The Israeli-Palestinian conflict took center stage for most of Tuesday's annual meeting for retirement giant TIAA-CREF in Charlotte.
For more than a year, activists in the "We Divest" campaign have called on TIAA-CREF to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola, Veolia and other companies the activist group says profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.
The Oakland, Calif.-based group Jewish Voice for Peace said it has gathered more than 25,000 supporters around the country. The group also attended the company's 2010 annual meeting in New York and has met directly with TIAA-CREF officials on the issue.
Officials within TIAA-CREF have held private meetings with parties on both sides of the issue, but no consensus has emerged, CEO Roger Ferguson said during the meeting Tuesday at the company's Charlotte campus off Mallard Creek Church Road.
"It is not likely that engagement is going to get the outcome you're looking for," Ferguson told the crowd. "We have decided, in the way in which we manage the portfolio, that this is not something in which we're going to engage."
The company's actions are unlikely to have a substantial impact on the conflict, Ferguson said.
"We're not asking them to solve the conflict; that's not their job," said Sydney Levy, director of campaigns for Jewish Voice for Peace. "What we're asking them is to behave ethically with their participants' money."
New York-based TIAA-CREF, which manages retirement benefits for millions of teachers and other nonprofit employees, opened its Charlotte campus in 2001, its largest location. It currently employs about 2,800 locally.
Representatives for the "We Divest" campaign say the company moved the meeting to Charlotte to avoid protests.
The annual participant meeting - similar to a public company's shareholder meeting - was last held in Charlotte in 2004. The company has held other annual meetings in Atlanta, Denver and Chicago.
TIAA-CREF stands for Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association - College Retirement Equities Fund.
The election of members to the CREF board of trustees was held up for nearly an hour as questions poured in from participants about the nominees' views on the issue. CREF is the companion company to TIAA.
Maceo Sloan, chairman of the CREF board of trustees, said it is not the board's responsibility to make day-to-day operating decisions and that nominees' personal views on the matter were irrelevant to their election.