Clarification provide on UM divestment of G4S by Board of Pensions

gbphb_stackedThe General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church has clarified that its action in selling shares in the British company G4S was not a move towards divestment from Israeli-related companies.  Yesterday several news outlets, including the New York Times, characterized the move as a “protest over Israel,” and suggested that sale of stock was intended as a symbolic move to create pressure on Israel in the ongoing peace negotiations with Palestine. This is not the case.

According to Dave Zellner, the Pensions Board’s chief investment officer, the move was entirely specific to G4S, a company that provides security equipment to Israel that is used in prisons. Zellner’s statement indicates that the decision to drop the stock was based on “the inherent nature of the company’s products and services,” relating to an existing investment screen for prisons.

In addition the Pensions Board has affirmed, in a statement on “Divestment and Israel/Palestine” that “divestment from the companies perceived as supporting the Israeli occupation is not the proper course of action at this time. Our ability to hasten the peace process through divestment is limited…Our position is to pursue engagement rather than divestment as a way to promote the cause of human rights in the Middle East and throughout the world.” The Pensions Board confirmed again on Friday that this is still the position of GBPHB.

The Pensions Board has avoided singling out Israel in its investment policy in recent years and has intentionally not divested from Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, and Motorola Solutions, pursuing instead a policy of corporate engagement. Those companies have been the target of divestment activists because of their involvement with Israel. The 2012 General Conference of The United Methodist Church voted by a two-thirds majority not to divest from those companies. 

Alex Joyner, a facilitator with United Methodists for Constructive Peacemaking in Israel and Palestine, said, “The characterization of the G4S decision by activist groups is incomplete at best and leads to the misimpression that The United Methodist Church has changed its position on divestment from Israel-related companies.  Other mainline Protestant groups, like the Presbyterian Church USA meeting next week, are struggling with these same difficult questions and need to know where the UMC stands.”

The Pensions Board Statement: 

The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits sold its G4S shares for reasons related to a number of that company’s business activities. Our decision was specific to G4S. Our rationale for selling G4S was that we felt the inherent nature of the company’s products and services—which are tailored to the prison industry—may not align with UMC values. We are waiting to conduct additional research after our board of directors meets in July to review and discuss the broad range of our investment policies—we may have additional comments after their deliberations. (June 13, 2014)

UMReporter Staff

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  1. And now the real reason they made this “clarification”: In the United States, the Export Administration Act discourages, and in some circumstances, prohibits U.S. companies and individuals from furthering or supporting the boycott of Israel. The Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) is responsible for penalties imposed for each “knowing” violation with fines of up to $50,000 (or more under select circumstances) and imprisonment of up to five years.

    • MethodistPie says:

      I welcome this clarification and trust it is not disingenuous. Given the state of things in the Middle-East right now, “blame Israel” comes across pretty foolish.

    • Having read several versions of this story, and having had discussions with a number of “people in the know” at different levels of the United Methodist Church, I am saddened that the Pension Board feels it has to kowtow to the Israel Lobby in this fashion. Friday, I was proud of my church for taking a stand. Today (Sunday), I am embarrassed by its lack of integrity!

    • The anti- boycott act applies to joining the Arab boycott from the 80s and it refers to boycotts of Israel itself. These boycotts are not part of the Arab boycotts of Israel AND they target International companies supporting human rights violations occurring in the occupied territories day in and day out. It is silly to try to drag in a law that has nothing to do with what we are talking about. This article in its entirety is not being honest about the actions taken because the UMC didn’t have to divest from G4S due to its prisons because they comprised less than 10pct of G4S. It wasn’t until the human rights issues regarding torture in Israel/Palestine were raised that the board even considered taking action.

      • You are mischaracterizing the law. The boycott act may be applicable if the reasoning behind the boycott is objection to actions of the Israeli government. It is not limited to groups participating with the Arab League or other contemporary Arab affiliates.

        Additionally, there has been no hard evidence of “torture” by the Israeli government. That is a reckless charge.

  2. James Brentlinger says:

    Having visited the West Bank, and seeing the effects of the work of the C4S, I have been an unintended beneficary of the support of the actions of C4S. Do you want your pension income to be based on the oppression of people? That is not why I spent 21 years working at the GBOM!!!
    I served as a Missionary of the World Division for nine years, and twelve years on the staff of the BOGM, and strongly support the Divestment Plan of the GOBP. There are much more positive ways to invest our pension funds.
    Jim

  3. I thank the board of pensions for making this decision based on decades of UMC resolutions calling for an immediate end to the Israeli occupation of Palestine and an end to the human rights violations occurring on a daily basis there in an effort to sustain the occupation.

    Since less than 10% of G4S’ business is in private prisons, the UMC board of pensions did not need to divest for any reason other than the human rights violations occurring in Israel/Palestine.

    This is not a fight between equal powers. This is an illegal occupation by an overwhelmingly powerful state (Israel supported by the US) and army over families and children who are daily having their homes destroyed to make room for expansion of Israeli colonies. The UMC is concerned about what this is doing to both Christians and Muslim families as the losses continue to mount with each announcement of Israeli expansion. We refuse to profit from their suffering. Thank you Board of Pensions for taking this important stand for justice for our church.

  4. This is a translation, but it makes it obvious, in contrast to what anti-Israel propagandists say, that there is some debate about the legality of the Israeli presence: http://missingpeace.eu/en/2013/04/french-court-rules-israeli-occupation-of-west-bank-not-illegal/

  5. Apologetics Have Ceased says:

    So what is this statement actually saying? Full of legalese and dancing between positions…

    Almost like: “If you are mad we voted this way; you shouldn’t be, because our ability is limited” and: “If you are happy we voted this way; you shouldn’t be, because our ability is limited”

    What was it that was said about churches that were neither hot nor cold?

Your thoughts?

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