Anglicans Consider Divesting in Solidarity With Palestinians

The New York Times
Date: 06-24-05


LONDON, June 24 - The Anglican Church's international advisory body voted Friday to urge the church to consider withdrawing its investments in companies that support the occupation of Palestinian territories.

The move, presented as a message of solidarity with Palestinian Christians, immediately came under attack by Jewish groups, with some calling it ill timed and predicting a likely chill in Anglican-Jewish relations.

By voting to support the divestment measure, the Anglican Consultative Council, the church's most representative advisory group, recommended to its 38 provinces that they support a September 2004 report by the council's Peace and Justice Network.

That report, which condemns Israel's treatment of Palestinians, calls on the 75-million-member church to challenge and exert moral pressure on companies in its investment portfolio that support the occupation. The report's authors said the step should be considered only as a last resort, and the recommendations were strictly voluntary.

The council advised the provinces to "take appropriate action" regarding financial investments that bolster the occupation or that lead to "violence against innocent Israelis," through, for example, the acts of suicide bombers.

It is unclear how much weight the decision will carry. Last month, the Church of England's Ethical Investment Advisory Group opted not to withdraw a large investment in the Caterpillar Group and is unlikely to change its position. Caterpillar bulldozers have been used by the Israeli Army to raze Palestinian homes.

Before the vote, the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, Riah Hanna Abu El-Assal, who helped lead the effort, talked about the occupation's effect on Palestinian Christians. He urged council members to support the resolution, saying it would send a strong message of disapproval to Israel.

Canon James Rosenthal, the council's communications director, said the remarks, and those by others, resonated with group members.

"When we hear the Christian population has dwindled to 1.5 percent, we are dramatically concerned," Canon Rosenthal said. "We have heard stories of humiliating experiences by Christians, and it is clear that the council sees the support of the Christian community as one of their foremost concerns."

But the decision by the Anglican Church to support the contentious move at such a delicate time in Middle East relations and to frame it in terms of morality came under sharp attack. The proposal had previously been criticized by the former leader of the Church of England, George Carey, who called it "disastrous" to the peace effort.

"Israelis are already traumatized and feel that the world is against them," said Lord Carey, the former archbishop of Canterbury, earlier this month. The resolution, he added, would be "another knife in the back."

Abraham H. Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, deplored the action by the Anglican Church, calling it part of a wide pattern to discredit Israel and to do it by wrongly framing it as a moral issue.

"There seems to be something endemic in Britain to condemning Israel, demonizing it and isolating it," Mr. Foxman said. "It's a sad day, and for the Anglican Church to buy into this is even sadder."

The decision comes as the Anglican Communion, which includes the Episcopal Church USA, the Church of England, the Anglican Church of Canada and other churches, has been deeply divided over homosexuality.

On Wednesday, the Anglican Consultative Council voted to continue to exclude the American and Canadian wings of the church from the council and other central decision-making bodies because of those churches' acceptance of gay ordinations and blessings for same-sex unions.



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