Methodists: Divestment move was about prisons, not Israel

Daniel Treiman

(JTA) — The United Methodist Church’s pension board clarified that a divestment move claimed as a victory by boycott-Israel activists was actually about the targeted company’s work with prisons in general.

Supporters of divestment targeting Israel had hailed the pension board’s decision to divest from G4S, which supplies security equipment used in Israeli prisons and elsewhere.

But in a statement issued Friday the pension board stressed that the divestment action was specific to the company’s involvement with prisons.

“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,” said David Zellner, chief investment officer of the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church. “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.”

A press release issued by United Methodist Kairos Response, a movement within the church that advocates on behalf of Palestinian Christians, had said the decision to divest from G4S was “due in part to concerns about the company’s involvement in human rights violations in the Israeli prison system and the military occupation of Palestinian territories.”

The New York Times published an article about the vote Thursday titled: “Methodists to Sell Shares as a Protest Over Israel.”

The move comes just days before another mainline Protestant denomination, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is scheduled to consider five resolutions that would advance divestment from companies that deal with Israel’s military and one that would reconsider whether the church supports a two-state solution.

But Noam Marans, director of interreligious and intergroup relations at the American Jewish Committee, who has been closely following the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, said the decision on G4S does not reflect the United Methodist Church’s position on Israel divestment. In 2012 the church voted 685-246 against divestment from U.S. companies doing business with Israel.

“This is a transparent media stunt on the eve of the Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly trying to prejudice that deliberation of anti-Israel and pro-divestment resolutions in Detroit next week,” he said regarding the effort to link the divestment decision to Israel.