BDS for thee, but not for me

The PA is not alone in its hypocrisy.

ARE DIVESTMENT campaigns just about defaming Israel? (photo credit: REUTERS)
ARE DIVESTMENT campaigns just about defaming Israel?
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Officials from the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Employment have egg on their faces after a photo on Facebook showed them enjoying Israeli soft drinks at one of their meetings, in violation of a PA-imposed boycott. The image, removed soon after it appeared last month, demonstrated that PA officials are not serious about abiding by the demands of the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement that they have asked others to support.
The PA is not alone in its hypocrisy. For almost four years, the United Church of Christ (UCC) – a liberal Protestant church in the US that has assisted anti-normalization extremists in the West Bank in their ongoing propaganda war against Israel – has portrayed itself as part of the BDS movement targeting Israel even as it remained invested in stocks it publicly and loudly declared anathema in a resolution passed by its General Synod in June 2015. The information is all right there in the schedules of investments posted online by the denomination’s money managers. The church’s pension fund still owns millions of dollars in stock in companies banned by the General Synod, and up until recently, no one has said anything.
It’s surreal.
The UCC is like a gun-owner driving around town with shotguns displayed openly in the gun rack of his pickup truck, even after signing, with great fanfare, a no-guns pledge on the steps of town hall. He is just waiting for someone to ask him, “Hey, weren’t you supposed to get rid of those?” And yet, no one asks.
Anti-Israel activists, who claimed victory when the UCC joined the BDS movement, have stayed quiet about the denomination’s continued ownership of the proscribed stocks, as if they knew the whole thing was an act, a con from the beginning.
The charade began on June 30, 2015, when the denomination’s General Synod passed, by a vote of 508 to 124, a resolution calling on the church’s money managers to divest the assets they controlled from stocks that did business with the Jewish state. The argument was that the companies listed – most notably Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola – were complicit in human rights violations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and that it was immoral for the denomination to earn a profit from their evil deeds. “We ourselves can no longer continue to profit from the violence that is consuming the land that we called holy,” declared Richard Edens, who chaired the committee that brought the divestment resolution to the floor of General Synod.
The delegates at the General Synod agreed and approved the resolution which – like a lot of other statements issued by the UCC over the years – expressed more outrage at Israel’s efforts to defend itself than it did over efforts by terrorists to murder its citizens. After the vote, the crowd cheered and UCC officials held a press conference during which they celebrated the passage of the resolution. 
“THIS RESOLUTION puts our faith into action and allows us to move in positive ways to support our partners around the world and I’m godly proud by the decision of our General Synod to act on this resolution today,” said Rev. Bernard Wilson, chairman of the United Church of Christ’s board.
And people went along with the story. In February 2016, Deborah Potter, PBS correspondent for the network’s Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, declared, “The resolution means that church pension funds will no longer hold stock in companies doing business in occupied territory.”
But that’s not true. The November 31, 2018, schedule of investments for the UCC’s pension boards (which manages $3.3 billion in assets) includes thousands of directly-held shares of companies in Caterpillar, Motorola and both of the corporate spin-offs from Hewlett-Packard (HP Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Company) – all of which were listed as proscribed stocks by the UCC’s General Synod in 2015. Despite all the hoopla and fanfare, the UCC is, almost four years after the General Synod vote, deriving income from anathematized stocks.
And to confuse the situation further, the institution that manages the UCC’s non-pension related endowments, United Church Funds (UC Funds) also owns stocks in HP.
All of the self-congratulatory fanfare and hoopla broadcast by anti-Israel activists inside and outside the UCC obscured one hugely important fact: Neither the UCC’s pension fund managers, nor the people who managed the denomination’s non-pension related investments, were obligated to abide by the call to divest. In fact, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act passed by Congress in 1974 and enforced by the US Department of Labor stipulates that pension fund managers must work “solely in the interest of plan participants and their beneficiaries, with the exclusive purpose of providing benefits to them.”
It’s also questionable if the General Synod vote is even applicable to the UCC’s non-pension related investments. The UC Funds’ website declares, “Other settings of the Church are allowed to hold differing views and practices on all non-constitutional matters.” This may help to explain why, as of late last year, UC Funds was still invested in HP, which should be a banned stock under the terms of the 2015 resolution.
The resolution passed by the UCC’s General Synod had all the trappings and rhetoric of a divestment resolution, but it lacked one essential component: an enforceable call for the denomination’s money managers to divest. It was a divestment resolution without divestment. Not only was the story of Israeli villainy that was used to justify the passage of the resolution deceptive, so was the story the BDS activists told about the resolution itself.
By affirming the fake divestment resolution it did, the UCC’s General Synod told the world that the denomination was willing to pay a price for its beliefs. But it didn’t. UCC pension fund managers still invest in companies that do business in the West Bank and encourage retired clergy to do the same.
It was a con from the very beginning. The only people who paid the price for the demonization inherent in the resolution were Jews in Israel and the US whose homeland was defamed.
The writer is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). His opinions are his own.