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Controller Seeks Fiscal Means to Help Darfur

October 12, 2006 By:
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The people of Darfur, Sudan, have been victims of a genocide there since 2003.
City Controller Alan Butkovitz has been at the helm of a resolution to divest from Sudan, which Philadelphia's pension board passed on Sept. 27. This means that the city will stop using its $4.2 billion retirement chest to invest in companies that do business with the African nation in an effort to assist its struggling populace.

Butkovitz, who came to office in January, launched the divestment campaign in the spring.

He introduced the resolution after hearing about a similar effort under way in California and, with help from the Philadelphia-based Darfur Alert Coalition, brought Darfuri refugees before the pension board to testify.

Butkovitz said that his desire to halt genocide came from the moral obligation he felt as a Jew.

"If we were in the position of ordinary Germans, what would we have done?" he posed. "Would we just go along with Hitler, or would we take some risk or action to stop the Holocaust?

"I think Jews have a special role as witnesses -- and as activists -- in preventing the world from repeating genocide."

Divesting from the region, added Butkovitz, was the most effective way he saw to cut off genocide financiers. It worked in South Africa with the apartheid government, as well as in Northern Ireland, he pointed out.

Divestment from Sudan -- an idea that has caught on in several states and on university campuses -- can also have a snowball effect, said Butkovitz.

"It doesn't take very much for money managers to get very skittish," he said. "Once they start to believe there's a trend, they go out of their way to start dumping investments."

And yet the resolution Butkovitz proposed was not entirely greeted with open arms.

According to him, some in the city's government felt that the resolution, which passed in a 5-3 vote, obscured the line between moral concerns and monetary ones. Personnel director Lynda Orfanelli, City Solicitor Romulo Diaz Jr. and Anthony Torre, an administrator with the managing director's office, were the dissenting votes.

But the two are not mutually exclusive, he said, since Sudan's precarious political situation could have economic side effects.

"We happen to be in a situation where a good investment practice leads you to a good place as the moral imperative."

The controller made it clear that he is opposed to applying such a measure to Israel, drawing a sharp contrast between the two situations.

"Israel's not committing genocide," he said. "You cannot allow those kinds of moral equivalency arguments to paralyze you."

 

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