Despite an outcry from American Jews, a Presbyterian Church (USA) committee
has taken its first steps toward a process of selective divestment of its
financial stake in companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of
On Tuesday, the church announced the standards it would use to identify
which companies in its portfolio perpetuate the Israeli-Palestinian
discord. Once identified, those companies will be asked to change their
business practices with parties that play a role in the conflict.
The church, which traces its history to the 16th Century and the Protestant
Reformation, has about 2.5 million members, 11,200 congregations and 21,000
The church has not determined how much of its $8 billion in holdings would
qualify for potential divestment. The last time the church voted with its
portfolio to protest a foreign government was to deter Sudan's Islamic
government from waging war on Christians and animists in the southern part
of the country. Divestment was also used to encourage an end to apartheid
in South Africa.
The step toward divestment in the Middle East further deepens the rift
between Presbyterians and Jews, among whom relations were starting to fray.
Anger intensified last month when, shortly after a visit to Chicago, a
Presbyterian theologian accompanied a church delegation to Lebanon to meet
with leaders of the militant group Hezbollah. Local Jews were offended by
his comments that Islamic leaders were easier to talk to than Jews.
On Wednesday about 30 Presbyterian and Jewish delegates from Chicago will
resume a formal dialogue to confront the explosive issues head o
Jewish opponents view the divestment strategy, adopted in July, as an
effort to undermine Israel. Presbyterian proponents say it's an attempt to
end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that threatens their missions in the
Middle East and to end oppression of the Palestinians