Anglicans Vote to Divest From Concerns in Israel-Occupied Areas
By NEELA BANERJEE
The New York Times
WASHINGTON, Feb. 8 The governing body of the Church of England voted
Monday evening to divest from any corporations that it contends
support Israel's activities in Gaza and the West Bank, a move sharply
criticized by Jewish groups in Britain and the United States.
The resolution is to "heed the call from our sister church, the
Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, for morally
responsible investment in the Palestinian occupied territories and, in
particular, to disinvest from companies profiting from the illegal
occupation, such as Caterpillar Inc., until they change their policies."
The Most Rev. Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury and leader of
the 77 million Anglicans, sided with the synod in its vote, which came
as a surprise to many.
The idea of divestiture was ushered in almost two years ago by the
Presbyterian Church U.S.A. at its annual meeting, straining relations
between Presbyterians and Jews.
But the Presbyterian Church has yet to divest from any company, and
the idea has largely failed to gain support elsewhere, including with
the Episcopal Church U.S.A., the American branch of the worldwide
Anglican communion. The Church of England's own Ethical Investment
Advisory Group recommended against divestiture last fall.
While the vote is not binding on the church, it would probably compel
the influential advisory group to review its decision when it meets in
May, said Lou Henderson, a spokesman for the Church of England.
The vote carried symbolic weight with many Jews and Anglicans,
although to varying degrees and in disparate ways.
Rabbi Jonathan Romain, a spokesman for the Movement for Reform Judaism
in the United Kingdom, said the Church of England's vote was "puzzling
and annoying, but it's not a Christians-against-Jews issue."
"It's the wrong signal at the wrong time, because of the massive
changes going on in Israel right now," Rabbi Romain said, alluding to
the Palestinian vote for Hamas and the coming Israeli general elections.
Michael Whine, defense director for the Board of Deputies of British
Jews, a representative organization, said, "The vote was simplistic
and unbalanced, and fails to take into account the realities of the
Middle East and the threat that Israel continues to face from
Some Jewish groups in the United States and Europe welcomed the
church's decision. "I think it is a powerful message," said Dan
Judelson, secretary of European Jews for a Just Peace, which has
called for Israel's immediate withdrawal from the occupied
territories. "It shows that people are not prepared to lie down and
let the issue rest."
American Jewish leaders, who thought they had managed through
discussions with Protestant denominations to dispose of the idea of
divestment, were alarmed to see it revived by the Church of England.
"You could say that it was naïveté on the part of the Presbyterians
when they voted like this two years ago," said Rabbi David Elcott,
director of United States interreligious affairs at the American
Jewish Committee. "But you can't say that now, with the election of
Hamas and the other changes. The Anglican decision pulls them out of
the coalition for peace and puts them on the side of violence."
Some well-known Anglicans dissented sharply from the decision. In an
interview with The Jerusalem Post earlier this week, the former
archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. George Carey, called the
resolution "a most regrettable and one-sided statement" that ignored
"the trauma of ordinary Jewish people" in Israel faced with terrorist
Church of England does not accept Zionist pressures
Canon attacks Zionist moral blackmail'
By Rachel Harden
THE General Synod's decision to consider disinvestment from certain
companies associated with Israel was not tantamount to anti-Semitism,
Canon Paul Oestreicher, former director of Coventry Cathedral's Centre
for International Reconciliation, said this week.
Canon Oestreicher commented after the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks,
called the Synod's decision "ill-judged" and said that it would "hurt
Israel without helping the Palestinians".
The Chief Rabbi wrote in The Jewish Chronicle last Friday: "The Church
has chosen to take a stand on the politics of the Middle East over
which it has no influence, knowing that it will have the most adverse
repercussions on a situation over which it has enormous influence,
namely Jewish-Christian relations in Britain."
The Synod voted to "heed" a call from the diocese in Jerusalem to stop
investing in companies profiting from Israel's presence in the
Palestinian territories. Its main target is £2.2 million of church
investment in Caterpillar Inc., supplier of the D9 bulldozers used to
demolish Palestinian houses ( News, 10 February).
Dr Sacks wrote to the Archbishop of Canterbury about his concerns. Dr
Williams replied last week, regretting the distress the Synod's
decision had caused. He said that it did not mean the Church was
actually going to disinvest.
Canon Oestreicher, who lost his Jewish grandmother in the Holocaust,
and was a refugee from Nazi Germany, said in The Guardian on Monday
that it was an "act of moral blackmail" to raise the issue of
anti-Semitism against critics of the Israeli government.
"The main objective of my writing today is to nail the lie that to
reject Zionism as it is practised today is in effect to be
anti-Semitic. That argument . . . condemns many to silence who fear to
be thought anti-Semitic," the Canon wrote.
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