Protestant-Jewish group in Israel to meet on divestment

Protestant organizations are calling for financial measures against companies in order to put pressure Israel to leave the West Bank.

A group of US Protestant and Jewish religious and lay leaders are arriving in Israel today for a series of meetings with Israeli and Palestinians. The leaders are trying to reach an arrangement, or at least mutual understanding, on the intensive campaign by Protestant sects for divestment of church money in companies doing business with Israel.

In recent years, particularly in the past two years, Protestant churches and organizations have been calling for a “moral approach” to investment. The phrase is a code word designed to justify taking financial measures against foreign companies trading with Israel or doing business there in order to pressure Israel to leave the West Bank and soften what the Protestants call its harsh policy against Palestinian citizens.

The group has seventeen members. Its visit to Israel was initiated by Jewish organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Congress, which view with increasing concern Protestant initiatives against companies maintaining connections with Israel. Each Protestant and Jewish organization in the delegation is paying the expenses of its members in the group.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), one of the large Protestant sects, decide a year ago to selectively withdraw money that had been invested in six companies doing business with Israel. The World Council of Churches, another Protestant group, decided to withdraw its money six months ago.

The leadership of the United Church of Christ voted down a divestment proposal, but condemned the security fence around Palestinian land, and called on companies to use economic leverage to promote peace in the Middle East.

”This trip is meant to knock everyone off their high chairs,” said ADL director of Interfaith Affairs Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor. The problem, he added, was not so much divestment but “a greater misunderstanding that occurs between Jews and mainline Protestants over Israel, the Holy Land, covenant, mission, ultimately rightful claims to land and space.”

Tomorrow, the delegation will go on a “walk through Jewish history” tour. They will visited the site of a terrorist attack, and meet with Knesset members, one of the negotiators in the Camp David peace talks lead by then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and a representative of the Vatican in Israel.

The delegation will later visit Bethlehem University, view a section of the security fence, meet with Palestinian leaders, visit Yad Vashem, and talk with Arab Israelis, and with Palestinians whose homes were demolished by the Israel Defense Forces.

Last month, the ADL revealed that the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, a Christian Palestinian organization founded in 1990, was behind the campaign for divestment against companies doing business with Israel.

Published by Globes [online] - www.globes.co.il - on September 18, 2005

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