Saturday, July 19, 2008

Seattle newspaper column says:

Divest from U.S. occupation of Iraq, and from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land

"Divesting is interesting alternative to war"


July 18, 2008

There's been much sanctimonious talk of sanctions against Iran and divestment from companies or funds dealing within the country, with a new agreement in the Senate focusing on both sanctions and divestment from businesses operating in/with Iran. While sanctions can backfire (think of the disastrous sanctions against Iraq), they're better than bombs. And divestment -- putting one's money where one's mouth is -- seems even better. I'm not going to pretend to understand all the details of divestments -- it can get complicated -- but from a purely ethical point, it's do-able and is the right thing to do.

When Mitt Romney last year fired off a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, ranting that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shouldn't be allowed to address the U.N. General Assembly and that he should instead be charged with war crimes under the Genocide Convention, he should've checked his stock portfolio before sending the missive. At the time (and maybe still now), Romney held stock in companies that did business with the government of Sudan, where genocide is extinguishing lives at a terrifying pace. It struck me as odd that Romney felt he could condemn a theoretical genocide -- Iran has never been party to the mass killing of Jews, as Romney implied -- while he felt comfortable profiting from a real one.

Divesting is complex, but several states have started doing so from companies that do business with certain countries. For example, Michigan just passed a bill divesting from Sudan and Iran. But, if one is going to divest oneself, financially anyway, from war, corruption and misery, why not be fair about it?

So, I'm interested to see where Seattle ballot Initiative 97 (Divest from War and Occupation) will go.

I-97 would impose guidelines on how the city invests employee retirement funds, specifically, mandating that funds not be invested in companies profiting directly from our occupation of Iraq (unsanctioned by the U.N.), any similarly unjustified attack and -- here's the interesting/sticky part -- Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory. The initiative's elegant text lays out why a pre-emptive war without U.N. authorization, the illegal Israeli settlements on Palestinian lands (see: The World Court at The Hague) and a possible pre-emptive attack on Iran are all violations of international law and human rights and therefore ought not be profited from. Contrary to what I-97 opponents would have you believe, this isn't a move against Israel's right to statehood -- it's a statement against illegal settlements in the occupied lands. The initiative focuses on the likes of Halliburton Holding Co. and Caterpillar Inc. (one of their armored bulldozers was used to kill Rachel Corrie) but not companies such as The Boeing Co., because, the thinking goes, Boeing doesn't specifically manufacture or sell crafts used for illegal (by international law) occupations.

Socially conscious investments are possible, but according to a P-I story on I-97, despite the fact that this sort of thing was done before with companies dealing with South Africa during the era of apartheid, Councilman Nick Licata had no luck in trying to divest the city's pension fund companies that rake in the big bucks from the conflict in Darfur. Even if I-97 survives the bogus anti-Israel charges, I worry the initiative might drown a dark, oily death (what else would Iraq and Sudan have in common?).

In The Alert -- "The Voice of the Thundering 36th!" -- probably the most enthusiastically named party newsletter, state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles wrote that while she admires the spirit behind I-97, she can't agree with the bit about Israel. "If a simple solution were to be found, it already would have been achieved. Solely blaming Israel and equating its behavior with the U.S. pre-emptive war in Iraq and the profiteering on the part of Halliburton do not coincide with our democratic principles." I respectfully disagree. The initiative doesn't aim to offer solutions, per se. It offers us a way to no longer support and profit from illegal wars and occupations.

D. Parvaz is an editorial writer and member of the P-I Editorial Board. E-mail: