BDS Charade: United Church of Christ’s ‘Divestment’ From Israel
It was a charade — nearly every last word of it.
A few years ago, the United Church of Christ (UCC), a mainline Protestant denomination in the US that regularly condemns Israel while remaining virtually silent about jihadist violence against Christians in places like Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Nigeria, said it was going to put its money where its mouth was by divesting from Israel. But it hasn’t happened.
Four calendar years after enacting a divestment resolution that called on church entities to refrain from owning stock in companies that do business with Israel’s defense establishment, the denomination’s pension fund is still invested in blacklisted stocks.
Here’s the rundown:
In 2015, the UCC’s General Synod voted — with great fanfare — to divest itself from companies doing business with Israel. In a resolution that passed with 80 percent support, the General Synod accused Israel of, among other things, subjecting Palestinians in Gaza “to military attacks using deadly force beyond that necessary for Israel’s acknowledged need for self-defense.” (General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, contradicted this assessment soon after Operation Protective Edge came to an end in 2014, declaring that Israel went to “extraordinary lengths” to avoid civilian casualties during its fight with Hamas. But attendees at the UCC General Synod decided they knew better, and concluded otherwise.)
The same resolution called on UCC church bodies — including the UCC’s Pension Boards — to sell their stocks in companies “profiting from or complicit in human rights violations arising from the occupation of Palestinian Territories by the state of Israel.” The resolution cited companies by name — Caterpillar, Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, G4S, and Veolia Environmental. “We are calling and urging all UCC-related entities to stop bringing wood to the fire of this conflict of human rights,” said Rev. Richard Edens, a supporter of the divestment resolution at the UCC’s 2015 Synod.
The vote generated a lot of publicity for the denomination, but it didn’t have the impact its supporters said it was going to. The denomination’s $3.2 billion retirement fund is still invested in three of the companies named by the resolution — Caterpillar ($1.7 million), Hewlett-Packard ($437,000), and Motorola ($342,000). The numbers aren’t huge, but the fact is UCC’s Pension Boards own stock that the denomination’s General Synod explicitly blacklisted for profiting from Israeli’s purported misdeeds in the West Bank.
If we are to believe the propaganda broadcast at the General Synod in 2015, UCC retirees are profiting from human suffering in the Holy Land. The UCC’s General Synod told the denomination’s local churches, parishioners, and, by way of implication, the rest of American society that they shouldn’t profit from companies that do business with Israel. But the denomination’s retirement fund does just that.
It was all a farce — a hypocritical, dishonest farce. The propagandists at the UCC’s General Synod said one thing, but the denomination retirement fund did another. And that was how it was going to be from the very beginning. No matter what stocks the UCC’s General Synod said people should or should not own, the denomination’s pension fund was going to continue to buy them for two reasons. First, the resolution did not apply to stocks that were owned through index funds; and secondly, UCC Pension Boards are not bound by General Synod resolutions. In other words, the UCC pension fund was free to do whatever it needed to do to achieve the four percent return on investment that it has promised to retirees.
“The resolution specifically excluded comingled funds, termed ‘substantial indirect’ investments,” Rick Walters, Associate General Counsel and Director for Corporate Social Responsibility for UCC Pension Boards said in an email. “In the case of Caterpillar, the Presbyterians and other groups have dropped them from no buy lists because of substantial reform in their policies. In addition, while we take General Synod resolutions seriously and more than live in substantial covenant with them, the Pension Boards is not bound by them.”
That last sentence is the kicker. No matter what the UCC’s General Synod said about divesting from Israel, the UCC’s pension fund was going to do whatever it needed to in order to live up to its responsibilities to the retired clergy it serves. That’s the difference between virtue signaling and taking real responsibility for other peoples’ welfare and safety — something Israeli soldiers have been doing, with unmatched restraint, for decades.
It just goes to confirm what most people have concluded all along: anti-Israel divestment resolutions are just a charade, a put-on used to generate hostility toward the Jewish state and its supporters in the US. The whole point of the divestment resolutions was not to get church institutions to sell stock, but to use divestment motions to turn the floor of church-wide assemblies into venues for anti-Israel witch trials.
It was all a con, just a con.
Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA). His opinions are his own.