As students of the Mennonite institutions of Bluffton University, Goshen College, and Eastern Mennonite University, we are calling for attention and support for selective divestment in Mennonite Church USA.
The EMU student group, Students for Morally Responsible Investment was started in the spring of 2009, in response to the Gaza War. The student- led initiative to discuss divestment has since spread to two other campuses, Bluffton University and Goshen College. We have become conscious of the crisis in Israel/Palestine through working with peace organizations on the ground, staying with families on cross-cultural experiences, and meeting Palestinians and Israelis in our home communities.
We have seen first-hand the effects of the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. The Israeli government has not acknowledged the internationally recognized borders of Palestine, as established by U.N. Security Council Resolution No. 242. Through the IDF, the Israeli government enforces strategic policies designed to fragment Palestinian land and break down civil society. The system of checkpoints, house demolitions, and settlements allows the Israeli government to annex more Palestinian land daily. The actions of the Israeli government have been declared illegal under international law many times, including the International Court of Justice’s 2004 ruling that the Separation Barrier or Wall must be dismantled.
Today, as we hear about further settlement construction, breaches of international law by IDF soldiers, and the stalling peace process, we are compelled to ask how we are complicit. Our American government supports Israel with 3 billion dollars of military aid a year, effectively funding the military element of the occupation. Furthermore, American and international corporations actively enable and profit off of the occupation. For example, the technology company Hewlett Packard supplies the entire technological network for the Israeli navy, as well as biometric devices (also known as hand-scanners) for checkpoints. The communications giant Motorola provides surveillance equipment for illegal Israeli settlements. This corporate support is unaccountable to the true effects on the ground, yet is a crucial support of the occupation.
We, as students of Mennonite institutions, have discovered that our endowments and the investments of many Mennonites worldwide are invested in some of these corporations. Everence Financial and Mennonite Education Association have both identified several corporations that support the occupation in their stock portfolios. Even as many Mennonites pray and work for peace in the Holy Land, we invest in and profit from the corporations that support the occupation. This, to us, seems to be in direct conflict with the stewardship guidelines of these companies’ investment policies.
We believe that the Mennonite belief in peace-building should move us to action in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Jesus calls us to love both friends and enemies; to actively do justice; to love mercy. We want to live out this call and feel that one way to do that is to remove our money from companies propagating injustice. As a faith community, we must hold each other accountable to our beliefs and values.
We urge you to support our campaign for selective divestment from companies that profit off of the Israeli occupation. We want to emphasize that this is not a cultural or political boycott of Israel as a whole, but is a strategic and selective campaign focused on the military occupation. We have traced our complicity in Israel/Palestine back to our investments. Jesus calls us to love both friends and enemies; to actively do justice; to love mercy. We fail to see how our investment policies have integrity with these convictions.
The Palestinian church issued a call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions in the Kairos Document released on December 15, 2009. The writers speak in desperation about the lack of options and need for help in journey toward true peace. International support and advocacy may be the only channel left to achieve a balance of power and peaceful solution. Christian Peacemaker Teams, Jewish Voices for Peace, Israeli peace activists and MCC workers from the region have all stepped out in support of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. It is past time for the Mennonite church to take a thoughtful, passionate, sincere stance toward peace in Israel/Palestine.
Please support our call for selective divestment. There are many ways you can help. Educate yourself and your church on the issue. Ask your investment institution how their screening policy compares with the Hoder Investment Research List; if they fall short, ask them to change their policy. Ask your Everence Financial representative why they choose not to divest, and urge them to do so. If you are a student, join a divestment club at your institution, or start one. If a personal boycott seems appropriate to you, please do so, but don’t stop there. Remember that a change in investment policy will have a much larger impact than a change in habits of an individual consumer, although both are important. If you have questions, need resources, or would like to contact us, visit the website of EMU’s Students for Morally Responsible Divestment, www.mennosforjustice.com. We look forward to your support.
We hope that you will join us in asking MEA/Everence to live up to their investment principles. Finally, whatever your thoughts on this issue, we desire your engagement with the Mennonite Education Institutions. We hope continue the discussion at the 2011 Mennonite Conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We hope to see you there.
Eastern Mennonite University’s: Students for Morally Responsible Investment, Peace Fellowship, Student Government Association
Goshen University’s: PAX Club, Divestment Circle
Bluffton University’s: PEACE Club
PDF File of Open Letter