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Two United Methodist gatherings urge selective divestment from Israel

July 14, 2005

By United Methodist News Service*

United Methodists in New England and Virginia have endorsed campaigns to divest from companies that support Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.  

The action came as church members in those areas gathered for their annual conferences this summer. 

Meeting June 8-11, the New England Conference approved a resolution urging the divesting of funds from companies that support the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. The approved resolution calls for voluntary, selective divestment from companies that profit in a significant way from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands. 

It also urges “our United Methodist funding agencies and our local churches to support with our prayers, presence and money those Israeli, Palestinian and international organizations, which bring Israelis and Palestinians together in dialogue.” 

Virginia United Methodists, meeting June 12-15, affirmed Israel’s right to exist within permanent, recognized and secure borders, and Palestinians’ rights to self-determination and the formation of a viable state. 

They also called upon the United Methodist Board of Pensions to review its investments and undertake a process of phased, selective divestment from any multinational corporations profiting from the illegal demolition of Palestinian homes, destruction of the Palestinian economy and confiscation of Palestinian land, following United Methodist guidelines which require a period of information gathering and evaluation of alternative means of intervention before undertaking a boycott. 

In the United Methodist Church, the call for a boycott is a decision that historically has been made by the United Methodist General Conference, the only entity that speaks for the denomination as a whole. 

The denomination’s Board of Pension and Health Benefits has always been concerned about human rights violations no matter where in the world they occur, said Vidette Bullock Mixon director of the board’s corporate relations. 

The board’s experience with constructive dialogue with corporate management, investor partners, United Methodist boards, agencies, constituents, as well as representatives of other denominations and faiths, has lead to mutually agreeable understanding of solutions to complex problems and that shared ownership provides the best opportunity for change, she said.  

The New England and Virginia conferences join the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the worldwide Anglican Communion as entities that have taken up the divestment issue to protest what they say is unjust Israeli occupation of and expansion into Palestinian territory.  

The United Church of Christ considered joining the divesture movement, but delegates at that denomination’s General Synod meeting July 5 decided not to join the campaign to divest in companies operating in Israel but has promised to use “economic leverage” in pursuit of Middle East peace, reported Religion News Service. The news service reported that the United Church of Christ endorsed corporate pressure against companies that profit from violence committed by Israelis, Palestinians or neighboring Arab states. 

Noting the United Methodist Church’s opposition to “continued military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, the confiscation of Palestinian land and water resources, (and) the destruction of Palestinian homes,” Virginia United Methodists passed a resolution called “Act for Peace in the Middle East.”   

The United Methodist General Conference, the church’s top legislative body, adopted a resolution in 2004 called “Opposition to Israeli Settlements in Palestinian Land.” In it, the church requested that the U.S. government, working cooperatively with other countries and the United Nations, urge the state of Israel to “cease the confiscation of Palestinian lands and water for any reason” and “urge the Palestinian Authority and all Palestinian religious leaders to continue to publicly condemn violence against Israeli civilization and to use nonviolent acts of disobedience to resist the occupation and the illegal settlements.”   

According to Mixon, the board follows positions established by the 2004 General Conference and works to support the “just and lasting peace petition” that calls for the end of military occupation and violence and for upholding human rights for all by calling on companies in which the board invests to disclose their policies and practices related to operations in countries that have a history of human-rights violations; and to support the Church's terrorism petition, which condemns all acts of terror unequivocally.  

An example of the board’s shareholder advocacy efforts in countries engaged in conflict include working with other faith-based investors to address the Caterpillar Corporation regarding the use of its equipment to destroy churches, mosques and homes in Palestine. Through negotiations thus far, Caterpillar has established a worldwide code of business conduct and is being urged to develop a transparent monitoring and reporting process.  

Representatives of United Methodist boards and agencies are in consultation on ways to be responsive to the (paragraph 165 War and Peace, 2004 Book of Discipline) and to support peaceful resolution of conflicts, not only in Israel, but around the world as well, Mixon said. 

“The General Board of Pension and Health Benefits of the United Methodist Church historically uses divestment as a last resort, as it believes that on-going negotiation with companies is a more effective tool than outright divestment.”    

The Virginia conference resolution also calls upon the United Methodist Board of Church and Society to study the feasibility of advocating a wider form of phased, selective divestment from any multinational corporations profiting from the illegal and violent activities.    

The conference also requests the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns develop and promote wider avenues of engagement among Christians, Muslims and Jewish communities pursuing justice and peace. 

A supporting document to the New England resolution suggests the urgency of the humanitarian crisis in the occupied Palestinian territories cannot be overstated. “Palestinians face soaring unemployment, malnutrition, restrictions on movement, denial of medical care, denial of access to their agricultural lands, humiliation at checkpoints and extended lockdowns called curfews. More than 4 million Palestinian refugees live in poverty, while Israelis live in their homes and farm their lands,” it says. 

In calling for divestiture, New England members passed the resolution requesting creation of a committee to determine within six months which of the conference’s investments “support Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories” and to consider divesting from those companies. 

The New England Conference said in its resolution that companies “should not profit from the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land or the destruction of Palestinian homes, orchards and lives.” 

The goal of divestment, the resolution said, is not to damage Israel’s economy or the U.S.-based companies that do business there. Rather, it said, “the goal is to make all United Methodists and other Americans aware of their relationship to companies that benefit from the Israeli occupation and give them an opportunity to withdraw from such relationships, so they are not participants in human rights violations that violate Christian principles and international law.” 

It also calls on the U.S. government, the government of Israel, and the newly elected Palestinian leadership to reject all acts of aggression and violence, to respect the equality and dignity of all of the region’s people, and to forge solutions based on the principles of international law and human rights. 

Other actions in the resolution encourage churches and conference investment managers to examine their portfolios and consider divestment. 

New England United Methodists voted to affirm the right of Christians, Jews, and Muslims to freedom of movement in the holy lands, and state that Jerusalem should be an open city for people of all faiths. 

* Some of the information in this report was provided by Mike Hickcox, communication director of the New England Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. 

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

 

 
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Resources
2005 Annual Conference Reports
Virginia Annual Conference Resolution (pdf)
New England Annual Conference Divesture Resolution
Opposition to Israeli Settlements in Palestinian Land
Board of Pension
Board of Church and Society
Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns
Council of Bishops Statement on Middle East Crisis