Israel challenged the morality of a decision by a US church to divest from companies that operate in the West Bank Tuesday, saying the Christian congregants would be better off helping to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians instead of helping the ‘demonization’ of the Jewish State.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said the United Church of Christ’s policies have “reflected the most radical politics for more than a decade and in no way reflect a moral stance or reality-based position.”
In 2005, the denomination passed a resolution calling for “economic leverage” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and had accused Israel of widespread human rights abuses against the Palestinians.
The US-based church’s General Synod endorsed the action on a vote of 508-124 with 38 abstentions during its meeting in Cleveland. The liberal Protestant group has its roots in churches founded by the English Pilgrims and Puritans as well as later immigrants from Germany and other countries.
“People of faith ought to be acting to help Israel and the Palestinians to renew efforts to achieve peace, rather than endlessly demonizing one party in the conflict — in our view, the aggrieved party,” Nahshon said following the vote.
The UCC resolution urged the divestment from Caterpillar, Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, security contractor G4S and Veolia Environment, which it said “have been found to profit from the occupation of the Palestinian territories by the state of Israel.”
The church also called to boycott Israeli companies operating in the West Bank, including Ahava skin care products, SodaStream and Hadiklaim dates.
The American Jewish Committee, an advocacy group based in New York, slammed the resolutions and said the action would “bolster those who oppose peace.”
Separately, the Episcopal Church, meeting in Salt Lake City, was considering a divestment resolution. And at another meeting this week, the Mennonite Church USA will also take up a divestment proposal.
The votes take place as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, known as BDS, gains strength on US college campuses and in many places in Europe. The Israeli government and many Jewish leaders have condemned the movement as anti-Semitic and an attempt to delegitimize Israel.
Peter Makari of Global Ministries, an agency that is part of the United Church of Christ, said the United Church of Christ vote was not “a blanket endorsement” of BDS, “but it’s in the spirit of the call.”
The denomination also voted on whether to label Israeli policies in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as “apartheid” but that proposition failed to win the two-thirds majority it need to be approved.
Last year, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to sell stock in a few companies whose products are used by Israel in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The United Church of Christ resolution was broader, with delegates calling on the denomination’s financial arms to sell off stock in any company profiting from what the church called human rights violations arising from the occupation.
The church’s two major financial arms, a pension board and investment fund, together control nearly $4 billion. Each is guided by directors who can decide whether to follow the call for divestment. If they do sell off stock, the economic impact on Israel is expected to be negligible.
Still, the vote aims to bring moral pressure for change from within the US, Israel’s closest and most important ally.
Makari said the resolutions “reflect our urgent concern for the worsening effects of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian people and lives, including the disparity in rights and power.” The church affirmed Israel’s right to exist, along with a “sovereign, independent” Palestinian state.