US church with 7 million members blacklists 5 Israeli banks

Photo: Yossi Gurvitz/Flickr

In a decision that is sure to rattle the Israeli government, the pension board of the United Methodist Church which has seven million members in the US has blacklisted five Israeli banks for human rights violations. According to a statement issued by the Board on Tuesday, the banks knocked off its investment portfolio are guilty of financing settlement construction in Palestinian territories illegally occupied by Israel.

Pro-Palestine voices within and outside the Church have hailed the boycott decision as a major step forward in the Boycott, Divest and Sanction campaign (BDS), an international effort to pressureise economically over the Palestinian issue. Meanwhile, a section among the church members are opposed to the divestment campaign and also claim that in any case the church remains invested in other Israeli companies. M. Colette Nies, a spokeswoman for the pension board stated that pension fund remains invested in “approximately 18 Israeli companies that meet our investment criteria.”
The excluded banks are Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank, and Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank. Also blacklisted is an Israeli construction concern, Shikun & Binui, which is heavily involved in settlement construction.

The Israeli banks on the United Methodist Church’s black list are among 39 companies from several countries that have been excluded from the pension board’s portfolio for not meeting its Human Rights Investment Policy guideline adopted in 2014.

The pension board’s decision is in sync with other American church groups among whom divestment is gaining momentum. Liberal Protestants see the divestment movement as a tool to pressure Israel over its policies toward Palestinians. In July 2015, the United Church of Christ voted to divest from companies with business in the Israeli-occupied territories. The Presbyterian Church (USA) had voted similarly in 2014.

While there was no immediate comment from Israeli officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel sees the divestment movement as a campaign to destroy Israel. The Israeli government invests a lot of time and resources in combating the decision of academic institutions, businesses and church organizations to divest from Israeli companies over the issue of Israeli settlements and the occupation of Palestinian lands.

Among the first to welcome the pension board’s decision was Tikkun magazine, the largest circulation voice of liberal and progressive Jews (and the winner of the Best Magazine of the Year Award from the Religion Newswriters Association in both 2014 and 2015)  

The magazine issued a statement stating, “Although we at Tikkun do NOT support a general boycott of Israel, and wish to see Israel remain strong and its security intact, we welcome the action of the United Methodist Church Pension Fund. The action of the UMC Pension Fund is narrowly focused on boycotting and divesting from Israeli and other firms that help perpetuate Israel’s Occupation of the Palestinian people in the West Bank and the construction of “Jewish-only” settlements. The Occupation of the West Bank with its attendant oppression of the Palestinian people is not only a violation of the highest values of the Jewish people, it is also the Israeli activity that most threatens to turn Israel into a pariah state and thereby weaken its ability to protect its citizens from the real threats it may face from surrounding hostile powers and forces. For that reason, we support all efforts to boycott the products produced on the West Bank in Israeli “Jewish only” settlements and to disinvest from Israeli and global corporations and institutions that help make the Occupation possible. The Jewish people in centuries to come will thank those friends of Israel, like the United Methodists, Presbyterians USA, and the United Church of Christ, who are doing all they can to reverse Israel’s self-destructive policies in the West Bank while distancing from the BDS movement that aims not only at the Occupation of the West Bank but at the totality of Israel and the Israeli people.”



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