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Pro-Palestinian activists in Britain and North America seem to be losing ground in their campaign to punish Israel through a campaign of divestment by churches from companies whose products are used in the territories.
Last week, the Anglican archbishop of Canada stated his church did not back divestment, while in Britain, the Church of England's investment advisers have assured the Jewish community that pressure by pro-Palestinian activists will not change their stand against disinvestment.
Speaking at the Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto on April 5, Archbishop Andrew Hutchison said, "No proposal for disinvestment has come before us in Canada, nor is such a proposal on the agenda for consideration."
Contrary to published reports, the Anglican Communion had not backed the call for divestment, Hutchison said. "May I say right away, on the authority of the archbishop of Canterbury himself, the reports are not correct," he told the Jewish-Christian gathering.
A recipient of the Jerusalem Prize and the Alan Rose Award from the Canadian Jewish Congress for his interfaith work, Hutchison spoke of his close ties to leaders of the Canada's Jewish community, including philanthropist Charles Bronfman and the chairman of the CJC's national executive, Victor Goldbloom, and of the importance of their shared work.
Freedom to criticize government actions were necessary components for a civil society, Hutchison said, but noted that the church must be prudent in its comments about Israel.
"Criticism of a policy or action of the State of Israel is not a criticism of Judaism, or of the Jewish people," he said, but added that "given the legacy of Christian anti-Semitism, churches must be particularly sensitive about the perception of their stances. Too often our pronouncements and actions are one-sided and allow for an interpretation that is far beyond what is intended."
Hutchison said the Presbyterian church in the US was "stepping back from its position" in support of divestment and "in June its General Assembly will receive a motion to suspend the offending resolution." He noted that the Church of England's Ethical Investment Advisory Group [EIAG] had also reaffirmed its rejection of divestment.
A coalition of pro-Palestinian activists within the Church of England and European and Israeli Jewish peace groups wrote the archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, on March 17 asking him to overrule the EIAG and back the divestment plan adopted by the church's parliament, the General Synod.
On February 6, the synod, with the support of the Williams, called for a "morally responsible investment in the Palestinian occupied territories and, in particular, to disinvest from companies profiting from the illegal occupation, such as Caterpillar Inc., until they change their policies". The EIAG responded that it opposed divestment from Caterpillar.
Williams declined to respond to the activists' demands, and on April 11, the coalition petitioned the trustees of the church's investment funds to punish Israel through divestment.
It argued that the plight of the Palestinians had been "caused by the systematic de-development of the territories over the last 40 years, including theft and destruction by Israel of Palestinian land, water, food and homes."
"The products of one company, Caterpillar, are used extensively in both the construction of the illegal separation wall and the destruction of thousands of homes," it argued, stating it believed "investment in companies like Caterpillar, which are profiting from such extensive human rights violations," was immoral.
Among the 19 groups signing the letter were Action Around Bethlehem Children with Disability, the Amos Trust, Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine, Campaign Against the Arms Trade, the Council for Arab-British Understanding, European Jews for a Just Peace, Friends of Sabeel UK, International Committee Against House Demolitions, Interpal, Jewish Socialists' Group, Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Just Peace UK, Labor Middle East Council, Medical Aid for Palestinians, Pax Christi and War on Want.
However, in the third of a series of private meetings, the EIAG told the leaders of the Board of Deputies of British Jews that it had thoroughly reviewed the claims of the divestment activists and was not persuaded of the case for divestment.
One participant at the March 16 meeting told The Jerusalem Post that while the EIAG would monitor the situation, "unless there are material changes to the facts on the ground, the EIAG will not be changing their position. Accordingly, the policy will not change with any further representations at future synods or indeed any other lobbying, unless cogent new evidence of a change of circumstances is presented."