Jewish groups welcome Morningstar's new commitments to Israel

Morningstar's ties to BDS were first identified in April 2020, when the Chicago company announced it was acquiring full ownership of Amsterdam-based Sustainalytics.

 THE WRITER poses for a portrait in Chicago. ‘Morningstar does not support the anti-Israel BDS campaign; it never has and it never will,’ he says.  (photo credit: Eileen T. Meslar/Reuters)
THE WRITER poses for a portrait in Chicago. ‘Morningstar does not support the anti-Israel BDS campaign; it never has and it never will,’ he says.
(photo credit: Eileen T. Meslar/Reuters)

CHICAGO - Morningstar, the multi-billion-dollar Chicago-based investment research firm has begun distancing itself from the BDS movement, according to an announcement during the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America in Chicago on Monday.

In attendance at the assembly were The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), Anti-Defamation League (ADL), American Jewish Committee (AJC), JLens, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and The Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, in coordination with the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (COP), Hadassah the Women’s Zionist Organization, Jewish Funders Network (JFN), Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF) and UJA-Federation of New York.

"We appreciate Morningstar's engagement with our communities, as well as its leadership’s strong rejection of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign to discredit Israel," JFNA president and CEO Eric Fingerhut said.

"Anti-Israel bias is a pernicious problem and requires vigilance to combat. We will continue to work with Morningstar to ensure implementation of these important reforms and their effects on ratings.”

Fingerhut also personally thanked Morningstar executive chairman Joe Mansueto and CEO Kunal Kapoor for their engagement and goodwill.

Morningstar's checkered past

Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, also known as BDS. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement, also known as BDS. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

JLens first identified Morningstar's ties to BDS in April 2020, when the Chicago company announced it was acquiring full ownership of Amsterdam-based Sustainalytics, one of the main global firms offering Environmental, Social and Governance ratings, in an attempt to get a hold on the fast-growing and lucrative ESG market.

The acquisition prompted Jlens to share its longstanding concerns about Sustainalytics’ alleged bias against Israel with Morningstar, which ultimately ignored Jlens and closed the deal. A few months later, Jlens began a dialogue that ended in January 2021 with the pro-Israel investor network, placing Morningstar on its “Do Not Invest” list.

“Biased ESG ratings are a sign that the anti-Zionism and antisemitism that have grown up on the campus are increasingly having influence in the boardroom as well," Kenneth L. Marcus, founder and chairman of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, said at Monday's assembly.

"We're pleased that Morningstar has been working with the Brandeis Center and our coalition to address these problems in their products," he said. "Although today we are making only a first step, it is an important step, along a continuing path in which we look forward to helping Morningstar implement its anti-bias goals.”

"We are eager to see these changes yield bottom-line results in Morningstar's ratings, watchlists and engagements relating to companies doing business in Israel," echoed Elan S. Carr, a leader of the Combat Antisemitism Movement.

"Morningstar strongly reinforces the fact that we repudiate the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions campaign. We are grateful to JLens for first raising these issues and that the Jewish Federations of North America, the ADL, the American Jewish Committee, JLens, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, engaged with us in a thoughtful and productive manner in the spirit of sharing perspectives that can help our research be better for investors,” said Joe Mansueto, executive chairman of Morningstar.

“I thank the coalition for bringing their deep expertise on Israel and antisemitism and our Sustainalytics team for providing extensive background and analysis to have these important, meaningful discussions and help find common ground.” 

“We believe constructive criticism can make our research better," said Kunal Kapoor, chief executive officer of Morningstar. "We entered the engagement process with the intention of being transparent, listening, learning and taking appropriate action. These improvements, coupled with the actions we have taken to date, underscore the spirit of purpose and good faith we have brought to this dialogue.” 

Morningstar's projected changes

Morningstar has committed to several new practices, including:

  • Barring the use of biased sources, such as the UN Human Rights Council and WhoProfits, from its reporting
  • Using geographic names (e.g., West Bank, east Jerusalem) in relevant regions, rather than “Occupied Palestinian Territory” 
  • Ensuring that businesses operating in Israeli-Palestinian conflict areas or contributing to Israel’s defense against terrorism are not treated as de facto violators of human rights
  • Removing references to the BDS campaign
  • Providing ongoing anti-bias training to staff
  • Bringing in independent experts to ensure that ESG ratings do not single out and discriminate against Israel 

Julie Hammerman, CEO of JLens, said on Monday, “We are pleased that issues JLens first raised with Morningstar in 2020 resulted in a coalition of Jewish groups working to remove anti-Israel bias from Morningstar's ESG Research... bias and antisemitism have no place in ESG.”

Statements from assembly attendees

“This is an important step toward ensuring investors do not receive research tainted by politics and sources that have historically been hostile toward Israel," AJC CEO Ted Deutch said. "We will continue to work with our partners in the Jewish community to ensure Morningstar is transparent when it implements reforms and lives up to its commitments."

Scott A. Shay, a lay leader representing UJA-Federation of New York who was engaged on the issue, said, “ESG has become a major filter through which $17 trillion of US equities are screened." Eric S. Goldstein, CEO of UJA-Federation of New York added that, “given the importance of ESG analysis to the investor community, we’re very thankful to Morningstar for agreeing to refine its research approach addressing concerns around anti-Israel bias.”