The pension fund for the United Methodist Church has blocked five Israeli banks from its investment portfolio, AP reported on Wednesday. The Church said the move is meant to remove companies from its portfolio which “profit from abuse of human rights.”
The Israeli banks now excluded from the fund were named on the pension board’s website as Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank, and Mizrachi Tefahot Bank.
The fund sold off the Israeli bank stock, which was worth a few million dollars in a portfolio which has about $20 billion in assets. It also sold off a smaller holding, worth about $5,000, in the Israeli real estate and construction company Shikun & Binui, and blocked the company from its investment portfolio along with the banks.
Israel and the Palestinian territories are among over a dozen “high risk” countries and areas which “demonstrate a prolonged and systematic pattern of human rights abuses”, said the pension board’s website. Other “high risk” areas include Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, North Korea, and Syria.
These countries are identified as places where “a specific economic sector is recognized as prolonging conflict or violence” and “significant breaches of international law occur.”
Within its portfolio, the fund found 39 companies which violated its criteria. Most of them have already been placed on the fund’s blacklist of enterprises which, according to the fund, profit from the abuse of human rights. Nine other companies were blocked over the fund’s concerns about their contributions to global warming and climate change.
The five Israeli banks blacklisted by the fund were among companies targeted by United Methodist Kairos Response (UMKR), which is a coalition of Methodist church members whose purpose is “encouraging our church to divest its holdings in companies that support and profit from Israel’s occupation.”
Pastor Keith Johnson, founder of Biblical Foundations Academy International and a member of the United Methodist Church, called the pension board’s decision “unbiblical.”
“The board’s decision strikes at the fundamental core and is contrary Biblically and practicially. It’s clear that this decision was made out of politics,” he told Breaking Israel News. “It’s embarrassing to me as a pastor who loves Israel and who has visited Israel that these people who make the decisions don’t have all the information.”
Johnson revealed to Breaking Israel News that upon the board’s announcement, he is standing up for Israel “in my small way” by divesting with the church’s pension fund, which he joined no less than one week ago. “I called them today and cancelled my pension plan with them. I am a United Methodist pastor and as the board of pension chooses to divest, I choose to divest from the board of pension,” he stated.
The Methodist Church is the latest to join a growing number of churches divesting from Israel. Last year, the United Church of Christ announced that it was divesting in companies which conduct business in Judea and Samaria, and in 2014, the Presbyterian Church USA made a similar move.
“The decision by the church is throwing gas on the fire,” Johnson told Breaking Israel News. “They are people with an agenda and this is not us. I can almost bet the members of the board have never been to Israel, the West Bank, have never set foot in the Land. They are falling in line with an agenda spreading around the world that is making Israel the bad guy without undestanding the situation.”