Mainline Churches vs. Israel?
Will new church moves toward stopping investment in companies that do business in Israel endanger Christian-Jewish relations?
When the Presbyterian Church (USA), the nation's major Presbyterian body, decided this summer to move toward cutting off investments in select companies that do business with Israel, Jewish groups were caught off guard. They were outraged that divestment, a tactic utilized against apartheid South Africa, was now being advocated by a major American Protestant denomination as a means of pressuring the Jewish state.
"Prior to its pronouncement, had you asked me if this is on the agenda, I'd say I can't imagine it," said Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, director of interfaith affairs for the Anti-Defamation League.
Now, however, four months after the General Assembly of the2.4-million member church overwhelmingly voted
to "initiate a process of phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel," similar efforts in other mainline Protestant denominations appear to be gaining momentum.
In September, the Episcopal Church's Socially Responsible Investment committeerecommended that the church explore
whether to take action against companies that contribute to Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Officials with other mainline denominations, including the United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), say there is now heightened interest in divestment within their membership, though there are no specific proposals currently under consideration.
The embrace of divestment by mainline Protestants alarms Jewish communal leaders, who fear it is being used to stigmatize Israel. It also has brought to the fore longstanding divisions over the Middle East between Jewish groups and the liberal Protestant churches, traditional allies on domestic issues.
Mainline church officials emphasize their denominations' support for Israel's right to exist. But the churches, some of which have ties to Palestinian and Arab sister churches, have long been critical of the Israeli occupation and the country's use of force, as well as concerned about the Palestinians' plight. The Presbyterians' resolution on divestment called the occupation "the root of evil acts committed against innocent people on both sides of the conflict." In addition, the largest mainline denominations--the United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church, and Episcopal Church-- have all criticized the security barrier Israel is building in the West Bank. The United Methodist Church's General Board on Church and Societyissued a statement