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United Methodist Church Bans Investment in 5 Israeli Banks

Palestinians queue at an Israeli checkpoint in Bethlehem. (Photo: Andrew E. Larsen)

Palestinians queue at an Israeli checkpoint in Bethlehem. (Photo: Andrew E. Larsen)

The pension board of one of the largest Christian sects in the United States has blocked investment in five Israeli banks that “sustain illegal occupation of Palestinian lands.”

The United Methodist Church’s $20 billion General Board of Pension and Health Benefits named Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank on its website as “off limits for investment,” part of the church’s “plan to use a human rights guideline for investments.” United Methodist Kairos Response (UMKR), an advocacy group, called the move “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.”

The UMC pension fund also divested from Shikun & Binui, an Israeli company involved with construction in the illegal settlements beyond Israel’s recognized borders, and placed Israel/Palestine on a list of regions where human rights violations occur.

“UMKR is pleased to learn of these actions, while noting that [the church pension fund] still holds stock in ten companies located inside the illegal settlements and in several others that lend important support to Israel’s occupation,” the group said on its website.

“We commend the pension fund for taking this significant step in disassociating from the illegal occupation of Palestinian land,” said UMKR co-chair Rev. Michael Yoshii. “But as United Methodist policy opposes the occupation, this is only a first step towards ending our financial complicity in the ongoing oppression of the Palestinian people.”

UMC first adopted a resolution opposing Israeli policies and actions in the occupied Palestinian territories in 2004. It condemned “the continuing confiscation of Palestinian land for construction of settlements and the building of a separation wall,” “closures, curfews, dehumanizing check points, home demolitions, uprooted trees, bulldozed fields, and confiscation of Palestinian land and water by the government of Israel” and other actions.

The resolution added that Israel “violates human rights, subverts the peace process, destroys the hope of both Israelis and Palestinians who are working for and longing for peace, and fosters a sense of desperation that can only lead to further violence” and that “the government of Israel has devastated economic infrastructure and development in the West Bank and Gaza, has caused a massive deterioration of the living standards of all Palestinians… and an increasing sense of hopelessness and frustration.”

“The United Methodist Church opposes continued military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the confiscation of Palestinian land and water resources, the destruction of Palestinian homes, the continued building of illegal Jewish settlements, and any vision of a Greater Israel that includes the occupied territories and the whole of Jerusalem and its surroundings,” it stated.

The church also called on Palestinians to “condemn violence against Israeli civilians and to use nonviolent acts of disobedience to resist the occupation and the illegal settlements.”

With more than 7.7 million members, UMC is the third-largest religious sect in the United States. It is the nation’s largest mainline Protestant church, and joins other sects including the Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ, the Quakers and Mennonites in sanctioning Israeli companies for their complicity in human rights violations in Palestine. However, while it has backed sanctions and boycotts, UMC previously rejected divestment from Israeli companies at its 2012 General Conference.

The American Jewish Committee issued a statement condemning UMC’s decision.

“Targeting Israeli businesses is precisely what BDS (the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement) activists seek, though this kind of action does nothing to bring about real Israeli-Palestinian peace,” said Rabbi Noam Marans. “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.”

BDS, on the other hand, welcomed UMC’s move.

“This historic step shows, with concrete measures, the ethical commitment of the United Methodist Church to peace and justice,” Palestinian BDS National Committee spokesperson Bisan Mitri said. “Israeli banks finance the decades-long occupation and oppression of Palestinians and are a key pillar in sustaining the brutality of Israel’s military, the unrelenting expansion of Israel’s settlements, and the plundering of Palestinian resources.”

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