The Anti-Israel Divestment Campaign
Posted: October 9, 2006
Churches have been the major focus of the divestment campaign since 2004, following setbacks in campus and other efforts. The Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, an Arab Christian group that has been a proponent of the Palestinian cause, is a fierce critic of Israel and its government -- and a major driving force behind the campaign targeting mainline Protestant churches (as well as campus groups and others) to divest from Israel.
Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA)
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is slated to meet in Birmingham, Alabama in June 2006 to vote on the next step in its controversial divestment process, and it is still unclear what direction it will take. A special committee appointed by PCUSA to investigate the issues told representatives from a coalition of Jewish organizations in January 2006 that they did not expect their work to be finished in time for the national conference in June.
Meanwhile, dozens of resolutions -- called overtures in church terminology -- have been debated across the United States by local PCUSA synods or chapters offering proposals on whether PCUSA should proceed with its divestment campaign, or whether the movement should delay or abandon divestment as its strategy.
The controversy first erupted in July 2004, when the PCUSA General Assembly voted to divest from companies doing business with Israel. The Church's investment portfolio has $8 billion in holdings. The vote, passed by 431-62, calls on the "Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) to initiate a process of phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel." Through an internal process, the PCUSA later added an additional focus on companies that might support violence against Israelis. The PCUSA's Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) identified four companies that work with Israel (Caterpillar, ITT, Motorola, and United Technologies Corporation). They also identified one company for its alleged actions that involve support for terrorism (Citigroup). The MRTI committee has stated that it will not move for the sale of any of these stocks.
Despite the Presbyterian divestment initiative, many church leaders and people in the pews across the country have strongly and vocally disagreed with the Church's proposal to divest from Israel. See: What They Are Saying: Statements by Church Leaders on Divestment
Episcopal/Anglican Church (ECUSA)
In fall 2004, the Episcopal Church announced that it would likely conduct a yearlong examination of whether or not the Church should divest its holdings from companies doing business in Israel. In an October 1 statement, Episcopal Bishop Christopher Epting, the church's ecumenical director, and the Rev. Brian Grieves, director of its peace and justice division announced that the investigation will look into what investments are "appropriate with companies that contribute to the ongoing (Israeli) Occupation (of Palestinian territories), especially in the areas of home demolitions, settlement building and the separation wall."
However, after a period of review and consultation, including meetings with national Jewish agencies, the ECUSA announced it had removed divestment from consideration.
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)
The ELCA, at its Church-wide Assembly in summer 2005 considered and rejected a divestment resolution, instead adopting a "positive investment" policy to foster peace and cooperation in the region. This approach stresses an investment of "advocacy, volunteer work, and financial resources in those who share in the quest for peace with justice."
United Church of Christ (UCC)
The UCC, at its General Synod, also in summer 2005, considered and rejected a divestment resolution. A "positive investment" substitute was passed out of committee. However, a last minute "compromise" was moved and adopted that included both "positive investment" and an endorsement of divestment. The resolution did not initiate any divestment process, though, and UCC leaders have stated that none is planned.
United Methodist Church (UMC)
The UMC has continued to defer any action on divestment. Two local regions adopted resolutions in support of divestment. National leaders, however, have expressed their opposition to any similar action on behalf of the UMC.
Church of England
On February 6, 2006, the Church of England's General Synod overwhelmingly voted to divest from companies whose products are used by Israel in the Palestinian territories. The Synod backed a call by the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem to divest from "companies profiting from the illegal occupation," such as Caterpillar. The Church described its support for divestment as "morally responsible investment". The divestment vote was spearheaded by radical Anglicans, among them Bishop John Gladwin, who maintains a close association with the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.
The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, voted in favor of the divestment motion. His predecessor, Lord Carey, spoke forcefully against divestment and declared himself "ashamed to be an Anglican" after the vote was passed.
One month after the Synod vote, which is not binding, the Church's Ethical Investment Advisory Group announced that it would not withdraw its investment in Caterpillar (worth 2.3 million Pounds), since it could find "no compelling evidence" of the company's involvement in the abuse of human rights. In response, anti-Israel activists in the Church have urged individual parishes to withdraw monies from the Church's Central Board of Finance.