Group seeks Israel divestment initiative on Cal ballot

The Israel Divestment Campaign, a little-known and recently formed organization, has submitted a ballot initiative to force California’s huge public retirement systems to withdraw investments from companies that “support Israeli settlement or supply military products to the government of Israel.”

The group was scheduled to hold a demonstration Wednesday in front of the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles, according to an e-mail announcement.

The proposed initiative was submitted earlier this year to the California Attorney General by the “Israel Divestiture Forum – IDF: Committed to End Israeli Occupation.”

Author of the ballot initiative—claimed to be the first of its kind in the United States—and founder of the group is Chris Yatooma, identified by the Los Angeles Times as head of fiscal policy for the California Community College’s chancellor’s office in Sacramento.

In an interview with Yatooma by pro-Israel activist Paul Kujawsky, reported on, Yatooma is described as a 45-year-old Arab American, who said that he had previously worked in a number of congressional offices, including that of vice president, and then senator, Joe Biden.

To qualify an initiative for next year’s ballot, it must collect the signatures of 434,000 registered California voters, a very complex and expensive undertaking.

However, California’s two retirement systems, one for public employees and the other for teachers, present a tempting target, with a total investment portfolio of around $300 billion.

Among American companies in Yatooma’s crosshairs are Caterpillar, Motorola, Northrop Grumman, General Electric and ITT.

Among the group’s activist supporters are a number of Arab Americans, retired Christian clergymen, and a scattering of veteran Jewish American and Israeli backers of Palestinian causes.

One is group’s campaign organizer, Yael Korin, a native of Israel and long prominent in pro-Palestinian protests and co-founder of the Women in Black’s Los Angeles chapter.

More recognizable names claimed as the group’s supporters are Nobel Peace laureates Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and Belfast peace activist Mairead Maguire, linguist Noam Chomsky and political scientist Norman Finkelstein.

Best known among listed Los Angeles names is Stanley K. Sheinbaum, a veteran peace activist, former University of California Regent and former president of he Los Angeles Police Commission. An assistant to Sheinbaum confirmed that he had endorsed the group’s petition.

In the interview on, Yatooma acknowledged that he had chosen Israel Divestiture Forum as the initiative’s official sponsor, because its acronym, IDF, is generally identified with the Israel Defense Forces.

“That’s just me having some fun,” Yatooma told interviewer Kujawsky. He also said he hoped to draw support from the Jewish community’s “peace camp,” African Americans, Latinos and “progressive” Democrats.

Should the petition get the required number of signatories, the initiative could appear on the state ballot in the summer or fall of next year.