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In September 2005, the Church of England's Ethical Investment Advisory Group decided "not to recommend" disinvestment from Caterpillar Inc., the American manufacturer of giant bulldozers supplied to the Israel Defense Forces. The committee noted its decision was taken "particularly at the present time of political fluidity given Israel's disengagement from Gaza."
"Fluidity" is a polite word for the revolutionary turn of events in this case. Indeed, the very bulldozers that have been used by the IDF to destroy buildings in the course of defensive actions against Palestinian terrorism, or against illegal Palestinian buildings, have been used to destroy entire Jewish settlements and, most recently, to flatten illegal Jewish buildings at Amona.
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It is with some degree of shock, then, that we viewed the vote of the Church of England's highest decisionmaking body, the General Synod, on February 6 to "heed the call from our sister church, the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, for 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."
This, in plain English, is a call for disinvestment. On Friday, however, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, who supported the disinvestment motion that passed in the synod, wrote to British Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks to express his "deep regret [that...] distress has been caused, especially to our Jewish friends." The letter continued, "The synod has not, by this action, resolved to disinvest." This effort to "register concern... is emphatically not to commend a boycott, or to question the legitimacy of the State of Israel and its rights to selfdefense; least of all is it to endorse any kind of violence or terror against Israel or its people, or to compromise our commitment to oppose any form of anti-Semitism at home or abroad."
These sentiments are, of course, heartwarming under the circumstances, but serve to illustrate exactly the problems with the action the synod has taken, in evident contradiction to the recommendation of its own ethical investment committee. What the church has done is call for disinvestment while deciding not to heed its own call. The effects of this call, regardless of how much Williams may wish it not so, are to question the legitimacy of Israel and its right to self defense, to inflame anti-Semitism in England and elsewhere and to encourage terrorism against Israel.
Terrorism and the disinvest campaign against Israel, after all, do not occur either in isolation or in a vacuum. Regardless of how they are billed, murderous attacks against Israelis or attempts to paint Israel as an illegitimate "apartheid" or "colonial" state are not about building a Palestinian state but about destroying the only Jewish one.
This can be seen by anyone willing to open his eyes and see what Israelis and Palestinians have done. Israelis are so committed to creating a Palestinian state that they overwhelmingly supported the unilateral dismantling of settlements - with those Caterpillar bulldozers - despite four years of relentless suicide bombings that cost us a thousand dead. And now, even after the rise of Hamas, the Israeli electorate is poised to endorse the path of further disengagement - which means an openness, and even a desire, to create a Palestinian state even if the Palestinians are not ready for peace with Israel.
So at the moment when Israel is taking strides toward the two state solution and the Palestinians, through the election of Hamas, have taken strides away from it, the Church of England sees fit to send a signal to both sides: Israel should be sanctioned and the Palestinians, by implication, should be encouraged.
By what stretch of the imagination is such a step moral? How does it make sense? Does the church want to discourage Israel in the path it is taking and encourage the Palestinians in theirs?
Our only conclusion is that the church would rather take cheap "moral" shots than see or think about the conflict as it is. Saying otherwise, or apologizing to a British Jewish leader rather than to the State of Israel, is not enough. If Williams and the church really care about Palestinians and Israelis, and about discouraging anti-Semitism and terrorism, they should be reversing their recent moves and instead joining the global demands that the Palestinians end terrorism and accept the right of a Jewish state to exist and to defend itself.