Aim is to fight threats to Israel on Wall Street
By Asaf Elia-Shalev
(JTA) — The Anti-Defamation League is bolstering its advocacy on Wall Street by absorbing JLens, an organization known for rating companies on their alleged support for the Israel boycott, according to an announcement Thursday, Nov. 10, by the ADL.
Founded in 2012, JLens was for years one of the only groups pressing pro-Israel positions in the growing environmental, social and governance movement, known as ESG, which advocates for a form of corporate decision-making in which profit is not the only priority.
Over time, JLens managed to raise awareness that Israel could get ensnared in ESG filters used by investors who wish to avoid doing business in conflict zones or with companies implicated in human rights abuses.
As the field of ESG investing grew to encompass a significant chunk of the world economy, affecting the direction of some $35 trillion in investments in 2020, JLens’ profile increased as well.
A slew of major Jewish organizations, including the ADL and the Jewish Federations of North America, partnered with JLens in a campaign against Morningstar, a company providing investment advice across the business world.
The campaign claimed victory this month when Morningstar agreed to overhaul parts of its systems to eliminate the potential for bias that might discourage investment in Israel.
In the view of JLens and the ADL, there’s a threat to Israel from pro-Palestinian activists who hide behind the language of ESG to promote the Israel boycott — an accusation that the activists are hijacking the movement for what the two groups consider antisemitic purposes.
“ESG is the latest frontier in the fight against antisemitism, with radical Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activists trying to push their agenda,” said ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt. He called JLens a “pathbreaking organization.”
Greenblatt also said JLens is aligned with his organization’s belief in the importance of corporate behavior, offering the example of companies such as Adidas that cut ties with Kanye West following his antisemitic comments, and such as General Mills and Unilever that have been targeted by Israel boycott activists.
As part of its mission, JLens also urges investors, especially Jewish organizations with significant endowments, to prioritize Jewish concerns in deciding where to put their money. JLens says more than 30 Jewish organizations have opted to invest nearly $200 million according to JLens guidelines.
The ADL said it will put “some” endowment funds into JLens’ portfolio. In 2020, the most recent year for which records are publicly available, the ADL had a budget of about $91 million, up 60% from its $57 million budget in 2015.
“ADL’s strategic approach to advocacy and coalition building aligns with JLens’ approach,” said JLens CEO and founder Julie Hammerman, who will continue to helm the project under the ADL. “ADL’s expertise and convening power will propel JLens’ work forward to advance Jewish leadership in impact investing, and elevate Jewish communal concerns through investor advocacy.”