The United Methodist Church (UMC) has divested from five Israeli banks on the grounds that they contribute to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, the first mainline church to take such a step.
Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot are among 39 companies blacklisted by the UMC pension fund for failing to meet the guidelines of a human rights investment policy. An Israeli construction company, Shikun & Binui, was also excluded, for its involvement in settlement building.
The UMC is one of the largest Protestant denominations in the United States, with an estimated seven million members. The pension board’s assets in 2014 was valued at $20.9 billion.
Grassroots campaign group UM Kairos Response (UMKR), which seeks to mobilise a response to a call from Christian Palestinians for action to end Israeli apartheid, welcomed the announcement, and said it was “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.”
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UMKR Co-chair Rev. Michael Yoshii said: “We commend the pension fund for taking this significant step in disassociating from the illegal occupation of Palestinian land. 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.”
The news was hailed by a number of Palestine solidarity campaigners and Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) activists. Rabbi Alissa Wise, of Jewish Voice for Peace, said the decision was “a particularly significant step” because “it acknowledges the deep connections between Israeli banks and the settlement enterprise, making clear that responsibility for the occupation and ongoing abuses of Palestinian rights does not stop at the Green Line.”
According to The New York Times, the “the inclusion of Israeli banks on what is essentially a blacklist compiled by the pension board of a large American church, appears bound to upset the Israeli government, which devotes considerable effort to combating resolutions by academic institutions, businesses and church organizations to divest from Israeli companies over the issue of Israeli settlements and the occupation of Palestinian lands held since the 1967 war.”