Breakthrough: Mennonites divest from ‘companies that support Israel’s occupation’

mennonite central committee logo
Mennonite Central Committee logo

Yesterday the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) United States announced that its board of directors had voted unanimously on March 16 to divest the organization’s direct holdings in “companies that support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.”

The global relief and service agency, which represents 15 Mennonite, Brethren in Christ and Amish bodies in North America, will also “choose to invest in mutual funds that limit exposure to companies on the [American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)'s Israel-Palestine Investment Screen] list and will join efforts to encourage the mutual funds that it holds to adopt similar screens,” a statement by Cheryl Zehr Walker, its director of communications, said.

“Staff also will aim to align MCC U.S.’s purchasing patterns with these investment principles.”

The MCC’s executive director, J. Ron Byler, said that his organization, consisting of pacifist churches, is opposed in principle to profiting from any acts of violence, but he alluded to the double standard in operation here: existing laws already prevent the MCC and other Western investors from funding armed struggle against Israel.

“We will take action if we become aware of offenders against Israel, but our government ensures we do no harm to Israel, while there is no such care for Palestinians,” he said.

The AFSC, whose “Investment Screen” the MCC will use, says that it bars investments only in contractors with Israel because US:

[R]egulations and similar laws in Europe make it illegal for any company or financial institution that falls under US or European legal jurisdiction, including all publically traded companies, to provide goods or services to Palestinian individuals and groups engaged in acts of violence.

The structure of these laws reflects the imbalance of power that exists in the international arena between state and non-state actors and which gives legitimacy to state sponsored violence while criminalizing violence by non-state groups. Within the Palestinian-Israeli context this contributes to the power imbalance that exists between the state of Israel and the various Palestinian factions, allowing violence by the Israeli government while criminalizing violence by Palestinian groups. The lack of balance that exists in AFSC’s list results from this structural imbalance.

Walker said that the MCC’s “investments traditionally have mirrored the organization’s core Christian values, using vehicles such as socially responsible funds.”

Its divestment vote will steer reported net assets of $68.3 million away from the AFSC list of 29 companies identified by the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church and the Coalition of Women for Peace‘s “Who Profits” project.

They include prominent targets of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement like Caterpillar Inc., the Hewlett-Packard Company, Motorola Solutions, and Veolia Environment.

About Joe Catron

Joe Catron is a US activist in Gaza, Palestine, where he works with Palestinian groups and international solidarity networks, particularly in support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) and prisoners' movements. He co-edited The Prisoners' Diaries: Palestinian Voices from the Israeli Gulag, an anthology of accounts by detainees freed in the 2011 prisoner exchange, blogs at joecatron.wordpress.com and tweets at @jncatron.
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 16 comments... read them below or add one }

    • Hostage says:

      Meanwhile in other news: (link to Crushing defeat for Israel lobby as anti-boycott litigation fails in UK)

      Yes, I hope Phil, Adam, or Alex write an article for the front page highlighting that ruling, e.g. “Another important finding is that “a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel … cannot amount to a protected characteristic” under the Equality Act of 2010. This properly sets a clear red line between Zionism and Judaism (or Jewish identity).”

      Our own equal opprtunity and treatment laws consist of a number of federally protected charateristics, which don’t include Zionism or an attachment to illegal Israeli behaviors.

      • American says:

        Yes definitely, this is big……sounds like this ruling might keep the Zionist, in GB at least, from using ‘lawfare’ to sue and clog up the c0urts –which is a big win for anti occupation activist. It’s also definitely a put down of the zio claim of Israel criticism being anti semitic, as well as rejection of using Jewish identity/the Holocaust in ridiculous ”they hurt my Jewish feelings, boo hoo” lawsuits…which seems to have been the basis of this guy’s lawsuit.

        Crushing defeat for Israel lobby as anti-boycott litigation fails in UK

        Submitted by Asa Winstanley on Tue, 03/26/2013 – 22:35

        A British judge comprehensively dismissed a high-profile legal attack on the University and College Union, it emerged on Monday. The case was brought after democratic union bodies discussed boycotts of Israel.

        An Employment Tribunal ruled the claim of “institutional anti-Semitism,” brought by union member and Academic Friends of Israel director Ronnie Fraser, was dismissed on all counts.

        The ruling is a dramatic and comprehensive defeat for the Israeli “lawfare” strategy, and may even have backfired for its proponents who today descended into acrimonious internal back-biting.

        “Political end by litigious means”

        In the 49-page ruling, the three-person tribunal comprehensively considered the 10 points of the detailed complaint, brought on behalf of Fraser by high-profile pro-Israel lawyer Anthony Julius.

        After dismissing each one of them in detail (“without substance … devoid of any merit … palpably groundless … untenable … obviously hopeless”), the document appears to foreclose the possibility of another such “lawfare” attack ever being brought to court again (at least using UK Tribunals).

        “Lessons should be learned from this sorry saga. We greatly regret that the case was ever brought. At heart, it represents an impermissible attempt to achieve a political end by litigious means. It would be very unfortunate if an exercise of this sort were ever repeated” (paragraph 178, my emphasis).

        It is this key passage of the ruling that means anti-Palestinian activists may rue the day they ever contemplated “the wreckage of this litigation,” as the judge frankly puts it (para. 181).

        The judge raises serious concerns that a “hard-pressed” public service like the Tribunals should have “their limited resources … squandered [by Fraser] as they have been in this case.” Nor “should the Respondents [the union] have been put to the trouble and expense of defending proceedings of this order or anything like it” (para. 180).

        Another important finding is that “a belief in the Zionist project or an attachment to Israel … cannot amount to a protected characteristic” under the Equality Act of 2010. This properly sets a clear red line between Zionism and Judaism (or Jewish identity).

        Julius’s competence was also called into doubt by the panel, after he “referred in support of his argument to a concept unfamiliar to us and not, so far as we are aware, known to our law, namely ‘institutional responsibility’ ” (para. 22).

        “Preposterous” claims

        The panel was also “troubled by the implications of the claim. Underlying it we sense a worrying disregard for pluralism, tolerance and freedom of expression” (para 179). This is clearly a reference to (among others) Jeremy Newmark, a witness for Fraser, and the head of the Jewish Leadership Council.

        He once said the union was “no longer a fit arena for free speech” – this is described by the judge as “extraordinarily arrogant but also disturbing.”

        The judge also found that parts of Newmark’s evidence before the tribunal were “preposterous” and “untrue.” Testimony by Jane Ashworth, of the anti-boycott group Engage, was also found to be false.

        Two members of parliament who appeared as witnesses for Fraser were also criticized. John Mann MP and Denis MacShane MP “clearly enjoyed making speeches. [But] neither seems at ease with the idea of being required to answer a question not to his liking” (para. 148).

        While there is some minor criticism of the union on procedural grounds, in the main there is mostly praise. Of the witnesses called by the union, the judgment says “we found all of them careful and accurate” (para. 149).

        The panel “spent an entire day” listening to recordings of union debates in Congress (its annual decision-making conference which regional delegates are sent to): “In our judgment, the proceedings were well-ordered and balanced.”

        Fraser’s case had alleged union debates that discussed the issue of boycotting Israel were systematically biased against him on the basis of his Jewishness. In fact, the judge found that Jewish union members spoke on both the pro- and anti-boycott sides of debates, which were “managed in an even-handed fashion.”

        Implications

        The verdict is a comprehensive defeat for Israel’s lawfare project, supporters of Israeli war crimes and assorted Zionist fanatics in the UK.

    • JennieS says:

      Thank you very much for that link. The decision in that case was made abundantly clear.

  1. Citizen says:

    MCC’s “core Christian values” are very different from the Christian Zionist’s core values. I see the Hagee-type Christians as not Christian at all. They elevate Israel to God, worship that way too human, or sub-human State. Queerly, it’s their way of elevating themselves, as a practical matter over All other Americans, and also by way of belief in Final Days where they are the only sure chosen people. Rapture me, up Scottie.

  2. Citizen says:

    Mennonites, like the Methodists, are different from the Christian Zionists, the Christian fundies who worship the nuclear-armed state of Israel as the avenue to Christian rapture into heaven. The Adult Swim Channel’s Squidbillies exhibits more reality than these Hagee clones. The Zionists love these tools; they joke about the big support they get from the Christian Zionists for a totally earth-based Israel, which the stupid Christian fundies think will be their platform for rapture up into “heaven.”

  3. Les says:

    Though Christianity is widely preached, especially in our media, it is rarely practiced. This happy exception proves the rule.

  4. Sumud says:

    Well done Mennonites, we are one step further along the way.

  5. Nevada Ned says:

    The amount of money involved by the Mennonites (etc) is small enough that it won’t make a big difference to Israel. What does make a big difference is that this sends a message: we don’t approve of the Occupation.

    In the near future, other Christian churches are likely to join the divestment movement. And it will become easier for these groups to to adopt resolutions condemning Israeli policy.

    About half of the US population are at least nominal Christians. So there is plenty of room for growth.

    Until now, the divestment movement had lost a lot of battles. The efforts (even in a losing cause) were not entirely in vain, because the divestment resolutions (and the debate) were revived the next year.

    I think the far-right-wing political complexion of the new Israeli government will make it hard for Israel to fend off this kind of campaign.

  6. Chu says:

    Great news. Israel is slowly losing support of the entire american narrative.
    These small victories are part of the larger growing conflict that Israelis and
    American Jews will have to confront.

    Zionism in all it’s zeal, is more often unaware of the problems it creates for those
    around them. That’s why the ziocane analogy is so poignant.

    • American says:

      @ Citizen

      I’m betting on Isr losing more of their foreign investors, which makes up 70% of all money invested in Isr enterprises…..I think private money is saying Isr is unstable and too risky no matter what the US does for it.

      Israeli start-ups getting less capital, lower valuations

      By David Shamah March 28, 2013, 5:00 am 1

      ‘ Start-up funding for Israeli firms is becoming harder to come by than ever, a new analysis shows.
      Fewer venture capital firms are investing in start-ups here, and those that are still investing are putting in less money than before, according to the study, by Tel Aviv-based SiSense. Those start-ups that do get funding and make it to an exit, moreover, find that their value is significantly lower than it would have been five years ago.

      According to the data, venture capital investments in Israeli start-ups fell by about 25% over the past five years, as compared to an average increase of 70% for start-up companies in the rest of the world. And those that did raise money got less than their counterparts elsewhere: The average Israeli start-up raised 3.4 million in initial, or “round A,” financing, as compared to an average $6.3 million elsewhere.

      Israeli companies that survived round A actually fared better than in the past five years when it came to round B financing, which was up 9% compared to the previous five years. But 50% fewer Israeli companies actually received round B money. Fewer start-ups in other countries were able to get to round B as well — but only 18% fewer, indicating again the relative weakness of the Israeli venture capital market.”

      • Citizen says:

        @ American
        Yeah, well when you somewhat safely bet on Israel losing its blank check from America, let me know. As you know, in addition to our direct aid, both the usual $3+ Billion per annum with interest, and the extras for stuff like Iron Dome, we underwrite Israeli debt; thus we enhance Israel’s “private” business too since all cash we send to Israel is totally fungible. This, ironically, despite the fact the US credit rating is lower than Israel’s.

  7. Kathleen says:

    Good for the Mennonites. Walking the talk

  8. MK_Ultra says:

    And that would explain why the FBI was spying on the Mennonites. It’s a miracle some of them haven’t been provided with the proverbial plastic bombs and accused of ‘terrorism’ yet. But there is time. The Fascist state is only getting started.

    • Citizen says:

      @ NJ_Ultra
      Source for your assertion that the FBI is spying on the Mennonites? Are they spying on the Amish too? What other Christian sects?