Boston Must Divest from Nuclear Weapons, Saudi Arms Sales, and Settlement Building

Divestment Panel at Boston City Council's Divest/Reinvest hearing, February 28, 2019 Divestment Panel at Boston City Council's Divest/Reinvest hearing, February 28, 2019. Ana Milosavljevic is third from right

The City of Boston manages a $5 billion pension fund and $1.5 billion in cash.  The Boston City Council held a hearing on how to use social criteria in choosing these investments.  MAPA Next Gen member Ana Milosavljevic testified that investments in nuclear weapon producers, companies like Raytheon that sell arms to Saudi Arabia, and those that help Israel build settlements in Palestinian territories, should be ended.  Her written testimony follows.  You can view the entire hearing at https://www.facebook.com/bostonujimaproject/videos/2322694524673943/; Ana’s talk begins at 1:50:09.  We look forward to continuing the Divest/Reinvest Boston campaign, partnering with the Prison Divestment Campaign, Boston Ujima Project, Better Future Project, Zevin Asset Management, Mass. Against HP, and more, as well as City Councilor Lydia Edwards and her colleagues.

Good afternoon. My name is Ana Milosavljevic and I’m a member of Massachusetts Peace Action, the local chapter of the nation’s largest grassroots peace and disarmament organization. In this testimony, I will highlight the city’s admirable commitments to upholding human rights and shed light on its current investments in companies profiting from the violation of such rights.

Nuclear Weapons

According to NUKEMAP, an interactive tool designed by Harvard Ph.D and nuclear arms historian Alex Wellerstein, a 800-kiloton missile that detonates in airspace above Boston would wipe out most of the Greater Boston area, and those within a 148-square-mile radius would, at best, suffer third-degree burns. Over 450,000 people would certainly die.[1]

In 2014 and 2015, the Boston City Council recognized the scale of this potential catastrophe and called on President Obama and Congress to “cancel costly new nuclear and other weapons systems which do not make us safer, and to allocate the savings for programs the people of Boston and other cities urgently need.” In 2012, residents across Massachusetts affirmed such priorities by overwhelmingly voting in favor of the “Budget for All,” which called for the redirection of military spending to domestic needs and job creation. 157,000 of over 200,000 Bostonians who voted indicated they were in favor of such demands.

Within these resolutions, Boston also declared August 6, 2015 to be Hiroshima Day and August 9, 2015 to be Nagasaki Day in solidarity of the innocent victims affected by the 1945 nuclear detonations. Investing in the weapons that we condemn demonstrates hypocrisy, not leadership. Furthermore, these investments create a perverse financial incentive for the world to edge closer and closer to the brink of nuclear warfare.

To realign itself with the Council’s past statements and the priorities of the residents they represent, Boston must divest from any company engaged in the business of destruction.

Saudi Arabia

Similarly, the city’s investments in weapons manufacturers doing business with the Saudi Arabian government fuel a variety of human rights violations, conflicting with the city’s 2011 declaration as a Human Rights City. Since 2015, Saudi Arabia has led a coalition of the United Arab Emirates and other governments in waging a brutal war on Yemen. The coalition’s continued bombing of innocent civilians and critical infrastructure has created conditions that have left 18 million Yemenis at risk of famine. [2]

The war in Yemen has drawn condemnation from international human rights groups and from U.N. agencies. Human Rights Watch has documented multiple airstrikes by the Saudi coalition which violated the rules of war, including the bombing of a school bus in August 2018 which killed forty-four children.[3],[4] A study done by the World Peace Foundation at Tufts University concluded that these conditions were the direct result of the coalition’s strategy of targeting food and water infrastructure in the country.[5]

The military contractors selling these weapons to Saudi Arabia are complicit in this war, profiting off of the atrocities being committed. As a Human Rights City, it is imperative that Boston revoke its investments in the military contractors enabling this massacre.

In addition to divestment from enabling companies, Boston must divest from all Saudi-owned businesses. Beyond its gross violations of the international rules of war, the government still forbids the freedom of religion and basic rights for women and dissidents. It is currently still illegal to publicly practice any religion other than Sunni Islam, and non-Muslim ministers are not allowed into the country.[6] In October 2018, a prominent critic of the Saudi regime and Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi, was killed and dismembered in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul by a 15-person team directed by Crown Mohammad Bin Salman.[7]

In Saudi Arabia, women’s rights activists are haphazardly detained, tortured, and sexually harassed.[8] Following the 2017 lifting of the driving ban, Hala al-Dosari, a prominent Saudi women’s rights activist stated that Saudi authorities warned activists not to make any comments, ensuring the government could use the announcement as PR and prevent further calls for reform.[9]

In particular, Boston’s divestment from Saudi oil businesses would produce bipartisan results by both reducing reliance on foreign oil while advancing the fight against climate change. The Saudi economy is extremely dependent on such oil exports, and Boston’s divestment would most certainly facilitate a PR crisis that would put strain the Saudi government’s current oppressive behavior both in Yemen and at home.

Momentum for such divestment in Massachusetts is already underway. In January 2019, the Massachusetts House of Representatives introduced a bill related to the State pension’s divestment from companies selling weapons to Saudi Arabia.[10] Now is Boston City Council’s turn.

Occupation

Finally, Boston is also invested in corporations facilitating the development of Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law and give rise to an array of human rights violations on Palestinians. In 2018, the UN Human Rights Office reported on its development of a database of companies engaged in activities linked to settlements. The report states that business enterprises had “directly and indirectly, enabled, facilitated and profited from the construction and growth of the settlements.” [11]

As a direct result of such engagement, “Palestinians suffer from restrictions on freedom of religion, movement and education; their rights to land and water; access to livelihoods and their right to an adequate standard of living; their rights to family life; and many other fundamental human rights.”11

In 2009, the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association of America-College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF), a Fortune 100 financial services organization with $1 trillion in assets under management, divested from Israeli investment company Africa-Israel for its building and maintaining of illegal Israeli settlements. In its announcement, TIAA-CREF also stated that BlackRock, a global investment management company, had sold its holdings because of client-concerns.[12]

It is clear that the activities these corporations are engaged in are not only illegal, but fundamentally oppose Boston’s pledges to support humanity regardless of its location and convenience.

To preserve Boston’s values and uphold its commitment to human rights, the city must divest from companies profiting off of tools of destruction, as well as those contributing to human rights violations in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Thank you.

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[1] How Much of Boston Would Be Destroyed in Nuclear War?, Boston Magazine (2017)

[2] Yemen is undeniably the world’s worst humanitarian crisis: WFP, Al Jazeera News (2018)

[3] Yemen Events of 2018, Human Rights Watch (2018)

[4] Saudi Coalition Airstrike Hits School Bus in Yemen, Killing Dozens, New York Times (2018)

[5] The Strategies of the Coalition in the Yemen War: Aerial bombardment and food war, World Peace Foundation (2018)

[6] Report on International Religious Freedom in Saudi Arabia, US Department of State (2013)

[7] C.I.A. Concludes That Saudi Crown Prince Ordered Khashoggi Killed, New York Times (2018)

[8] Saudi Arabia: Reports of torture and sexual harassment of detained activists, Amnesty International (2018)

[9] A Saudi Woman’s ‘Mixed Feelings’ About Winning the Right to Drive, The Atlantic (2017)

[10] An Act relative to pension divestment from companies selling weapons to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, MA Legislature (2019)

[11] UN rights office issues report on business and human rights in settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (2018)

[12] TIAA-CREF divests from Israeli company, Professional Pensions (2009)