Some More Thoughts on Caterpillar Divestment

A follow-up on my last post:

I just read an interesting article in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency by Ron Kampeas that concludes the sale of Caterpillar tractors to Israel was a factor (if not the “determining one”) in the MSCI and TIAA-CREFF decisions to delist Caterpillar from its portfolios.

For such a mainstream Jewish publication, it was a fairly bold admission. Of course the article also contained the obligatory statements from Caterpillar and Jewish establishment reps downplaying CAT’s responsibility in the sale of armored/weaponized bulldozers to the Israeli military.  In one instance, Kampeas’ article quoted a Caterpillar statement that denied the direct sales of the infamous D9 Track-Type bulldozers to Israel:

“This is how it works,” corporate spokesman Jim Dugan said. “Caterpillar sells equipment to the U.S. government, which then transfers the equipment to the Israeli government, which then transfers it to the Israeli military.  Israeli is one of about 150 countries that take part in the program, which supports U.S. allies. For the D9s, the protective armor plating, the bullet resistant glass and other modifications take place after the machine has been transferred to the Israeli government by the U.S. government.  These changes happen after the sale, not in our factories.”

Actually, it’s misleading in the extreme to claim that Caterpillar “sells its equipment to the US government.”  In truth, the US government acts as a intermediary between the CAT and the Israeli military through the US Foreign Military Sales program (FMS).  Caterpillar certainly knows full well that it is entering into a contract with the Israeli military – every FMS sale is preceded by a notification to Congress that lists the government purchasing the equipment and the contractor providing it.

It is also highly disingenuous to claim CAT has nothing to do with the armoring and weaponizing of the D9s.  In fact, these massive bulldozers are retrofitted by ITE – Caterpillar’s sole representative in Israel, who is also responsible for the D9’s ongoing maintenance and support during operations, including military operations.

To put it simply, the relationship between CAT and the Israeli military are a key part of the military-corporate alliance that enables the occupation.

I was also struck by this quote from Ethan Felson, the vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs:

Felson … said that linking Caterpillar to Israeli practices was “nonsensical,” noting that it had no say in how the US military resells the tractors, and that it could not legally turn down the U.S. military as a client.

In fact, Felson’s statement is beyond “nonsensical.”  CAT has “no say in how the US resells the tractors?”  The US Foreign Military Sales program exists for the specific purpose of facilitating individual contracts between companies and foreign governments. Moreover, Caterpillar certainly has the right and the ability not to renew its contract with Israel’s military if it determines its equipment is being used to violate human rights.

Yes, there were likely many factors considered in this latest divestment decision, but as the article points out, the efforts of divestment activists certainly played an important part. And it is also important to bear in mind that this is not ultimately about MSCI or TIAA-CREFF or even Caterpillar – it is about exposing the human rights abuses committed by Israel in pursuance of its brutal and illegal occupation.

The professional apologists can spin or distort the facts all they want – but in the end, the dogged efforts of divestment activists are helping, slowly but surely, to bring Israel’s egregious policies out into the light of day.

UPDATE 6/27/12: In a just-released statement, MSCI stated that the “on-going controversy associated with use of the company’s equipment in the occupied Palestinian territories” was a “key factor” in their decision to drop Caterpillar.

9 thoughts on “Some More Thoughts on Caterpillar Divestment

  1. rebeccasubar

    Thanks for thorough research and analysis and thoughtful exposing. Interesting to think about hundreds more rabbis, down the line, including their/our own people as potential agents of human rights abuse just like everyone else!

  2. i_like_Ike52

    Several points as to why you are wasting your time pursuing this BDS war against Israel;
    (1) Read this article by Carlo Strenger in Ha’aretz. He is against the settlements as much as you are but he strongly opposes BDS:

    (2) There is no way your beloved BDS will ever catch on but even if it did it would have no effect. Leftist newspaper Ha’aretz some time ago presented a comprehensive article showing the sanctions have never, I repeat “NEVER” forced a country to change its policies. This includes Rhodesia and South Africa. Rhodesia survived all the sanctions against it and only capitulated when South Africa, their only geographical outlet to the outside world, forced them to. South Africa itself gave up apartheid, not because of the sanctions, but because the economic establishment found that it was grossly inefficient and because the ANC agreed not to confiscate white businesses and property.

    (3) Even if you could convince yourself wrongly that South Africa was badly hurt by sanctions, there is NO parallel to the situation in Israel. Most people in the world understand it is not the same situation. Israel has REPEATEDLY offered to withdraw from the West Bank and allow the creation of a Palestinian state, but the Palestinians haver REFUSED to agree to this. Most of the world realizes this They realize it is the Palestinians who refuse to make peace. Israel withdrew totally from Gaza and yet we go something like 150 missiles fired at us in the last few days. People know this. Also, Israel’s settlements are NOT ILLEGAL by international law…Jews lived in these areas before 1948. There are Arabs on both sides of the Green Line and there will be Jews on both sides also. There will never be peace if Jews are forced out of the settlements.
    The bottom line, however, is the fact that most people in the world DON’T CARE about the Palestinians and the settlements…they view the Arab-Israeli conflict as one of those intractable international conflicts without resolution. This is why BDS will never catch on.

    (4) I, of course, completely reject the assertion that Israel’s policies in the West Bank are “brutal” or “unethical” or whatever JVP may chose to call them. The large majority of Israelis agree with me, and I think most of world Jewry agees also. “Left/Progressives” are a minority

    (5) Since I have shown that BDS will never be implemented and wouldn’t work even if it was to some extent, you might ask why I so strongly oppose Jews supporting BDS. The reason is because it will cause a major split among world Jewry which should be avoided at all costs. Assimilation and antisemitism threaten us constantly and an internal Jewish war simply accelerates these negative phenomena. Those who support this disastrous policy are condemning themselves to ending up no different than fringe groups like Neturei Karta which is viewed as nothinjg more than a bunch of publicity-seeking cranks. I have pointed out in the past that it is legitimate to support the so-called “peace camp” including a division of the country and a Palestinian state, but running to Christian churches and other non-Jews to get them to support a BDS campaign is to push those Jews who do these things into Jewish irrelevancy.

  3. Shirin (aka umrayya)

    …the US government acts as a intermediary between the CAT and the Israeli military through the US Foreign Military Sales program (FMS).

    Yep! Just as the US government acted as an intermediary in the sales of equipment to the Iraqi military during Saddam’s regime, some of which was used to attack “his own people” (as the propagandists are fond of putting it). It was helicopters sold through this program that were used in the infamous gassing of the Kurdish village of Halabja.

  4. Connie DePond

    Thank you for the support for divestment. The usual arguments against it are being said within the Presbyterian church. “No real damage to Caterpillar” “Other countries are higher on the human rights abuses than Israel. ” They don’t seem to recognize that to do nothing is to side with the evil.

    1. Sylvia

      “They don’t seem to recognize that to do nothing is to side with the evil.”
      I would appreciate ONE example of this so uniquely evil you’re talking about. I encounter this kind of code words everywhere on the web, but please understand that the average Israeli has no clue what you’re talking about. So. ONE example?

      1. Ed

        The illegal occupation of foreign land. The systematic targeting of residential properties and legitimate business concerns with grossly inadequate evidence of any military need. The repeated targeting and killing of unarmed civilians, including children. Targeting Red cross vehicles. Denying access to essential health care for thousands of sick and elderly.
        I’m sorry – you asked for one example.
        You may well think that each of these actions is justified. Perhaps you can also understand why I – and many others – think they are “evil”.

  5. Dave

    1/ Can anyone name any company, anywhere, at any time, no matter what the size, that was came even close to being put out of business because people would not buy their share out of moral concerns.

    Can you name one?

    I’m sure we can name individual companies or even whole industries(smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em) that everyone dislikes morally. And yet they’re able to sell shares.

    2/ In the unlikely event that CAT, and every other similar company cuts Israel off, Israel can always get second hand (cheaper) CAT equipment.

    3/ If CAT does give in they’ll be opening themselves up to more pressure regarding other countries they deal with. Not exactly an incentive.

    4/ If Israel wants to demolish a house, bulldozers are just one way to do it . No CATS, still no problem.

    5/ Most non-Federal government pension plans are so wildly underfunded, they’ll probably have to sell off all their investments in the next decade (the Feds can just print money). Many other private ones will be doing so too. So you’re expending a lot of energy to get people do do what they’ll have to do anyways.

    Not that I’m going to stop you. After all you could be doing something that could actually hurt Israel.

    1. Shirin (aka umrayya)

      Dave, maybe it is not clear to you that the purpose of divestment is not to put anyone out of business.

      And, you know, divestment was an integral part of the successful struggle against South African apartheid.

  6. jack bender

    love those armoured d9,s…..they do the fact brandt ,why dont you go over there and lay down in front of one


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s