Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Sabeel Conference Considers Economic Leverage as Tool to Fight Israeli Occupation

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Sabeel Conference Considers Economic Leverage as Tool to Fight Israeli Occupation

Article excerpt

For decades North American and European churches have composed countless, careful statements on the conflict in Palestine/Israel. They prayed for peace, passed resolutions, established missions on the ground, invested in institution-building for Palestinian Christians and engaged the international community in dialogue, delegations and declarations. Finally, after 38 years of Israeli military occupation of Palestine, some Christian denominations have crossed the great divide from making statements condemning the occupation to taking action that could result in economic consequences for corporations profiting from it. And the movement is growing. One Haaretz headline called it the "divestment snowball."

It began in June 2004, when the 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA adopted a resolution calling for "a process of phased selective divestment" from multinational corporations involved in Israel's illegal occupation. The target, clearly stated in the Presbyterian resolution, is the occupation-not, as opponents claim, the state of Israel itself or all businesses operating in Israel. The Presbyterian Church Mission Responsibility Through Investing (MRTI) Committee's strategy of phased, selective divestment named five such corporations: Caterpillar, well-known as the manufacturer of the armored D9 bulldozers Israel uses to demolish Palestinian homes; ITT Industries, which provides electrical equipment and communications to the Israel Defense Forces; United Technologies, which makes military equipment used by Israel; Motorola, which supplies wireless communications; and Citigroup, reported by the WaW Street Journal in April 2005 as having moved funds from charitable sources to "terrorist organizations."

Israel-Firsters React

The reaction by Israel-firsters to the Presbyterian initiative was swift and brutal. In an August 2004 Los Angeles Times op-ed, Alan Dershowitz, author of The case for Israel, wrote that "The Presbyterian Church (USA) has committed a grievous sin" and that the resolution "bursts with bigotry." When the World Council of Churches, The United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, American Friends Service Committee, and The Episcopal Church USA passed resolutions on what is accurately called morally responsible investment (MRI), as opposed to divestment, critics quickly organized a negative media campaign through the Internet and in major newspapers around the world. One Jerusalem Post article called the MRI strategy a "cycle of demonization" in which "radical church leaders" channel charitable funds to "extremists such as Sabeel."

After a year of negative media about the growing church movement, the Jerusalembased Palestinian Christian group Sabeel and its support organizations in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, proposed a gathering of key church representatives working on various economic strategies. A planning committee of Sabeel, the World Council of Churches, KAIROS (the Canadian Ecumenical Justice Initiatives), and the United Methodist Church organized an international conference on "A Call for Morally Responsible Investment: A Nonviolent Response to the Israeli Occupation." Held Oct. 26 to 29 in Toronto, it was aimed at representatives of churches actively pursuing economic leverage strategies, as well as those interested in learning more about it. The event was inspired by a document of the same name, published by Sabeel and available online at .

Fifty-seven co-sponsors funded and promoted the event including, in addition to those on the planning committee: Brothers of the Christian Schools, Christian Brothers Conference U.S./Toronto (who operate Bethlehem University); Episcopal Peace Fellowship; Presbyterian Peace Fellowship; Pax Christi USA; Christian Peacemaker Teams; Jewish Voice for Peace; and the Muslim Canadian Congress.

Close to 200 church representatives from Canada, the U.S., the U.K., the Netherlands, Brazil, and South Africa participated in the event. …

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