A demonstrator wears a shirt reading 'Boycott Israel' [File].
(photo credit: AFP/ MOHD RASFAN)
Last week saw another questionable victory in the international campaign to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel over its alleged mistreatment of Palestinians, as the United Methodist Church of the US voted not to invest its pension board’s portfolio in five Israeli banks.
The Protestant UMC, with some seven million members in the US and 12 million worldwide, announced it had placed the banks on its blacklist because of their financial support of settlements beyond the 1949 Armistice Line, which it considers to be illegal, and for not meeting its Human Rights Investment Policy guidelines.
The five banks are Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank and Bank Mizrahi-Tefahot. According to The New York Times, however, the only banks in which the fund is currently invested are Hapoalim and Leumi.
A curious aspect of the UMC’s blacklisting of Israeli banks is that in 2012 its membership rejected a proposal to divest from all companies linked to Israel. The UMC has assets of some $20 billion and its pension board’s portfolio still includes Israeli companies such as Teva, Checkpoint, Nice, Israel Chemicals, Israel Corp., Cellcom and Wix.com.
Reaction to the UMC announcement came quickly from the Anti-Defamation League, which recognizes the BDS movement as a barely disguised expression of anti-Semitism whose true agenda is not Palestinian welfare but the elimination of the State of Israel.
The ADL condemned the decision as “misguided in intent and misleading in perception.” ADL CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt noted that, “the symbolism of blacklisting banks, which represent the bedrock of the Israeli financial sector and the economy in general, is quite significant and surely was considered by the pension board. We would ask whether the church applies the same level of scrutiny to all firms in its portfolio.”
The ADL condemned the decision for having “furthered the demonization of Israel,” which is counterproductive to achieving peace. “To single out and tar internationally respected Israeli financial institutions hinders peace-building efforts between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” it stated, urging the pension board to reconsider its decision.
Unfortunately, such decisions by church bodies are not new. Last year two Protestant churches – the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) and the United Church of Christ (UCC) passed resolutions to boycott and divest from companies they decided were “complicit” in Israel’s alleged misdeeds against Palestinians.
The PCUSA “hearing” of the divestment argument heard only BDS representatives accusing Israel of holding Palestinians under “biblical scale enslavement” and poisoning Palestinian livestock, among other alleged crimes. The delegates heard BDS advocates dismiss the murders of Israeli children by the racist terrorist group Hamas as “resistance” and disingenuously deny that their divestment proposal was part of the global BDS goal to eliminate Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.
The UCC’s one-sided divesture “debate” in 2015 was even worse, as BDS ideologues bulldozed through a proposal to use the so-called Kairos Palestine Document as the model for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue. Kairos is notorious for its anti-Israel bias and belittling of racist violence against Israeli Jews, not to mention its warped theology that erases the Jewish people’s history in the Land of Israel and replacement by the Palestinians as the “real” Jews.
Even though the UCC repudiated this view in 1987, most delegates agreed. The million-member UCC even rejected a call for the church to listen to Israeli perspectives and encourage cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.
The BDS campaign on college campuses has had mixed results and is finally meeting with opposition from Jewish groups. But the BDS hijacking of churches continues, with apparently only the Christian Zionist Evangelicals knowing that Israel is not to blame for all Palestinian suffering.
There are signs of hope. Last year the Episcopal Church, with some 1.8 million members, voted down a divestiture measure. The Mennonite Church USA, with some 950,000 members, voted to delay such a decision until 2017.
The UMC’s divestiture decision of last week should signal a warning. The fact that it contradicts the UMC’s rejection of BDS at its 2012 General Conference indicates that the BDS virus has managed to change public opinion at a time when it has been revealed as both blatantly anti-Semitic and advocating the elimination of Israel as the Jewish state.