The 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)