Church Plans Divestment Vote Over Israel Issues

Times Staff Writer

The 1.4-million-member United Church of Christ will vote this summer on whether to divest from certain U.S. firms doing business with Israel, 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. firms it believes benefit from the occupation.

In addition, the Presbyterians and United Methodist Church have supported shareholder actions against Caterpillar Inc. of Illinois to end the use of its bulldozers in razing thousands of Palestinian homes. Both the Methodists and the Episcopal Church have launched studies of the divestment issue for possible action.

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. firms in Israel is biased and counterproductive to the Mideast 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 nation’s 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 in July at its biennial national conference, known as a general synod. An alternative measure calls for an initial study on the divestment issue. A third urges Israel to dismantle its separation wall.

About 700 synod delegates, who are elected by the church’s 39 regional conferences or are board members of its four national ministries, will vote on the resolutions.

The Rev. Alan McLarty of the UCC’s Penn West Conference said his regional body sponsored the proposed resolution to “affirm that God seeks shalom, peace, that will bring health and wholeness to all people in the Mideast.”

McLarty, whose regional conference represents nearly 20,000 members in western Pennsylvania and Maryland, said the resolution was aimed not at punishing Israel but promoting U.S. corporate responsibility.

The resolution affirms Israel’s right to exist, condemns violence on both sides of the conflict and notes that the church passed a resolution against global anti-Semitism three years ago.

But the resolution also says that “the roots of terrorism begin in the unjust and inequitable situation in Israel/Palestine” and that decades of formal statements by the church urging a just settlement have not succeeded.

The resolution calls Caterpillar Inc. an initial divestment candidate, blaming its bulldozers for destroying Palestinian homes and crushing to death Rachel Corrie, an American peace activist, in 2003. Her parents are currently suing both the Israeli government and Caterpillar for their daughter’s death. Caterpillar has said it is impossible to monitor the use of its equipment worldwide.