United Methodist Church to exclude Israeli banks from pension portfolio

The homepage of the United Methodist Church website. Credit: Screenshot.

(JNS.org) The United Methodist Church (UMC) on Tuesday said that its pension board will exclude five Israeli banks from its investment portfolio due to concerns over human rights.

UMC lists Israel and the disputed Palestinian territories as a “high risk” region with “a prolonged and systematic pattern of human rights abuses.” But UMC continues to invest in 18 other Israeli companies, according to M. Colette Nies, a spokeswoman for the pension board. 

While many Methodist leaders oppose divestment, a coalition of UMC members called the United Methodist Kairos Response has been advocating for divestment from Israeli companies in Judea and Samaria as well as eastern Jerusalem.

“This is the first step toward an effort that helps send a clear message that we as a church are listening and that we are concerned about human rights violations,” Susanne Hoder, a leader of United Methodist Kairos Response, said Tuesday.

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, described UMC's divestment as an act of desperation by a shrinking religious movement. In its 2014 religious landscape survey, the Pew Research Center showed that mainline Protestants represented 14.7 percent of the U.S. adult population, down from 18.1 percent seven years earlier. The survey included United Methodists among the group it called mainline Protestants.

“God is clearly honoring the churches that stand with Israel and the Jewish people by bringing about huge growth with them, and at the same time Methodist churches are sitting empty and their affiliation is way down,” Eckstein said, adding, “For years millions of Christians have faithfully stood shoulder to shoulder with Israel and the Jewish people, despite cynical and hate-filled attempts to demonize Israel, and for that we remain deeply thankful.” 

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) also denounced the pension board’s decision.

“Targeting Israeli businesses is precisely what BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) activists seek, though this kind of action does nothing to bring about real Israeli-Palestinian peace,” said Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC’s Director of interreligious and intergroup relations. “The Methodist Pension Board action against Israeli companies is deeply disappointing, and goes against the UMC’s rejection of BDS at its 2012 General Conference.”

UMC’s General Board of Pension and Health Benefits will exclude Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank, and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank. 

The pension board had already voted in 2014 to divest from Israel by selling the stock of a security company, G4S, because the company supplies equipment to Israeli prisons.

Posted on January 13, 2016 .