Prove It!

Well things seem to be a bit quiet on Planet BDS land these days.

The last big announcement I can see on the BDS Central web site has to do with the Quakers, and (as noted here), we have yet to hear from any of those crowing boycotters as to why – if their victory is so absolute – they needed to wrap it in the vaguest (and seemingly misleadingest) wording imaginable.

You know, at this point I think it might be time to formalize criteria for success of a boycott, divestment or a sanctions activity, just so everyone involve with either fighting for or fighting against such an action will know what they are dealing with.

And the best and simplest standard I can think of (one I’ve mentioned a few times in the past, albeit informally) would be as follows: we will all agree that a boycott, divestment or sanctions decision has been made when the people who are allegedly making this decision stand up and say that they (1) are boycotting, divesting from or sanctioning Israel and (2) are doing so specifically in protest of Israel or its policies (also specified).

This standard really shouldn’t be considered extraordinary in any way.  After all, in every boycott and divestment campaign that has ever existed (from the Montgomery bus boycott to the protests against Apartheid South Africa), it was the people doing the boycotting or divesting that took center stage, announcing what they had done and why.

Certainly activists from inside and outside those communities (be they colleges, churches or other institutions) played a role in getting those organizations to join in a boycott or divestment campaign.  But when it came time to announce success, it was the President of the College, the governing board of the church, or some other person actually responsible for the decisions that were being claimed to get up on stage, tell the world what they did, and announce in no uncertain terms that those boycott and divestment decisions were taken for specific political reasons.

In fact, the anti-Israel BDS program seems to be the only example I can think of where people who did not make these decisions insist on the right to make claims regarding someone else.  Whether we’re talking about Students for Justice in Palestine pretending to speak for Hampshire College (while the real decision-makers at Hampshire were saying something completely different) or BDS Central interpreting for us a series of unrelated decisions made by the Quakers, time and time again we’ve been faced with self-serving external groups telling us what we should believe another institution has done while the institution itself is remains mum on the subject or is saying something that completely contradicts what the boycotters are saying.

So the next time you see a BDS press release announcing this or that retailer has kicked this or that hummus off their shelves, or this or that church or government council has cancelled a contract at the urging of boycott and divestment forces, everyone’s first response should be: Prove It.  And in this case, proof can only come from one place: from a spokesperson from the organization allegedly doing this boycotting saying in no uncertain terms that they have done so for the specific political reasons assigned to them by the BDSers.

This new standard is really in everyone’s interest (including the Israel haters).  For Israel’s supporters, it provides an objective standard to ascertain the real progress (or lack thereof) of the BDS campaign so that resources to fight it can be applied appropriately.  For institutions being targeted by the BDSers, it provides them a way to clearly state what they are doing and not doing (to avoid being criticized for something they didn’t do, for instance).  And for the public, it ensures they are getting honest and accurate information.

Even inhabitants of Planet BDS will benefit from such a standard since it would help them avoid another decade of being exposed as liars and frauds attempting to pass off one BDS hoax after another or trying to flummox the public through manipulative wording regarding other people’s choices.  With such a standard in place, they will know exactly when an institution has joined their movement and will no longer need to hide their faces when their hoaxes are exposed (since there will no longer be any).

So what do you say, world?  Shall we all agree that the only way we’ll know when Harvard or the Quakers or the sandwich shop down the street has BDSed is when they tell us they did?  Seems an obvious choice for me.

TIAA-CREF Hoax – Clarification

After watching the Presbyterians vote down divestment another 3-4 times on Friday (and seeing them boo someone trying to continue to drag it back on the agenda), I decided I could take a couple of days off before wrapping up the PCUSA story.

But before that, it’s time to keep a promise I made before the Presbyterians took center stage to clarify any remaining confusion over the recent TIAA-CREF divestment story/hoax.

Now that a week or so has passed before that story broke, we can now say with certainty that any story indicating TIAA-CREF itself has engaged in BDS activity (i.e., politically motivated divestment from Israel) is unambiguously false.

The company still maintains close to a billion dollars worth of investments in Caterpillar Tractor, and they have made statements before, during and since the recent “divestment” announcement that they are neither making investment or divestment decisions based on Middle East politics (Israel-related or otherwise), nor are they responding to any political campaign (by Jewish Voice for Peace or anyone else) to make politically motivated divestment choices.

So stories that announce or imply that CREF has done anything but make automatic buy and sell choices based on existing indexes (financial or otherwise), especially those like this one that assign specific human and political motivation to such decisions, should be seen for what they are: a deliberate attempt to deceive the media and the public.

The second story associated with recent events has to do not with TIAA-CREF but with MSCI, an indexing organization that is followed by CREF and others.  This organization, which maintains an investment index based on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues, did recently remove Caterpillar from its list of approved investments.  And because MSCI indexes are followed by TIAA-CREF, this is the reason why CREF removed Caterpillar from the one fund it maintains that is tied to MSCI’s ESG-related recommendations.

Now to be fair, MSCI did release a statement saying that “The key factors determining the rating include a January 2012 labor dispute and subsequent plant closing in Canada, an on-going controversy associated with use of the company’s equipment in the occupied Palestinian territories, management of environmental issues, and employee safety.”

But the company also made another statement indicating that they use an “established methodology” to determine which companies are listed and de-listed.  But, as previously noted, the company has an unambiguous way to specify a prohibition on certain countries (a prohibition they place on countries like Sudan, but not Israel).  It could be that MSCI was responding to campaigns by JVP and others which put Caterpillar on their radar.  The trouble is, MSCI also makes it clear that “decisions are not based on representations from interest groups.”

Fortunately, this most recent statement published by MSCI finally clears up this seeming inconsistency.

In it, they indicate where issues like the Middle East conflict fall into their decision-making matrix (as a component of “Community & Society” which constitutes 10% of their overall score for a company).

Significantly, they state explicitly that their analysts “do not make judgments on the positions of the interested parties” but rather follow political controversies (Middle East related and not) to determine if they might cause a risk to the investments or reputations of index members.  In other words, because a controversy regarding Caterpillar and Israel exists, MSCI is professionally obligated to follow it (as they must follow any political controversies related to an investment), but only to determine if they pose financial or reputational risks to investors (not to make moral or political judgments on the parties or issues involved).

Given that MSCI is not a BDS organization, they most likely don’t see the Arab-Israeli conflict as the only issue impacting “Community and Society” in the universe.  So, at most, this controversy must weigh as just a fraction of the 10% MSCI assigns the “Community and Society” category as a whole.  But was this fraction of a percentage enough to tip the scales against Caterpillar this year?

Well apparently, this item has been incorporated into MSCI’s calculus since 2004, an eight year period during which it caused no changes to Caterpillar’s status.  So was 2012 the tipping point when the boycotter’s cause célèbre finally got Caterpillar bounced?  NO according to MSCI, (the horse’s mouth), who says that this political factor “did not trigger the rating downgrade in February 2012.”

So there you’ve got it.  TIAA-CREF did not divest from Israel (again, defining divestment as the BDSers do as a decision to sell assets in order to make a political statement).  And if MSCI used as a factor in its decision making “an on-going controversy associated with use of the company’s equipment in the occupied Palestinian territories,” that factor (1) could only have been weighted as fraction of 10% of their decision; (2) reflected no political or moral judgment on the part of MSCI regarding Caterpillar, Israel, the Palestinians or anyone else; (3) has been included in their decision-making for close to a decade without affecting MSCI’s inclusion of Caterpillar in their ESG indexes; and (4) did not play a role in this year’s decision to remove Caterpillar from their list of recommendations.

Walking through these details takes some time, and I’m sure the “TIAA-CREF/MSCI divested!” meme will continue to propagate and morph faster than this speed at which the truth can catch up.  (In fact, a comment left here has somehow merged the TIAA-CREF, MSCI and Presbyterian stories to create a fiction whereby TIAA-CREF had divested not just from Caterpillar, but from other BDS targets – Motorola and Hewlett Packard as well.)

Now it is the propagandist’s job to stress any information that supports their version of events (even if it consists of a single phrase in a press release) and ignore all other information that might get in the way of their storyline (such as the subsequent statements noted above which provides the context and clarification needed to genuinely understand the issue).  And I don’t in any way want to deny BDS activists the right to do their job.

But the rest of us are allowed to look at a picture bigger than JVP et al would prefer others to not think about.  And we are also allowed to take into account the boycotter’s multi-year track record of trying to pass off business decisions as politically (i.e., BDSily) motivated, only to be exposed as trying to sell false information in an effort to generate momentum for their otherwise flailing cause.

TIAA CREF and PCUSA: BDS Friends or Foes?

At first, I was annoyed that last week’s TIAA-CREF BDS hoax was going to take time away from things I wanted to say about the upcoming Presbyterian divestment vote.  But then it dawned on me that these two stories were intimately connected.

Before explaining how, I wanted to first highlight one important aspect of last week’s TIAA-CREF tale that has gone unmentioned until now.

When the BDS “movement” was resurrected in 2009 and began using the strategy of fraudulently claiming institutions were divesting from Israel, one of the big payoffs for them was free media coverage.  The Hampshire hoax was their biggest success in this regard in that the story made national news for weeks before the truth finally got out.  In fact, I read about Hampshire while vacationing in Montana that year (and started this blog soon thereafter).

Once bitten, the mainstream media became a bit shyer about taking BDS press released at face value, which meant that a series of hoaxes related to various financial institutions (such as Blackrock, PGGM and TIAA-CREF) were only covered in some corners of the Jewish press.

But these stories mostly provided those of us who write on the subject an opportunity to debunk this new series of fraudulent BDS claims, which meant that even the Jewish press finally got tired of being had by BDSers looking to manipulate both them and the public.

This time around, the “TIAA-CREF Divested!  No wait!  We mean MSCI divested!” story has gotten virtually no coverage outside of blogs and web sites dedicated to promoting or fighting against BDS.  The closest they came to genuine media coverage was The Forward which last week published a brief story based on a Jewish Voice for Peace press release, only to take down that original piece and replace it with a more accurate one a day later.

In a media age when anyone can be a publisher and mainstream media has been shedding things like fact checking (especially for smaller stories), the currency for getting your story published is a reputation for credibility.  And after years of being caught time and time again fraudulently trying to pass off financial decisions by major institutions as politically motivated, the credibility of the BDS brigade (regardless of how much they huff and puff on their own web sites) seems to be shot.

Getting back to what the CREF story might say about PCUSA, keep in mind that both of these institutions are not considered enemies of Jewish Voice for Peace and similar BDS organizations but potential allies.  As such, you would think the normal way of recruiting people to your cause (such as engaging in conversation, presenting reasonable arguments, and listening to their concerns) might represent good strategies.

But think for a moment how TIAA-CREF has been treated by the boycotters over the years.  In 2010, the divestment cru sent out press releases declaring that CREF had followed its lead and divested from specific Israel-related assets for political reasons (a lie), which required CREF management to spend time and effort clearing the air by alerting the media and angry investors that the story was a fake.

Rather than explain themselves or apologize (or simply avoid the subject of TIAA-CREF altogether out of fear of further embarrassment), instead Jewish Voice for Peace declared that their biggest campaign for 2011 was going to be getting TIAA-CREF to actually do what they just pretended they did the year before.

And after more than a year of that campaign going nowhere, last week they reverted back to hoax mode taking a simple indexing measure that required no conscious decisions by TIAA-CREF and using it to declare the academic retirement as all aboard the “Dump Caterpillar” BDS bandwagon (throwing in the fantasy that CREF made these decisions in defiance of JVP’s political enemies for good measure).

When I penned this little parody that involved my BDS protagonists torturing the CEO of TIAA-CREF while trying to convince him to do their bidding, I thought nothing could ever come close to my time-wasting fantasy.  But the whole Hoax – Campaign – Hoax sequence we’ve seen over the last three years has convinced me that fantasy has got nothing on BDS reality.

How does this relate to the upcoming PCUSA debate?  Well keep in mind that the boycotters will be showing up in droves at the upcoming Presbyterian General Assembly bearing two messages: (1) other institutions are dumping Caterpillar (and so should you); and (2) trust us.  And like TIAA-CREF, the Presbyterian Church is not seen as an enemy, but as a potential ally of the BDS “movement.”

Now it may be that they can keep up enough momentum from their fraudulent CREF/MSCI story going to convince some of the more credulous Presbyterians already in their camp of precedence for the votes they are being asked to take.  But if word gets out regarding not just this most recent BDS fraud but the BDS “movement” history of trying to pass off hoaxes, then that will undermine both of their messages (especially the message that the boycotters should be trusted to tell the truth – either about themselves or about the Middle East in general).

And if the Presbyterians start wavering in their support for divestment, we’re likely to see the kind of hostility and misbehavior we saw during the recent Methodist divestment debate (which ended in yet another BDS failure), wrath one would normally see a political organization direct at its political enemies, rather than someone you are feigning friendship towards.