Israel issued no response Wednesday to a decision a day earlier by the United Methodist Church to put five Israeli banks on a list of companies it will not invest in, with one official saying the decision could be overturned at the church’s general meeting in May.
The United Methodist Church, a Protestant denomination numbering more than seven million members in the United States and about 12 million worldwide, announced on Tuesday that it would place the banks on its blacklist because of their role in financing settlement activity beyond the Green Line.
The banks are Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot. According to The New York Times, they were among 39 companies from a number of countries that were excluded from the pension board’s portfolio for not meeting its Human Rights Investment Policy guideline.
The only two banks in which the fund is actually invested, however, are Hapoalim and Leumi.
Sources in Jerusalem said that this is likely not the last word on the matter, and that there are those within the church opposed to the move who are expected to fight it at the May meeting.
Despite the blacklist, the United Methodist Church remains invested in other Israeli companies. Its membership rejected a prior effort in 2012 to institute a complete divestiture of all companies with ties to Israel.
Israel’s banks remained mum on the issue, with some deferring their silence to the Association of Banks in Israel, which also had nothing to say on the economic, political, or financial implications of the blacklisting.
The fund remains invested in a slew of other Israeli companies, including Teva, Checkpoint, Nice, Israel Chemicals, Israel Corp., Cellcom and Wix.
Thus far, there is little evidence that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has succeeded in exacting a price from Israel’s economy, though several studies say that a broad-based effort in Europe could inflict economic pain.
Last year the Episcopal Church in the US, with some 1.8 million members, voted down a divestiture measure, and another church, the Mennonite Church USA, with some 950,000 adherents, delayed a vote on a similar measure for two years.
The United Church of Christ, with a membership of about 1 million, approved a divestment resolution in 2015.
The American Jewish Committee issued a statement criticizing the decision, saying the action was requested by the BDS movement which rejects a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Targeting Israeli businesses is precisely what BDS activists seek, though this kind of action does nothing to bring about real Israeli-Palestinian peace,” said Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC 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.”
Niv Elis contributed to this report.
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