Quakers Divest from Israel

While few in the congregation condemn Iran or Islamic terror.

Hold the presses!  The Quakers are divesting from firms doing business with Israel.  Maybe the famed smile of the Quaker Oats Man should now turn to a frown.  Specifically the Quaker Friends Fiduciary Corporation (FFC) is divesting from Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Veolia Environment. Ostensibly HP was guilty of providing technology consulting to the Israeli Navy, while Veolia was convicted for “environmental and social concerns.”

Naturally, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation gushed that it was “thrilled” that FFC was the “first U.S. national fund” to divest from those firms in reaction to demands from “Palestinian rights advocates.”

“Thrilled,” no doubt.  Anti-Israel divestment advocacy has largely been a dud in the U.S.  Just this Summer, three major denominations rejected divestment, though the Episcopalians, Presbyterians and United Methodists are all governed by elites who routinely condemn Israel (but not its foes).   There are only about 80,000 Quakers in North America.  Their spokespersons are heatedly anti-Israel. Quakers are traditionally pacifist of course.  But Quaker ire does not typically focus on Hamas or Hezbollah terror, nor on the violent threats of Israel’s neighbors.

Reputedly FFC has $250,000 in HP investments and $140,000 in Veolia.  According to the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, HP “maintains a biometric ID system used in Israeli checkpoints for racial profiling; manages the Israeli Navy's IT infrastructure; and supplies the Israeli army with other equipment and services used to maintain its military occupation.”  The equally sinister Veolia is complicit in “a light rail linking illegal Israeli settlements with cities in Israel; it operates segregated bus lines through the occupied West Bank; and it operates a landfill and a waste water system that dumps Israeli waste on Palestinian land.”

The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation reports that the FFC manages portfolios for over 300 Quaker meetings, schools and other church related groups, with a total of $200 in assets.  Earlier this year FFC divested $900,000 in Caterpillar stock at the urging of the Palestine Israel Action Group of Quakers in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  FFC then explained it had a "zero tolerance for weapons and weapons components.”

Quakers of course are pacifist.  So it’s not exceptional that they would divest from military related firms. But why cite Israel in this particular divestment?  Caterpillar has sold its wares to the U.S. Defense Department for many decades. Presumably so too have HP and Veolia.  Why not simply declare their actions to be anti-military as opposed to anti-Israel?

Instead, the Ann Arbor Quakers thanked FFC for the Caterpillar divestment by declaring: “We ask Friends and people of faith everywhere to join us in expressing thanks to FFC and asking them to continue divesting from all companies that are helping to sustain the Israeli occupation.”  Interesting.  Has FFC punished any other regimes besides Israel with divestment?  A search of its website and a general Google search indicate no.   Would FFC avoid investment in firms with ties to Iran for example?  There’s no direct answer on the FFC website.  But the Palestine Israel Action Group of the Ann Arbor Quakers recently posted a website article claiming that “Iran has never threatened to destroy Israel,” and complaining that “this false claim is repeated in the U.S. media by everyone from Fox News to PBS.”  The article denies that Iran is developing nuclear weapons but then claims Iran has a “no first strike” policy anyway, so no worry.  And it complains about Israel’s nukes, which of course are the real threat.   Likely the Ann Arbor Quakers reflect overall opinions among hardcore Quaker so-called peace activists, who seem to have a very truncated definition of peace.

FFC professes to seek investments in accordance with “Quaker testimonies and values.”   Presumably these values include peaceful good will toward all and affirmation of universal human dignity.   But the anti-Israel stance, uniquely targeting the Jewish nation, does not exemplify a global perspective on behalf of human rights for all.  Instead it repeats the common refrain of the old Religious Left for the last nearly 50 years, obsessing over American and Israeli flaws while ignoring or making excuses for nearly everybody else.

The American Friends Service Committee has long been the main organized Quaker political voice.  Its leaders characteristically dined with visiting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in New York in 2008. If the repast were accompanied by vigorous denunciation of the Iranian madman’s apocalyptic visions, perhaps they would be defensible.  But there’s no record of any meaningful criticism or concern.   The group’s record was similar through the final decades of the Cold War, urging accommodation of the Soviet Union, while actively supporting Marxist revolutionary movements around the world.   There was no comprehensive advocacy of human rights for all, just mostly animosity for the United States and Western democracy, expressed as support for “peace.”

No doubt most local Quakers are nice people not directly responsible for the political irresponsibility of their purported spokespersons.   But the Quaker divestment from firms doing business with Israel, unaccompanied by any interest in hateful violence that seeks Israel’s destruction, reflects a long continuum of un-Christian and unwise political advocacy.

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