The $20.9-billion Pension and Health Benefits Fund of the United Methodist Church has placed Israel’s five largest banks off limits for investment, placing them on what The New York Times terms the church’s “black list”.
The denomination’s Pension Board does not use the term, “black list”, a deliberately-chosen pejorative term designed to evoke memories of an ugly anti-communist era.
The United Methodist Pension Board’s actions carefully distinguish between Israel’s overall economy and its specific illegal occupation expenditures. This action relegates the banks to what in hockey is known as “the penalty box”.
But hey, look on the bright side, the Times did report the Pension Board’s body blow to Israel’s on-going and increasingly desperate struggle to preserve its positive image.
The “people called Methodists” came by that name in the days of John Wesley, the church’s founder, because they were methodical in their preaching and in their procedures.
Standing on tombstones, or on the city corners, wherever they could find an audience, these methodists were never vague about the Good News, they were specific. (See illustration above.)
Specifically, in 2016, the latest Good News is that the United Methodist Pension Fund has withdrawn its funds (divested) from two Israeli banks it had previously held in its portfolios, Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi, both of which it determined, after careful study, had aided and abetted Israel’s illegal occupation.
How careful? The Times described the long process. Here is part of what it found:
M. Colette Nies, a spokeswoman for the Pension Board, based in Glenview, Ill., said that [its] guideline, approved by the board in 2014 and carried out last year, applied to 14 different regions around the world, including the Middle East. . .
Ms. Nies said in the statement that the pension fund remained invested in “approximately 18 Israeli companies that meet our investment criteria.”
This is believed to be the first time a major American church pension fund has made such a strong moral financial judgment against Israeli banks for the specific reason that they “sustain Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land”.
The five Israeli banks placed on the United Methodist Church’s Pension Fund’s “do not invest” list, are First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank, Mizrahi Tefahot Bank, and the aforementioned Bank Hapoalim and Bank Leumi, for their deep involvement “in financing illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories”.
The information has been posted on the Pension Fund’s website as companies “that pose excessive human rights risks”.
Wespath, the Pension Fund’s manager, also divested from Shikun & Binui, an Israeli company involved with construction in the illegal settlements beyond Israel’s recognized borders.
The United Methodist Kairos Response, an activist UMC organization, praised the action of the Pension Fund.
Israel has not yet responded to the new and quite specific UMC Pension Fund actions, but rest assured, when Israel does respond, it will claim the action is against the entire state of Israel.
Put that allegation down to the plea of a guilty man who has killed his parents and now begs for mercy because he is an orphan.
No matter what Benjamin Netanyahu tells you, the UMC action is not directed at the modern state of Israel. What the UMC Pension Fund has done is follow its methodically developed plan which specifically targets Israeli corporations the church deems guilty of the “human rights violations” of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land and citizens.
The Pension Fund has added Israel not to any New York Times “black list”, but to its penalty box of nations where human rights violations occur.
The Pension Fund divestment action was announced in the week that President Obama delivered his final State of the Union Address to the Congress and the nation. (for a video of the speech, click here. For the full text click here.)
The inspiring and encouraging words from the President resonate with the Pension Fund action because together they sing a chorus of how we must live together as a nation and as citizens of the world.
For an example of how the speech reached different audiences, here is the Arab American website’s appreciative response on Obama’s reference to Muslims:
“President Obama in his State of the Union Speech last night rejected ‘any politics that targets people because of race or religion.’ he went on to say, ‘This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith’.
“His comments were in direct contrast to presidential candidate and billionaire businessman Donald Trump who has called for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the United States and the construction of a wall on the U.S. border with Mexico to stop the flow of illegal immigrants.
“Obama quoted His Holiness, Pope Francis in his address to Congress, ‘to imitate the hatred and violence of tyrants and murderers is the best way to take their place’.
“He then addressed the ongoing political rhetoric denigrating Muslims and creating a litany of vandalism and bullying against them saying, ‘that doesn’t make us safer, that’s not telling it like it is. It’s just wrong. It diminishes us in the eyes of the world. It makes it harder to achieve our goals. And it betrays who we are as a country’.”
Pay close attention to the President’s words. Judging by the hate and fear of the current presidential race, it may be some time before we hear them again.
The picture from the State of the Union address is a CNN screen shot.
Thank you, Jim, for covering the work of the Board of Pensions so well. Hallelujah that they have done something. Thank you for your continued interpretations and reporting on the situation in Palestine-Israel. I dod whatever I can in supporting refugees and their needs along with protests on illegal actions by Israel. You always give such good coverage of the needs and the situation!
It’s very admirable that the Methodist Church took this action. Israeli apartheid and Jewish Supremacy laws and policies, are against basic human rights and are an abomination.
The Churches have been far too reticent and quiet, even as Christian and Muslim land has been stolen, olive groves ripped out, houses demolished based on religion, and two sets of laws established in Israel/Palestine, one for Jews and one for Non Jews. Only a total boycott of Israel would be an appropriate response to Apartheid and ethnic cleansing. but this is a step at least.
Our Congress works for Israel despite its cruel and unjust policies. It is up to churches and the people to move forward on total BDS until Israel withdraws its settlements from all of the occupied territories, and gives complete equality in Israel to Non Jews, who are persecuted every day Israel.
Hooray for the Methodists! This is an historical action and speaks very loudly to the “powers that be”. Thanks for your detailed explanation of the process, Jim.
Thank you James for this, and for high-lighting the Methodist church boycott decision. And thanks for providing us with the opportunity to listen to President Obama’s last State of the Union Address. It certainly sounded good and ambitious. However I cannot help but wonder whether he can achieve all this in his last year of his two terms and whether it will be possible for him to see a real break through for peace in our region so that he will truly deserve the peace prize that he had received appriori at the beginning of his first term.
Apart from being long overdue, the Methodist Church boycott decision is nevertheless welcome on the basis of better late than never. As for Obama’s State of the Union address, I am glad some were pleased, but at the risk of being labelled a pedant, I was puzzled that he thinks the Middle East conflicts “date back millennia” (his very words) which are not and have never been the case.
We Episcopalians can learn a lot from you Methodists.