Mennonite Church USA votes to divest in protest of Israeli policies

Measure also condemns anti-Jewish sentiment, urges stronger relations with Jews and recommends review of church’s response to the Holocaust

Illustrative photo of signs calling for the boycott of Israel at an anti-Israel protest in San Francisco, April 2011 (CC BY-dignidadrebelde, Flickr)
Illustrative photo of signs calling for the boycott of Israel at an anti-Israel protest in San Francisco, April 2011 (CC BY-dignidadrebelde, Flickr)

ORLANDO, Florida — The Mennonite Church USA voted Thursday to sell its holdings in companies they say are profiting from business in territories occupied by Israel, the latest American Christian group to do so.

The decision was made at a national Mennonite convention in Orlando, Florida. Although the economic impact is expected to be minimal, such votes are closely watched as a measure of views on Israel and the Palestinians from within the US, the Jewish state’s closest and most important ally.

The resolution directs managers of the $3 billion Everence church fund to regularly screen holdings to avoid any economic support for Israeli policies in the occupied territories.

Mennonites had rejected a divestment proposal at their last national meeting two years ago amid fears that the resolution would be considered anti-Jewish. The statement adopted Thursday condemns anti-Semitism, encourages stronger ties between church members and Jews, and endorses a review of how Mennonites responded to the Holocaust. The Mennonite Church has just over 75,000 members.

A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

On Sunday, another Christian group, the United Church of Christ, overwhelmingly approved a resolution condemning Israel for its treatment of Palestinian children living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

The UCC, which has nearly 1 million members, voted two years ago to divest from companies profiting from Israel’s control of the West Bank.

The American Jewish Committee denounced the resolution, calling it “deeply disappointing.”

“The latest UCC resolution does nothing to advance the possibility of peace. Rather, by continuing to demonize Israel, UCC supports those who oppose peace,” Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC’s director of interreligious and intergroup relations, said in a statement Monday.

In previous years, the Presbyterian Church (USA) approved divestment measures. The Episcopal Church rejected a similar proposal at a national meeting two years ago, as did the 12.8 million-member United Methodist Church, the largest mainline Protestant group in the country, at a conference last year. However, the Methodist pension board has barred investment in five Israeli banks, citing human rights concerns, and this week announced a new social values investment fund that will bar profits from the use of fossil fuels and evaluate holdings according to concerns expressed by church policy making bodies about Mideast peace, including Israeli treatment of Palestinians.

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