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.