From churches, a challenge to Israeli policies
Some may wield an old financial tool - divestment - to register concern about peace prospects.
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The Presbyterians say their aims are to influence the practices of companies and use their resources - an $8 billion portfolio - in morally responsible ways. "We have to be principled; we respect human rights and the legitimacy of international law, and when Israelis or Palestinians breech either we'll take a hard look at our investments," says the Rev. Marthame Sanders, who was in ministry in the West Bank.Skip to next paragraph
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The church's committee on socially responsible investment will identify firms that provide services or equipment to support the military occupation or Jewish settlements; finance or assist in building the wall; or provide help to Israeli or Palestinian groups that commit violence against innocent civilians.
It will seek meetings with corporate leaders, and possibly file shareholder resolutions, using divestment a last resort. Divestment decisions require approval by the church general assembly in 2006.
Some US Jewish peace groups support the initiative, Mr. Sanders says, including Jewish Voice for Peace. JVP has filed its own shareholder initiative asking Caterpillar Inc. to investigate whether Israeli use of its bulldozers to demolish Palestinian homes violates the firm's code of conduct. Other liberal Jewish groups, however, oppose it.
The Jewish community has countered other divestment efforts. Campaigns on colleges have made little headway. A proposal to make Somerville, Mass., the first American city to divest from Israel is likely to be turned back this week.
It is making some inroads with the churches, too. Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, which has close ties to a neighboring synagogue, is asking the denomination to slow the process and engage the Jewish community. It proposes that, if divestment occurs, money from stock sales be reinvested in Israel in companies not tied to the occupation.
"I've tried to interpret to my Jewish friends that this is not an anti-Israel nor anti-Jewish decision, but an attempt by a church to speak a word of hope and justice for [Palestinians] for whom those words are pretty elusive," says the Rev. John Buchanan, church pastor. But "I'm not convinced divestment is a wise thing."
The US Episcopal Church, meanwhile, said in November it will begin to study how it should respond to companies that contribute to the occupation's infrastructure or to violence against civilians. It will include Jewish groups, Palestinians, and the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem.
"For us, the term is not 'divestment,' " says Bishop Christopher Epting, deputy for interfaith relations. "We'd be voting certain shareholder resolutions expressing concern to companies in which we own stock." Jewish leaders are more approving of this approach.
Other mainline Protestants are also talking about the issue.
"The notion that a two-state solution might no longer be realistic is very unsettling to many people, both Jewish and Christian," says Jim Winkler of the United Methodist Church's public policy board.
Jewish and mainline Christian leaders say they will travel together to the region to talk with Israelis and Palestinians, and will urge the US government to become more engaged in the peace process. "The Presbyterian decision was a flash point," says Bishop Epting, "but in a strange way, it may well reenergize the relationship."