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United Methodist Church Divests From Security Firm Targeted For Work In Palestinian Territories

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AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh
AP Photo/Nasser Ishtayeh

A United Methodist Church fund is divesting from a multinational security firm that activists have criticized for its work in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The church's General Board of Pension and Health Benefits is selling its stock in the U.K.-based G4S, which provides equipment and services for Israeli prisons, checkpoints and settlements in the West Bank. The Methodist board, which manages an investment portfolio of $20 billion, has $110,000 in G4S shares, church officials said Thursday.

"This is the first time that a United Methodist general agency has included human rights violations related to Israel's illegal settlements and military occupation in a decision to divest from a company," said David Wildman, executive secretary for human rights and racial justice at the church's General Board of Global Ministries. "It's part of our efforts at examining how we are approaching human rights issues and the longstanding Israeli occupation and settlements."

G4S, which operates in 125 countries, is the world's largest private security company and a frequent target of activists, in particular for its work in the Middle East. Earlier this week, the firm that manages investments for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Trust said it has likewise divested from G4S.

The company did not return a call from The Huffington Post seeking comment.

The Methodist church makes its move as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) prepares to tackle a similar question at its General Assembly, starting this weekend in Detroit. The church is scheduled to debate divesting $17 million from Hewlett-Packard, Caterpillar and Motorola Solutions. Pro-divestment Presbyterians, who have been pushing for divestment from the companies for several years, argue that they profit from violence in the Palestinian territories.

Methodists have also tried to divest from those three companies. A motion on the issue failed to pass at the church's last General Conference in Tampa, Florida, two years ago. Members expect the church will debate divestment again at its next General Conference, set for 2016 in Portland, Oregon.