Home Christian News Union Theological Seminary Votes To Divest From Companies Profiting From Gaza War

Union Theological Seminary Votes To Divest From Companies Profiting From Gaza War

Union Theological Seminary
Smoke and explosions rise inside the Gaza Strip, as seen from southern Israel, March 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

NEW YORK (RNS) — Union Theological Seminary’s board of trustees voted Thursday (May 9) to divest from all companies profiting off the war in Gaza.

Union, a private, ecumenical school, shares a graduate studies program with Columbia University but is independent and maintains a separate, $127 million endowment, is the first U.S. institute of higher education known to divest from the war in Gaza.

“We do it with humility and we do it with a sense of moral conviction,” said Union’s president, the Rev. Serene Jones.

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In November, Union’s board of trustees, which includes Jones, hired Cambridge Associates, a private investment management company, to review the seminary’s investment portfolio to identify companies that are financially invested in the war in Gaza.

The board will now transition to selling its shares of the identified companies. “We have a very good investment committee who are completely, at a moral level, committed to seeing this through,” Jones said.

In a statement after the trustees had approved the measure, they said, “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.”

Chris Marsicano, an assistant professor of educational studies and public policy at Davidson College, cautioned that divesting could take months, or even years, explaining that a single investment group can be invested in thousands of companies at one time. Additionally, the hedge funds that manage university endowments are constantly buying and selling shares and changing their investment strategy for the financial benefit of the institution, which makes an investigation difficult.

Brown Memorial Tower at Union Theological Seminary in New York. (Photo by Chris06/Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

As a seminary, Union already screens its investments based on social and environmental principles. “We don’t invest in any armaments or weapons,” Jones said. “It’s a small thing, but symbolically it’s an important step to take.”

“Although our investments in the war in Palestine are small because our previous, strong anti-armament screens are robust,” the trustees’ statement said, “we hope that our action today will bring needed pressure to bear to stop the killing and find a peaceful future for all.”

At Trinity College in Ireland, the school’s administration recently released a statement promising to “endeavour to divest” from Israeli companies after a five-day encampment led by student protesters caused conflict on campus. Student protesters in Ireland considered it only a partial victory as the university clarifies that divestment “will be considered by a task force as a first step.”

Calls for divestment have been a major demand of students participating in sit-ins and encampments at more than 100 colleges around the U.S. in protest of Israel’s response to Hamas’ terrorist attack and kidnapping on Oct. 7.

Union’s student body actively supported the dissenting Columbia students whose tents filled the university’s main quad in past weeks. Last month, a group of Union students hosted a Communion service in Columbia’s encampment attended by hundreds of people and held a small Passover Seder in Union’s courtyard for Jewish students suspended from Columbia.

“It felt like an ultimate integration of what I have learned at Union,” said Pearl Vercruysse, a third-year Master of Divinity student who participated in the Communion service, “and everything I’ve discerned as what I’m called to do in ministry.”