The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago has put its money where its mouth is when it comes to socially responsible investing, or SRI, which is the latest front in the struggle for the hearts, minds-and dollars-of individual and institutional investors.
In January, the Chicago Federation became the first federation to invest over $1 million in the Jewish Advocacy Strategy of JLens. JLens connects the Jewish community to SRI by inspiring a network of nearly 10,000 individual and institutional investors to invest with Jewish values in mind.
By some estimates, SRI has expanded 33% since 2014, which indicates that its sphere of influence is growing rapidly.
"We are proud to be a trailblazing federation in this space, and hope that our involvement will inspire others in the Jewish community to do the same," said Emily Muskovitz Sweet, executive director of JUF's Jewish Community Relationship Council.
Through JLens, Jewish institutions use their financial investments as a vehicle to express Jewish values, support Israel, and counter the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. According to JLens Executive Director Julie Hammerman, the Jewish community's absence has enabled BDS activists to turn SRI into a prominent and sophisticated BDS arena.
Chicago's investment also includes separate support for JLENS' anti-BDS shareholder advocacy strategy, which is actively working to counter efforts to de-legitimize Israel in the SRI arena.
The Israel Action Network of the Jewish Federations of North America identified a BDS presence in the SRI community years ago, and is now working to educate leaders both within and outside the Jewish community about how to counter BDS in the socially responsible investment field.
The BDS movement argues that institutional investors and multinational companies with ties to Israel are violating SRI's commitment to protecting human rights. As a result, numerous institutional investors in Europe and the U.S. have adopted BDS, and some European companies have cut ties to Israel under pressure from pro-BDS shareholders.
One example in Europe is the French telecommunications company, Orange. After pressure from investors and others, Orange announced in 2015 that it would sever its contract with its Israeli licensee eight months early. The CEO of Orange also issued a statement that he would, "end the relationship tomorrow if it could."
On the other side of the ledger, during the past year BDS has experienced multiple defeats in large companies. In December, in part due to JLens' efforts, CISCO shareholders voted down two BDS resolutions. During the firm's annual meeting, JLens Executive Director Julie Hammerman called on shareholders to "see these resolutions for what they are, and to continue to make Cisco the standard bearer for how companies should operate around the world with great sensitivity. No company has done more than Cisco to lay the economic foundation for peace between Israelis and Palestinians, including Cisco's significant investment over the past decade to build the Palestinian tech sector."
In the coming year, JLens plans to hire the Jewish community's first full-time shareholder advocate to strengthen corporate relationships and advance Jewish communal concerns among SRI investors. Plans also are underway to host the first Jewish Impact Investing Summit, on Dec. 5 in New York City, to bring SRI leaders and Jewish community leaders together.