Methodist Pension Board Bars Investment in 5 Israeli Banks

NEW YORK (AP) -
The head office of Bank Discount in Tel Aviv, one of five Israeli banks blacklisted by the United Methodist Church. (PikiWiki)
The head office of Bank Discount in Tel Aviv, one of five Israeli banks blacklisted by the United Methodist Church. (PikiWiki)

The pension fund for the United Methodist Church has blocked five Israeli banks from its investment portfolio in what it describes as a broad review meant to weed out companies that profit from abuse of human rights.

The fund, called the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, excluded Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, First International Bank of Israel, Israel Discount Bank, and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank, according to the pension board’s website.

The Israeli bank stock the board sold off was worth a few million dollars in a fund with $20 billion in assets. The fund also sold holdings worth about $5,000 in the Israeli real estate and construction company Shikun & Binui, and barred the company from the pension group’s investment portfolio.

The pension board identified Israel and the Palestinian territories among more than a dozen “high risk” countries or regions with “a prolonged and systematic pattern of human rights abuses.” Other countries on the list include Saudi Arabia, the Central African Republic and North Korea.

A spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry declined to comment.

The Methodist church has about 13 million members worldwide and is the largest mainline Protestant group in the United States.

The pension board had initiated the review in 2014 with a focus on protecting human rights and easing climate change. A total of 39 companies around the world were excluded from the fund’s investments over human rights concerns and nine more were blocked over worries about their alleged contribution to global warming. The fund remains invested in 18 Israeli companies, according to board spokeswoman Colette Nies.