This post has been updated
This summer the General Synod of the United Church of Christ will meet “to consider the business of the church and its relationship with the wider world.” It appears likely that resolutions will be considered – similar to one adopted by the Presbyterian Church USA during their 2004 General Assembly – which could lead to the UCC divesting resources from Israel. The purpose of such a move would be to put pressure on the right-wing Lukid Party in power in Israel that has systematically neglected the human rights of the Palestinian people. American financial resources are used to help fund weapons for Israeli soldiers and demolition of Palestinian homes.
Such a move would not be without controversy. Israelis and some Jewish Americans have called the Presbyterian Church USA decision anti-Semitic. Someone has recently been taken into custody for making threats against Presbyterian churches in response to their divestment decision. Nonetheless, there is widespread agreement among human rights activists that the Lukid Party has pursued policies that have widened the conflict in the Middle East and increased the suffering of the Palestinian people. Recent moves toward peace – like Israel’s announcement this week that they would stop targeting suspected terrorists for assassination – brings some hope. All efforts toward peace should be applauded. However, widespread human rights abuses continue.
The Middle East and Europe Office of the Common Global Ministries Board of the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) recently released a study guide on the divestment issue. The guide includes a letter from American Jewish leaders urging American Christians not to consider divestment. Global Ministries reports there are five levels of economic leverage churches hoping to pressure the Israeli government might consider: selective investment, corporate engagement or shareholder activism, progressive engagement, selective and immediate divestment, and full and immediate divestment.
Any action taken by the UCC needs to take seriously the security concerns of Israel. There is no question that given the opportunity some of their neighbors would attempt to overrun the nation. Terrorist groups routinely kill civilians. Full and immediate divestment would send the wrong signal to the people of Israel and the rest of the world. “Israel already feels isolated and hated by the international community. A movement for divestment would foster that feeling of alienation and could lead to Israel's complete retreat from international involvement with the peace process,” states the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. RAC is one of the most important progressive voices in America today and their warning should carry enormous weight with all those who advocate peace.
I would, however, support measures under consideration other than immediate divestment. Rabbi Michael Lerner, founder of Tikkun, is quoted as saying that: "Tikkun supports limited and targeted boycotts or dis-investment against firms or targets directly related to the Occupation of the West Bank (e.g. against Caterpillar), but does NOT support a general boycott or disinvestment campaign against Israel.” Caterpillar provides the bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes. Targeted investment strategies should be considered by the UCC General Synod. The United Church of Christ already has policies that promote socially responsible investments of church resources here in the United States. We should apply the same standards to any financial holdings our church bodies have with businesses or governments that play a role in the Occupation.
Our responsibility cannot end with investment strategies. If the UCC wants to play a more active role advocating for peace then our denomination should demand of itself increased financial support for aid organizations that benefit both the Israeli and Palestinian people. New resources should be provided for Global Ministries to send church workers to the area to support local Christian communities and their efforts to foster peace. We need to remember that our calling as Christians is to relate to both the Palestinians and Israelis as children of the same God. We are their brothers and sisters. Any action our denomination takes should keep that thought front and center.
Money, morals and Israel: The Presbyterian case for divesting from Israel (Christian Century)
The Palestinians, Israel, and the churches' economic leverage (Global Ministries)
Update: Ecumenical News Service published the following related article on Feb. 21:
Geneva (ENI). The World Council of Churches on Monday urged its members to consider economic measures to oppose Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and praised the action of a US denomination that has started a process of selective divestment from companies linked to the occupation. "Multinational corporations have been involved in the demolition of Palestinian homes," the WCC's main governing body said in a statement. They "are involved in the construction of settlements and settlement infrastructure on occupied territory, in building a dividing wall which is also largely inside occupied territory, and in other violations of international law".