Golan Heights. It was one such Caterpillar bulldozer that took the life of peace activist and Olympia resident Rachel Corrie during an attempted demolition of a home in the Gaza Strip in March 2003.

"The people of the city of Seattle pride ourselves on being progressive and thoughtful," says campaign endorser Amy Hagopian, a former Seattle school board member and a University of Washington faculty member. "It's time to put our money where our mouths are. We have to stop investing in the companies that fuel war and occupation." Hagopian led efforts at Garfield High School to end high school military recruiting in 2005.

The initiative sponsors urge divestment not only for moral reasons, but also for financial stewardship reasons. They note that the city has a responsibility to look after the financial health of its employees' retirement system, by avoiding investment in companies whose illegal activities can turn into financial liability in the future. They cite as a precedent the historic 1998 settlement between major tobacco companies and various state attorneys general.

I-97 mandates that the city of Seattle not invest its employees' retirement funds in corporations that participate directly in the US-led military occupation of Iraq, corporations that profit from the privatization of Iraqi state resources, corporations that provide direct material support for activities of the Israeli government within the occupied territories of West Bank, Gaza Strip, East Jerusalem and Golan Heights, and corporations with a presence in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. Furthermore, the initiative mandates that if the government of Israel were to launch a military attack on Iran, the city of Seattle would divest its funds from Israeli government bonds.

The city of Seattle divested from corporations doing business with apartheid-era South Africa in December 1984. "As Seattle led the way during apartheid, when many ridiculed our efforts, we must lead the way again," Hagopian says.

In order to get on the ballot, the campaign needs to collect almost 18,000 signatures from Seattle voters before September 27, 2008. That effort has already begun, but many more volunteers are needed to help during the peak signature gathering months of the summer. The campaign is also asking supporters to take this initiative to their peace groups, places of worship, neighborhood committees, and political and civic organizations for endorsement.

"It's time to divest," says Chanan Suarezdiaz, Seattle chapter president of Iraq Veterans Against the War. "As an Iraq combat veteran, I would like to see our city divest from companies that are profiting from wars that affect the lives of other human beings--people who are being occupied, jailed, and dehumanized."

For more information or to get involved, please contact the Seattle Divest from War & Occupation campaign at or call 206-299-4186.

For more news on the initiative, see Eat These Shorts!