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

Israel/Palestine
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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.

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