A Response to the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits brochure: “Addressing Human Rights: Israel and the Palestine Territories,”
by the Steering Committee of United Methodist Kairos Response
Photo by Christopher Goecke, Ecumenical Accompanier Program
A Look at Key Points
GBPHB: After General Conference 2012, our General Secretary and Chief Investment Officer sought to expand their understanding of the situation by traveling to Israel and the Palestinian territories to meet with government and banking/investment leaders.
UMKR: We welcome efforts by all United Methodists to “go and see,” and we trust these visits will confirm that we should not in any way profit from unimaginable suffering and oppression, illegal settlements, or possible war crimes.
GBPHB: Our analysis includes research from an independent and unbiased third party expert in evaluating human rights risks.
UMKR: Sustainalytics is a company hired by the Pension Board to evaluate financial and human rights risk to these investments. Yet they do so in order to determine the financial and not the moral risk of leaving our money in these stocks.
Various companies that have lost money or fear losing money by remaining in illegal settlements have wisely chosen to leave the settlements as world opinion closes in on the settlements’ increasingly obvious apartheid nature.
GBPHB: We believe engaging companies on the issue of human rights can influence constructive change, particularly when other investors may not be as persistent in raising human rights concerns.
UMKR: This would be true if the Board of Pensions had ever directly asked the companies concerned to change their practices regarding sales of equipment used to uphold and further the occupation. We understand they have not. UM Pension Board representatives have on several occasions refused to sign letters from ecumenical partners asking companies for change related to Israel’s occupation.
GBPHB: The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights provide the foundation for our human rights engagement activities…We actively encourage the companies that represent our largest holdings to amend or create robust human rights policies to incorporate the UN Guiding Principles.
UMKR: Caterpillar has firmly refused a direct request from GBPHB to sign the United
Nations Guiding Principles despite the request from GBPHB that they do so. No negative repercussions on the part of GBPHB have been noted.
GBPHB: We have implemented a leading edge human rights investment guideline to help identify companies operating in high-risk areas where human rights violations are prevalent.
UMKR: This guideline relies on analysis from “Freedom House,” which receives funding from the Caterpillar Corporation. Freedom House does not evaluate Israel based on its military occupation of the Palestinian Territories.
GBPHB: Divestment is too blunt a tool for a complex and long-standing political situation.
UMKR: The “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” movement (BDS) was initiated by Palestinian civil society in 2005 as a way to use peaceful, non-violent economic means to end the occupation of Palestinian lands. Boycott, divestment and sanctions were endorsed by Palestinian Christian leaders in the Kairos Palestine Document in 2009. This document has been signed by 3,000 Palestinian Christians. United Methodists have been asked directly by representatives of the church in Palestine to help them by using divestment. They clearly feel it is a practical and effective tool:
“We ask the United Methodist Church, as we have been asking the Christian community worldwide, to assist us in advocating effective non-violent means of addressing injustice. We know that as a denomination you have been discussing boycotts and divestment for many years, and we are heartened by that discussion.” (Letter to the UM Church from Rifat Kassis, Coordinator of Kairos Palestine, November 28th, 2014. Read the entire letter at https://www.kairosresponse.org/Rifat_Kassis.html)
Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote to the United Methodist Church that divestment “is a moral position that I have no choice but to support, especially since I know of the effect that Boycotts, Disinvestment and Sanctions had on the apartheid regime in South Africa.” Recently, he wrote of his trip to Israel and the occupied territories: “I shrink not one step backwards. I saw and I name what I saw: apartheid, separation, segregation.”
GBPHB: In the case of Israel, divestment proponents seek to punish companies for the deeds of others.
UMKR: There is strong legal precedent, beginning with the Nuremburg trials, for holding companies responsible for the use of their products if they continue to sell them once they know how they are being used. Caterpillar and other companies identified by the divestment movement know that Israel is using their products to attack and destroy Palestinian people and property.
GBPHB: Divestment from companies operating in Israel-Palestine is not consistent with our ethical exclusions. … “activities that generate at least 10% of the company’s revenue.”
UMKR: Private prisons did not generate 10% of G4S revenue, yet the Pension Board divested. The Pension Board affirmed in the New York Times that they divested in part
because of the company’s operations with Israeli prisons.
When the Pension Board divested from 17 companies involved with the oppressive apartheid government of South Africa in the 1980’s, that involvement was the sole reason for their divestment, and those activities did not comprise 10% of the companies’ revenues.
When Pensions divested from three companies involved with Sudan in 2008, that involvement was the sole reason for their divestment, and no mention was made of the 10% rule.
When Pensions divested from Kmart, its placement of adult literature in stores was the reason given for the divestment, and this activity did not comprise 10% of the company’s revenue.
The board’s own guidelines make it clear that in some cases a company’s actions are so egregious that the board needs to distance itself from them through divestment, even when the 10% rule is not met.
GBPHB: There is no evidence that where divestment has occurred it has resulted in progress or had an impact on the core issues underlying the ongoing conflict.
• G4S has responded to divestment by announcing it will withdraw from its involvement with prisons in the West Bank and in Israel within three years.
• Veolia Environnement recently announced the sale of all its operations in the illegal settlements after years of boycott and divestment actions against the company,
• Heineken, Unilever, and Assa Abloy are among the many firms that have left the West Bank to avoid the possibility of divestment.
• Unilever shut its Beigel & Beigel plant in an illegal settlement and moved production to a location inside Israel in 2013.
• The Church of Sweden, which currently has a $700 million investment fund, admonished Assa Abloy over its Multi-Lok plant located in the illegal settlement zone of Barkan and presented a scathing report on its aid to the occupation. Assa Abloy apologized and relocated that plant to a location inside Israel.
• Faced with similar pressure, Heineken moved its Barkan Wineries out of a settlement.
GBPHB: We launched the Equity Social Values Plus Fund (ESVPF) in December 2014.
UMKR: This fund represents only two-tenths of one percent of the church’s total investments. This fund makes strong human rights criteria an option but the Social Principles recognize that human rights are universal and are a moral mandate.
Furthermore, the ESVPF Fund still holds stock in a few companies that profit from the occupation, including Motorola Solutions. Motorola Solutions is one of the firms most deeply involved in equipping the settlements and has a new $100 million contract with Israel’s military, which enforces the occupation.
GBPHB: We are actively seeking investment opportunities that have a positive impact in the Palestinian territories.
UMKR: The Pension Board has been seeking such opportunities for years, yet has been unable to find a “safe” investment in the territories because Israel has destroyed roads, solar panels, power plants and many other projects funded by outside investors. Such an investment in an area where business leaders cannot predict with reasonable assurance that their initiatives will not be undone or destroyed by the occupation forces would indeed be a violation of fiduciary responsibility.
Zahi Khoury, Palestinian Christian and Chairman of Coca Cola Palestine, met with Pensions representatives when they were in the region, and urgently asked them to divest. At General Conference 2012, Mr. Khoury said that Palestinians have no trouble coming up with capital, but it’s the “closures, restrictions on getting goods to market, lack of access to water and raw materials, etc., that are killing the Palestinian economy.”
“Positive investment” could “have a positive impact in the Palestinian territories” (formally recognized as Palestine by 138 nations and the Vatican), but is not an alternative to divestment from companies that refuse to end their complicity with Israeli military occupation and illegal settlements.
United Methodist Kairos Response was founded in 2010, choosing at that time the limited goal of removing United Methodists’ money out of three companies with notorious ties to the ongoing occupation of the West Bank, companies that had refused repeated requests over many years to alter their activities. United Methodists who signed on to this goal represent a wealth of experience in Israel-Palestine, for example: all living past and present missionaries to the region, laity and clergy participants in Christian witness programs to the West Bank, our mission partners in the region, active and retired bishops and leaders of tour groups. All share the commitment to faithful discipleship in Jesus Christ and adherence to the Wesleyan tradition of social holiness. We sincerely believe our efforts are part of building what Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. called the “beloved community,” and it is our hope that individuals, agencies, congregations and annual conferences will experience the call to join this movement. We have become convinced this is a defining moment for our church – Will we stand for or against justice? Please study the issues through our website (www.kairosresponse.org) and reading of the Kairos Palestine document (http://www.kairospalestine.ps/content/kairos-document.)