It was a question that plagued Israel’s ambassador to the United States whenever he spoke to U.S. audiences about the need to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Audience members inevitably would ask: What can I do?
Sallai Meridor, who says in his talks that the most effective way to stop Iran’s bomb is through economic isolation, had no answer beyond advising supporters to continue advocating for divestment. “I believe in social responsibility,” he told JTA in a recent interview at the Israeli Embassy here.
Meridor figured the only money supporters having invested in Iran-related companies lay in pension funds, and only pension fund managers could decide whether or not to divest from companies doing business with Iran.
But seeking to set a personal example at a time when the international community again is rallying around the need to isolate Iran – last month the U.N. Security Council approved a third set of sanctions – Meridor decided to place a phone call to his own Israeli pension fund, Altshuler-Shaham.
His call was not for nothing.
Meridor sent Altshuler-Shaham a list of European companies that have Iran holdings. The list was compiled by the state of Florida, one of an increasing number of U.S. states opting to disinvest their pension funds from Iran and Sudan, whose government is accused of aiding militias in carrying out genocidal raids in Darfur.
Was the pension fund invested in any of the companies on the list?
To the surprise of the socially conscientious Israeli investment house, there was one: Statoil, a Norwegian oil company.
Altshuler-Shaham executives acted immediately. Explaining the decision in an op-ed piece in Israel’s daily Ha’aretz, Altshuler-Shaham’s Ran Shaham and Ido Saguy wrote, “We’re confident that our clients would prefer that their savings (however small a portion) would not find their way into stocks in companies that reinforce nations that threaten our security.”
That comported with Altshuler-Shaham’s profile on Dun and Bradstreet-Israel.
“For Altshuler Shaham, social involvement is part of its business philosophy,” the profile says. “The Group sees no contradiction between strong profitability on behalf of its clients and authentic social involvement within the community.”
Altshuler-Shaham switched the investment to the U.S. energy giant ConocoPhillips.
Now, Meridor says, he has something to tell his audiences when they ask what they can do: Pick up the phone.
Incorporating that message into a recent speech to the annual meeting in Atlanta of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Meridor was met with wide applause.
“It was really one phone call,” Meridor said. “Any one of us has influence.”