(PHOTO: REUTERS/NIR ELIAS): A woman uses an automated teller machine (ATM) outside a Bank Hapoalim branch in Tel Aviv May 30, 2013.
The board of the United Methodist Church’s $20 billion Pension and Health Benefits Fund has essentially blacklistedIsrael’s five largest banks by declaring them off limits for investment amid claims of human rights violations.
Mark Tooley, president of The Institute of Religion and Democracy who is also a lifelong member of the United Methodist Church, however, says the pension board’s decision is “unfortunate and embarrassing” and could likely harm relations between the United Methodist Church and the Jewish people.
The five banks — Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot — are on a list of 39 companies from a number of countries that have been declared off limits for not meeting the church’s Human Rights Investment Policy guideline implemented in 2015.
The New York Times claims that the banks “help finance settlement construction in what most of the world considers illegally occupied Palestinian territories.” The decision by the church is also noted as a part of the global Boycott, Divest and Sanction campaign, or B.D.S., which seeks to pressure Israel economically over the Palestinian issue.
Wespath, which is the investment management division of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church, explains the new investment policy on its website.
“The General Board’s Human Rights guideline reflects The United Methodist Church’s call for all general boards and agencies to ‘… make a conscious effort to invest in institutions, companies, corporations, or funds whose practices are consistent with the goals outlined in the Social Principles.’ (¶ 717) We are a global investor, and we actively influence the promotion and protection of human rights through constructive engagement by using our voice as shareholders to change company practices. We believe that engagement is the most effective strategy for us, and like-minded investors, to effect corporate change and improve human rights protections,” it states.
It further notes: “There are specific times, however, when we must recognize that a company is very unlikely — or unable to — discontinue activities in certain parts of the world that we have classified as ‘high-risk.’ When activities in high-risk countries and areas represent a significant part of a company’s business, we will avoid investing until the company has changed its business practices. Avoiding such investments supports our commitment to sustainable investing, which we believe ultimately improves the performance of our investment funds.”
Israel-Palestine, North Korea and several African and Middle Eastern countries round out a list of 14 nations identified as “high risk” because they “demonstrate a prolonged and systematic pattern of human rights abuses,” according to Wespath.
In a statement last Thursday, United Methodist Kairos Response, a group within the United Methodist Church that has been pushing for divestment over the Palestinian issue, said it was “the first time a major church pension fund has acted to preclude investment in Israeli banks that sustain Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land.”
“We commend the pension fund for taking this significant step in disassociating from the illegal occupation of Palestinian land. But as United Methodist policy opposes the occupation, this is only a first step toward ending our financial complicity in the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people,” UMKR Co-Chair Rev. Michael Yoshii said in the statement.
Wespath removed Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi from the Church’s portfolios and also divested from Shikun & Binui, an Israeli company involved with construction in the settlements.
“UMKR is pleased to learn of these actions, while noting that Wespath still holds stock in 10 companies located inside the illegal settlements and in several others that lend important support to Israel’s occupation,” added the statement.
In an interview with CP on Wednesday, Tooley said: “I think that it potentially harms relations between the United Methodist Church and Jewish people and could impair interfaith relationships. But most of all I think it’s just unfortunate and embarrassing for the United Methodist Church, of which I am a lifelong member, and shows that we do our political witness very, very poorly and inaccurately.”
“Although the Christian Church should be outspoken about human rights and religious liberty, we tend to do it in a haphazard and uneven fashion at best.”
Tooley explained that while the pension board is saying the decision is simply overall action against a wide variety of companies from different countries based on human rights situations, it is unfair to lump Israel in with countries like North Korea for human rights abuses.
“It is unfair and does not accurately reflect United Methodist policy. Looking at the list of countries that were targeted for human rights abuses, it is pretty ridiculous to include Israel on the same list with North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Somalia, Syria. Israel is just about the only functional democracy on the list, so the list itself wasn’t put together very thoughtfully,” he said.
Tooley also argued that pro-divestment groups like the UMKR, which are portraying the decision as a big anti-Israel move, are exaggerating facts to suit their agenda. He said he did not see any real ramifications for Israel and the Middle East as a result of the decision.
“For Israel, none; and for the Middle East, none. It’s all a very small amount of money and I don’t think anyone else is going to follow the example,” he said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who has described the divestment movement as a campaign to destroy Israel, has not yet responded to the decision.
The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church is recognized as the largest faith-based benefit plans administrator and pension fund/investment asset manager in the U.S., and is ranked among the top 100 pension fund managers (based on assets under management) in the country.
A Sa’ar 4.5-class Corvette of the Israeli Navy fires its canons during a naval exercise off the coast of Israel.
Israel’s Defense Ministry on Sunday announced a series of deals for the purchase of combat systems from local defense industries in the amount of $420 million by the end of this year. This is part of a project to acquire warships whose mission would to protect natural gas platforms within Israel’s “economic waters” in the Mediterranean against military threats.
An Israeli soldier training in Krav Maga.
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Culminating a three-year process, delegates at the Mennonite Church USA assembly in Orlando on Thursday adopted a resolution titled “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine,” with approximately 98 percent voting in favor. The resolution calls on members to “avoid purchase of products associated with the occupation or produced in settlements in occupied territories.” It also establishes a process for the church to review its investments “for the purpose of withdrawing investments from companies that are profiting from the occupation.”
Rabbi Steven Wernick says Netanyahu recruited progressive Jews to find a compromise for the holy site; now that the PM has reneged, world Jewry won’t be silent
The fight for pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall is a battle already won by Jewry’s Conservative movement. For some 20 years, Conservative Jews have inhabited a spiritual home at Jerusalem’s contentious holy site, which they won through a series of Supreme Court cases — in a section allocated to the Davidson Archaeological
Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. (Photo credit: hebron.com)
In a secret ballot held at the World Heritage Committee’s 41st annual summit in Krakow Poland, on Friday, UNESCO voted twelve to three in favor declaring the Holy City of Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs “Palestinian world heritage sites”.
The resolution described a Muslim history of the city while blatantly ignoring the Biblical narrative describing 3,000 years of Jewish connection to the site. Six countries abstained from the controversial vote which, at the request of Poland, Croatia, and Jamaica, was a secret ballot; a first for such a vote.
During last month’s 2017 Chicago Dyke March, the true face of “inclusion” among “progressives” finally surfaced. According to the Chicago based newspaper Windy City Times, the march proceeded calmly with people “of all races, genders and gender identities” attending, until “the Dyke March Collective ejected three people carrying Jewish Pride flags (a rainbow flag with a Star of David in the center).”
Something is terribly broken in the relationship between American and Israeli Jews. I say this as an American Jew who has lived in Israel for almost half a century. But if anyone thinks this started with Women of the Wall or PM Netanyahu’s recent – and I believe unfortunate – backtracking on the agreement over egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, he is suffering from selective memory, if not total denial.
gentleman from times gone by. He was soft-spoken, courtly, and wore his pants hoisted high and held up by suspenders; clearly, a European who had personally endured horrors in the last century.
Indeed, he had personally survived the Holocaust in Poland. Therefore, I could not immediately understand why he now attends a very left-wing synagogue—but, totally incomprehensible, was his unexpected and rather passionate defense of Poland and of the Poles. He argued on their behalf as if his very life still depended upon it.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s decision to visit Jerusalem but not Ramallah has prompted much comment.
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Matthew Healy at the Atlantic, one of the few remaining liberal anti-censorship magazines, offers a disingenuous counterpoint to the debate over political correctness.
The attempts to silence dissenting points of view are counter-speech, according to Healy. And counter-speech is an important form of free expression.