Divestment Vote Targets Israeli Occupation

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TERESA WATANABE | Los Angeles Times | 30 April 2005

Proposal By United Church Of Christ Draws Protests From Jewish Community
The 1.4 million-member United Church of Christ will vote this summer on whether to divest from certain U.S. companies doing business with Israel as a protest against the Jewish state’s occupation of Palestinian territories, church officials said Friday.
The measure would single out as possible divestment targets U.S. corporations “involved with Israel’s illegal occupations of the West Bank and Gaza, the construction of the `security fence,’ and the continuation of … Israeli settlements within Palestinian territories.” The church, which holds a $3 billion national investment portfolio, will become the second mainline Protestant denomination to vote on the controversial issue. Last year, the Presbyterian Church USA decided to begin a process of divestment from U.S. companies it believes benefit from the occupation.
In addition, the Presbyterians and United Methodist Church have supported shareholder actions against Illinois-based Caterpillar Inc. to end the use of its bulldozers in razing thousands of Palestinian homes. And both the Methodists and the Episcopal Church have launched studies of the divestment issue.
The divestment activity among Christian churches has drawn widespread protests from the Jewish community. Many Jewish organizations, including the orthodox leadership of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the liberal Progressive Jewish Alliance, have argued that divestment against U.S. companies in Israel is biased and counterproductive to the Middle East peace process just as it seems to hold some promise.
“It’s heavy-handed, blames only one party and won’t achieve the goals supporters claim they’re trying to achieve,” said Mark Pelavin, director of the inter-religious affairs commission for Reform Judaism, the United States’ largest Jewish denomination with 1.5 million members. Reform rabbis have been meeting with their United Church of Christ counterparts since last year to convey their concerns about the divestment initiatives, he said.
The UCC’s divestment resolution was one of three Israel-related measures recently approved by the church’s executive council for presentation at its general synod in July. An alternative measure calls for only an initial study on the divestment issue, while a third urges Israel to dismantle its separation wall.