On Thursday, May 9, Union Theological Seminary pledged to divest from businesses that profit from Israel’s military actions, according to an announcement from their Board of Trustees.

The Union Theological Seminary (UTS) Board of Trustees stated in a May 9 announcement that they “endorse… divestment and other strategies for companies profiting from war in Palestine/Israel.” Union’s Investment Committee had been engaged in “research and monitoring” related to the decision since November 2023, the announcement said.

UTS, an “independent, progressive, ecumenical seminary,” is an affiliate college of Columbia with delegates on the Columbia University Senate and a shared graduate program with the University. However, it is administratively separate from the University and maintains its own $127 million endowment.

The announcement stated that the UTS Board of Trustees “have taken steps to identify all investments, both domestic and global, that support and profit from the present killing of innocent civilians in Palestine,” in accordance with UTS’ existing investment “socially responsible investment (SRI) screens,” which bar “investments in armaments, weapons, and defense manufacturers, as well as companies that participate in human rights violations.”

The announcement also “[denounced] the horrific killing by Hamas of Israeli citizens on October 7, 2023” and “[affirmed the] right to secure existence and self-determination” of both Palestine and Israel.

On Thursday evening, Columbia Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) lauded UTS’s announcement as “a massive victory” and “a genuine commitment to divestment.”

Union Theological Seminary Board of Trustees Announcement made on Thursday, May 9: 

Union Theological Seminary (UTS) in the City of New York has a long history of preparing religious and spiritual leaders for lives committed to creating a more just and peaceful world for all.  This commitment is not just one among many; it is core to our very identity.  In line with this, we have long sought to manage our endowment in a manner that reflects these values.  Over the decades, we have developed what are called “socially responsible investment (SRI) screens” to express our values and not financially support damaging and immoral investments, including our early divestment from the dehumanizing system of apartheid in South Africa.  More recently, this has included screens against investing in for-profit prisons and fossil fuels, among many other screens.  Indeed, we were the first institution of higher education to divest from fossil fuels in 2014.  Our policies remain both consistent and evolving. When we proactively create screens, we intend for them, in principle, to be applicable in a global context and be sustainable over time.  This makes our screens stronger, not weaker – and wider, not smaller.

Our screens already prevent investments in armaments, weapons, and defense manufacturers, as well as companies that participate in human rights violations.  Managing our endowment in a manner that actively seeks the good and leverages our resources to reduce harm is an ongoing process, and we will remain committed to these principles into the future.

With respect to companies that are profiting from the present war in Palestine, we continue to hold these standards high and have taken steps to identify all investments, both domestic and global, that support and profit from the present killing of innocent civilians in Palestine, whose numbers are now over 34,000 – and a humanitarian crisis of ever-growing magnitude.  Union’s president, faculty, and students have repeatedly made strong public calls for an immediate ceasefire and will continue to do so until this continually escalating war has stopped.  These calls are supported by today’s decision by Union’s Investment Committee’s to withdraw support from companies profiting from the war.  We have been working on this decision since November of 2023, a decision that has required research and exploration into our investment portfolio, and that research and monitoring will continue.

Let us share with you directly our multifaceted policy related to companies profiting from the war in Palestine adopted by the Board of Trustees Investment Committee today and endorsed by Union’s Board of Trustees:

  • We are revising the section of our investment policy statement section pertaining to responsible investing to include an overt reference to the Israel-Palestine hostilities, in addition to current robust policies regarding fossil fuels, military weapons, private prisons, etc.
  • We are directing our investment consultants and conferring with other resources to determine a list of those companies substantially and intractably benefiting from the war in Palestine that may not be captured by existing screens. We are also identifying resources to monitor changes to company activity over time. 
  • We are directing our investment managers to exclude those companies from the portfolios managed on behalf of Union.
  • If relevant holdings are held in commingled accounts or mutual funds, we are directing the manager of those funds to divest, or we will find another alternative vehicle.
  • We are joining the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) so that in addition to our individual institutional divestments, we can align ourselves with other like-minded activist institutions engaging with corporations on their activities related to human rights. This strategy emerged from previous divestment and corporate engagement movements, which found collective leverage to be an important part of bringing needed pressure to bear on areas where we seek to create pressure and impact.
  • As we also learned from previous divestment actions, we are also exploring investments that proactively support humanitarian and entrepreneurial companies doing positive work in the region.
  • With the ICCR among our guides in this process to expand our responsible investor toolkit, we commit to making participation in our meetings with ICCR open to students and others, in addition to maintaining our present policy of having direct UTS student representation on our Investment Committee.  We believe that teaching others how to responsibly and morally manage investments is a key dimension of Union’s teaching mission and our commitment to transparency.

To be clear, as we take these actions, we remain unequivocal in our denouncement of the horrific killing by Hamas of Israeli citizens on October 7, 2023, and call for the immediate release of all hostages. With respect to both Palestine and Israel, we affirm their right to secure existence and self-determination. We also remain committed in all we do to stand against all forms of hatred, including antisemitism and Islamophobia.  Our investment policies will continue to adapt, guided by our values, to strengthen the resolve that undergirds our decision today.  We do not take this step lightly, and we do so with all humility, recognizing that our work on the global stage is far from finished.  Although our investments in the war in Palestine are small because our previous, strong anti-armament screens are robust, we hope that our action today will bring needed pressure to bear to stop the killing and find a peaceful future for all.

Editor’s note: This byline of this article has been updated to more accurately represent the intentions of UTS’s divestment.

Union Theological Seminary via Bwog Archives