UMNS Photo by Paul Jeffrey
Divestment UrgedMembers of Kairos Response display a banner urging 2012 General Conference delegates to support divestment from companies with contracts that Israel's security programs against Palestinians, including Palestinian Christians.
Compiled by United Methodist Insight
Four United Methodist annual (regional) conferences have voted this month to divest or have their funds divested from companies involved with Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.
Approving divestment at their 2013 sessions were New England, Minnesota, Pacific Northwest and Upper New York annual conferences. They joined five other conferences – West Ohio, New York, Northern Illinois, California Nevada and California Pacific – that have already taken similar action, bringing the total to nine regional bodies representing thousands of churches.
The companies targeted in the recent resolutions included Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, Hewlett Packard and, in one case, General Electric. All play significant roles in the occupation, contend United Methodist Kairos Response, an ad hoc organization sponsoring the divestment movement.
A press release from United Methodist Kairos Response describes it as "a global grassroots network of laity and clergy within the United Methodist Church working to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land." The group, which is not affiliated with Kairos Prison Ministry, was highly visible at the 2012 General Conference in Tampa, FL, but failed to convince delegates to approve a churchwide divestment plan. Kairos Response says it "supports non-violent means of securing a just peace for all the peoples of Israel and Palestine." For more information, see www.kairosresponse.org
In addition, five other conferences previously have asked the denomination’s General Board of Pension and Health Benefits to divest its holdings in companies that profit from the occupation. They are Virginia (2005), Rocky Mountain (2006), North Central New York (2006), Baltimore Washington (2007) and Detroit (2010). (The North Central New York conference merged with Western New York to create the Upper New Conference subsequent to the 2006 vote). Two more conferences, Susquehanna and Eastern Pennsylvania, established official task forces in June to examine the issue.
Palestinian Christians have called on churches around the world to help end the occupation of their land. According to John Wagner of United Methodist Kairos Response, “Our denomination has a long history of upholding human rights around the world. The question now is whether we will bring the same resolve to the situation in the Holy Land, where our fellow Christians have asked for our help.”
The Kairos Response press release stated that divestment has gained momentum as Israeli settlements expand on Palestinian land and Israeli attacks on Christians and Muslims increase. Among other denominations that have divested from companies working in Israel, Kairos Response cited the Friends Fiduciary Committee of the Society of Friends denomination (Quakers), the Mennonite Church and the American Friends Service Committee. The Mennonites and the AFSC declared 29 companies profiting from the occupation ineligible for investment.
In 2012, Caterpillar stock was downgraded by MSCI, a prestigious ratings agency, and then dropped from the socially responsible portfolios of the giant US pension fund, TIAA CREF, which divested $72 million of Caterpillar stock. At that time the company’s role in the occupation was given as a reason, according to an article in The Jewish Daily Forward.