United Methodist Church's Pension Board Divests From Israel-linked Company

Board says divestment is due to G4S's involvement in prisons, unrelated to Israel. But pro-Palestinian movement inside Church says move due to Israeli human rights violations.

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G4S, the British security company linked to Israeli prisons in the West Bank.
G4S, the British security company linked to Israeli prisons in the West Bank.Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The United Methodist Church’s pension board is selling its shares in a British company that supplies security equipment to Israel for use in prisons and in the West Bank.

Though a pro-Palestinian movement inside the Church claimed the divestment is due to human rights violations by Israel, the UMC's pension board said the move was actually about the targeted company’s work with prisons in general.

A press release issued by United Methodist Kairos Response, a movement within the church that advocates on behalf of Palestinian Christians, 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.”

However, the UMC's pension board denied these claims, and said that “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."

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.

The United Methodist Church’s pension board manages a more than $20 billion portfolio. However, according to The New York Times, the church had only $110,000 worth of stock holdings in G4S. Two years ago Methodists voted overwhelmingly against divestment in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola — three other companies doing business with Israel.

“This is the first time that a United Methodist general agency has included human rights violations related to Israel’s illegal settlements and military occupation in a decision to divest from a company,” David Wildman, executive secretary for human rights and racial justice at the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, said in the Kairos Response press release. “We celebrate this strong human rights message both to G4S specifically and to other companies whose business operations support longstanding human rights abuses against Palestinians.”

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.

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