Mennonite Church to divest in protest of Israeli policies

July 6, 2017 GMT

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The Mennonite Church USA voted Thursday to sell its holdings in companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, 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 U.S., 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.

Such votes by the Mennonite Church and other religious groups are occurring as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, known as BDS, has gained strength on U.S. college campuses and elsewhere as a means of protesting Israeli policies and bringing moral pressure to end the occupation of Palestinian territories. Israeli officials and their allies have denounced divestment policies as attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state, a characterization BDS advocates call baseless.

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

In previous years, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the United Church of Christ 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.