ADL to take over Jewish investment fund to fight BDS

The Anti-Defamation League acquires JLens Investor Network, a non-profit organization that offers Investment Funds for Jewish organizations, to prevent concerns about Israeli human rights abuses from reducing investment in the country.

Jewish establishment organizations, including the ADL and JLens, have recently speak against companies like Ben & Jerry’s and Morningstar, the financial services giant, which they claim have coerced Israel into unfair standard.

“It’s time for the Jewish community to come to the table to use our power as institutional investors to ensure companies are aligned with our values ​​and don’t fall for anti-Semitic pressures,” said Jonathan Greenblatt. , director of the ADL, in a press release. statement.

Greenblatt said “impact investing” – which considers environmental and social factors alongside financial returns – was “the final frontier in the fight against anti-Semitism”.

Impact investing, also known as ESG, which refers to environmental, social and governance investing, is a growing sector that encompasses over $40 trillion in investments. Activists, including Jewish organizations like Dayenuincreasingly seek to convince investors that they must prioritize issues such as climate change.

While Julie Hammerman, founding director of JLens, said she created the organization to promote socially responsible investing within the Jewish community, the ADL’s press release announcing its acquisition focused primarily on JLens’ ability to fight against any investment decision that would have a negative impact on Israel.

Hammerman said JLens, which manages nearly $200 million in assets for Jewish foundations and philanthropists, will continue to focus on its six priority areas: coexistence, social issues, labor rights, the environment. , ethical business practices and support for Israel.

“We really try to split our work fairly evenly across those six values,” Hammerman said in an interview. “But obviously BDS, the delegitimization of Israel, anti-Semitism, is a concern.”

Protect Israel

JLens takes a broad view of BDS, which refers to the boycott movement targeting Israel. The official campaign calls for targeted boycotts of Israel with a list of demands that would effectively end the country’s status as a Jewish state. But Hammerman said his organization’s priority is ensure that companies invest in Israel.

“Our biggest concern is actually not divestment, but avoidance — companies are avoiding future ties with Israel because it’s too controversial,” Hammerman told the Forward in 2016.

Companies that are active in Israel are also often criticized for seeking to distinguish between their operations within the country’s pre-1967 borders and inside the Israeli-occupied West Bank. JLens helped lead the campaign against Morningstar, a firm that assesses businesses for investors, after acquiring a socially responsible investment firm that helped a European pension fund divest from Israeli banks that financed construction projects in West Bank settlements. The company protested that on average it viewed Israeli companies as a bigger investment than non-Israeli companies.

An Israeli flag hangs atop a delivery truck outside the factory of American ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s in Israel. The company has come under fire from pro-Israel Jewish groups after announcing a plan to stop selling its products in the West Bank. Photo by Emmanuel Dunand/AFP via Getty Images

The ADL cited its work with Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, to prevent the ice cream company from ending sales in the West Bank while continuing to operate in Israel as an example of fighting anti-Semitism. He also cited his success in lobbying Airbnb, the accommodation platform, to continue to offer registrations in the Jewish colonies.

“What they’re saying is you can’t have ESG at all – because it risks getting Israeli companies caught in it and that’s intolerable – or you’re going to have to reinvent ESG so that ‘it doesn’t catch Israeli companies,’ Lara Friedman, president of the Middle East Peace Foundation, which tracks advocacy aimed at Palestinian activism.

But Hammerman said companies and investors can criticize Israel as long as they don’t use a double standard.

“Israel should be run through the same lens of human rights as every other country and that is not the case right now,” she said. “Israel is singled out and isolated and focused on more than any other country.”

A larger platform

Scott Shay, a banker who has been active in the campaign against Morningstar, welcomed JLens’ incorporation into the ADL and said it would help major investors take Jewish concerns more seriously.

“It’s easier for the ADL to get the attention of the Vanguards, Fidelities, State Streets of the world,” said Shay, who is president of Signature Bank and represented the UJA-Federation of New York in negotiations with Morningstar..

There has been growing resistance from conservatives against impact investing, including a recent decision by Governor Ron DeSantis to ban Florida pension funds from using the strategy. But Shay said the Jewish community should embrace values-based investing as long as it doesn’t harm Israel.

“ESG is important and critical,” Shay said. “I don’t think it should be infected or infiltrated by political agendas – and that’s what BDS supporters were trying to do,” he said.

Hammerman said JLens, which was founded in 2012, would continue to operate as a stand-alone entity under the ADL umbrella. But she hopes ADL can expand the impact of her work. For example, Hammerman said that while JLens currently only works with large investors, he wants to create a fund that retail investors can buy into for as little as $1,000 and hopes the ADL – which has over 200 million dollars in assets – will be able to use its resources to launch such a product.

“There is no other values-based fund, or ESG, that outwardly opposes BDS and fights anti-Semitism and invests through a Jewish lens,” Hammerman said. “And that’s a shame.”

Several major Jewish organizations, including the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Federations of North America, submitted comments at the Securities and Exchange Commission this summer calling for regulations prohibiting anti-Israel bias in ESG investing. But beyond concerns about its potential to penalize Israel, they have generally maintained a neutral stance on impact investing as a whole.

Hammerman, however, was careful to point out that his organization did not exist solely to defend Israel.

“I really want to make sure you know we’re very pro-ESG,” she said.

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