American churches vs Israeli caterpillar tractors [Archives:2005/804/Opinion]

January 6 2005

In August 30, 2004, Common Sense discussed the decision by the Presbyterian Church, which has an investment portfolio of US $ 8 billion, that Church investments in American and international companies dealing with Israel was a disservice to peace in the region. Starting with Caterpillar, Inc., the Church has looked seriously at using its strong investment portfolio as leverage towards working for real peace in the region and to halt the injustice and suffering of the Palestinians in the wake of the Israeli occupation policies of doing everything to make life as miserable as possible for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Driven by a moral conscience and a belief that the Church should use whatever it has at its disposal to promote peace and to end the wanton rape of the Holy Land by Zionist bulldozers, that have continuously sought to change the demographic and social make up of the West Bank to make room for illegal settlements and to set up elaborate defense and security systems that make normal life for the Palestinians almost impossible. The decision taken in July of last year has stirred up considerable controversy and encouraged other churches to consider following suit, namely the Episcopalian Church and the Methodist Church. The American Zionist lobby has sought to discourage any such practice and has diligently worked to counter any further organized Church efforts to boycott such firms that provide Israel with the instruments of its transgressions.

What has even made the Zionist lobby in the United States even more jittery is that a current poll being carried out by the Christian Science Monitor has yielded astonishing results that baffle organizations like the American Jewish Committee. In the meantime the voting on the poll being conducted by the Christian Science Monitor has shown that 2 out of 3 Americans actually support such action by church congregations, because they feel that it is not proper that churches should sit idle when they have the ability to influence government policy and exact pressure on the parties involved by indirect economic boycotts. The more than one million votes tallied so far have shown that more than 65% of Americans believe that divesting investments in such companies is sound Christian policy and called for, in light of continued Israeli intransigence and the Bush Administration bias towards Israel's aggressive policies in the occupied territories.

The AJP and other pro Zionist groups are working diligently to convince the Churches that such actions are discriminatory, etc. but the Churches in question have so far stood their grounds, believing that their moral principles drive them to such actions. With the Bush Administration showing little fanfare for an effective US policy that truly seeks to end the miserable situation caused by the Israeli illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza and the systematic death and destruction unleashed by American military equipment and destruction equipment, originally intended for construction purposes, provided to Israel by the US government, the Churches have decided that enough dallying is called for if Israel is to succumb to any efforts for genuine peace. Thus every effort is being used by the American Jewish lobby to convince the Churches to cease such radical approaches to promoting peace. In defense of the Church's decision, the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, a Presbyterian leader, wrote to members of the US Congress: “The decision to initiate a process of phased, selective divestment … was not taken lightly.”It was born out of the frustration that many of our members, as well as members of other denominations, feel with the current policies of Israel and those of our own government.”, as quoted from the Christian Science Monitor.

The American Zionist lobby is shown by the reaction of the AJC: “To call for divestment played into all the language of boycott, from earlier periods in Jewish history to the Arab boycott of Israel. It caused an explosion in the Jewish community,” says David Elcott, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee (AJC). To manifest the rise in tension provoked by the divestment decision, the Christian Science Monitor said: “Tensions rose when a Presbyterian delegation traveling in the Middle East in October met with members of Hizbullah, the Lebanese group on the US terrorist list. The church's national leadership disavowed the action. Then in November, the church received a letter threatening arson against Presbyterian churches unless it halted the divestment process.”

Rev. Marthame Sanders, who was in ministry in the West Bank said, explaining the Presbyterian Church position: “We have to be principled; we respect human rights and the legitimacy of international law, and when Israelis or Palestinians breech either we'll take a hard look at our investments.”

Even Jewish peace activist groups have found merit in the idea: “Some US Jewish peace groups support the initiative, Mr. Sanders says, including Jewish Voice for Peace. JVP has filed its own shareholder initiative asking Caterpillar Inc. to investigate whether Israeli use of its bulldozers to demolish Palestinian homes violates the firm's code of conduct.” according to the Christian Science Monitor.

The Methodist Church has also indicated that it is looking into the use of divestment as a means of encouraging better moves towards peace: “The notion that a two-state solution might no longer be realistic is very unsettling to many people, both Jewish and Christian,” says Jim Winkler of the United Methodist Church's public policy board.

It probably wont be long before Americans at the grass roots level, like their European counterparts will come into sharp conflict with their politicians, who have been led to believe that siding with Israeli contempt for human rights is the only way to get votes.