Canadian church group drops anti-Israel divestment program

Resolution passed calling for investments in "ethically responsible businesses" that will contribute to peace.

Jewish groups are cautiously welcoming a decision by the United Church of Canada to drop an overt program of divestment in Israel in favor of "a pro-peace investment strategy for the Middle East" that aims for "a just peace in Palestine and Israel." The UCC, Canada's largest Protestant denomination with close to three million adherents, on Thursday passed a resolution calling for investments in "ethically responsible businesses" which contribute to "peace and a secure and economically viable Palestinian state alongside a secure and economically viable State of Israel." An earlier plan unveiled by the UCC would have meant a boycott of goods made over the Green Line and divestment from companies "related to Israeli settlements in the occupied territories." The revised proposal - approved following a lengthy meeting - rejects dealings with "non-peaceful pursuits," which include businesses "that refuse to recognize the legitimate rights of the States of Israel, including its right to exist as a Jewish state." But it also includes those who provide "products, services or technology that sustain, support or maintain the occupation," have "established facilities or operations on occupied land" or give financial and other assistance to erecting "the separation barrier within occupied territories." B'nai Brith expressed guarded satisfaction that the resolution had been amended. "This latest move by the church to opt out of a divestment from Israel campaign represents an important and positive step forward in recognizing Israel's absolute right to exist and, seemingly by extension, its right to defend its citizens against terrorism," said Frank Dimant, executive vice president of B'nai Brith Canada. But he added, "The mere fact that an anti-Israel boycott was ever proposed betrays the church's entrenched negative attitudes towards the Jewish state." Canadian Jewish Congress National Executive Vice President Manuel Prutschi told the National Post that the approved motion was "more balanced." He also praised a church decision to raise $1 million to support "projects, initiatives and groups of any faith working for peace in Palestine and Israel." Organizations such as the CJC lobbied against divestment, and a dozen rabbis wrote to the UCC with their concerns. Some UCC officials, however, indicated that the motion still conformed to the original goals even if it used different language. "Divestment has a great deal of association to it. But the intention of the motion is still somewhat similar," Bruce Gregerson, a member of the church's senior leadership team, told the National Post. "The church is now requesting or encouraging its members, its constituents, its ministries and congregations to only invest in companies and corporations that support peace and justice in the Middle East."