Activist groups for anti-Israel divestment, who typically don’t have many victories to celebrate, are touting divestment from five Israeli banks and a construction firm by the United Methodist Board of Pensions.
This claim might confuse anyone who recalls that United Methodism at its governing General Conference in 2008 and 2012 overwhelmingly rejected anti-Israel divestment. The pensions board itself quietly opposed divestment.
Now the pensions board says it’s not targeting Israel as the five Israeli banks are among 39 companies from 14 countries from which it is divesting based on human rights concerns. It cites Freedom House, a longtime monitor of global political freedom, as a key source.
The 14 countries include North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Syria, some of the most repressive nations in the world. Israel is the only functioning democracy on this list. According to Freedom House, on a freedom scale of 1 to 7, with 1 being free and 7 “worst of the worst,” Israel has 1.5. All of the other countries on the pensions board list have a perfect bad score of 7, except Morocco with 4.5 and South Sudan with 6.5. The Palestinian Authority-Administered Territories have a 6. Freedom House notes Israel controls Palestinian border and defense policy but otherwise focuses on policies of the Palestinian Authority, which rejects media freedom, independent judiciary, and a functioning legislature. Its president’s elected term in office ended in 2009.
So the United Methodist pensions board is not exclusively targeting Israel but is lumping democratic Israel into a list of the world’s most repressive “worst of the worst,” as a Freedom House describes them. It evidently faults these five banks and a construction firm for supposedly facilitating Jewish settlements on the West Bank while noting it remains invested with 18 other Israeli firms.
This same minuet was performed in 2014, when the pensions board sold its shares in a British security firm that sold equipment to Israel. Pro-divestment groups shouted victory and got the requisite New York Times story. The pensions board was mum.
Why does the United Methodist pensions board uniquely target Israel for a higher standard in a way that extreme anti-Israel groups will tout as validation? And why are countless gross abusers of human rights, like Iran and China, not on the list at all? Or does the pensions board not want to touch the large and wealthy, even if they persecute Christians?