Thursday, June 23, 2005

Church may black firms over Israeli 'occupation'

Church may black firms over Israeli 'occupation'
By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent
(Filed: 23/06/2005)

The Anglican Church is expected to back a report tomorrow urging it to disinvest in companies that "support the occupation" of Palestinian lands. The report has been heavily criticised by senior clerics and Jewish leaders and its adoption would place the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, in a difficult position.

Drawn up by the Anglican Justice and Peace Network, it will be debated by the Anglican Consultative Council in Nottingham, an international body that makes recommendations to the 75 million-strong Church.

The report calls on the Church to put moral pressure on firms deemed to be supporting controversial Israeli policies such as the security fence or the clearing of Palestinian homes. Its authors believe that, as a last resort, the Church should disinvest its holdings in companies that prove unresponsive.


Some would also like the Church to boycott goods produced in the Israeli settlements in the South Bank. These range from flowers and dates to parts for electronic equipment.

The Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, the Rt Rev Riah Hanna Abu El-Assal, said that the adoption of the report would send a strong signal to Israel and raise awareness.

"It is not the amount of money that is important," said the bishop, who was host to the network when it visited the region last year. "It is a symbolic way of speaking for those who, for example, have had their homes demolished."

He said the Church had significant funds invested in companies such as the Caterpillar group, which manufactured the bulldozers used in clearance projects in Israel.

He warned the council against watering down the "mild" recommendations of the report when it is debated on Friday, saying that it would undermine the Church's credibility.

Pressure is growing for increased sanctions against Israel, and the Presbyterian Church in the US has already begun a similar programme.

At the same time Israel appears to be preparing to make significant concessions to revive the peace process in the Middle East, and senior Anglicans have come under pressure to drop the report.

Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said earlier this month that approval of the report would be "disastrous" for peace efforts in the region. He said that the Israelis already felt traumatised by attacks on them and this would be "another knife in the back".

The Chief Rabbi's office and the Board of Deputies have made strong private representations to senior Anglican figures, including Dr Williams, who is the president of the council.

A spokesman for the Chief Rabbi said that a policy of disinvestment "would not only be misguided, particularly at the present time, but it would have worrying effects on the long-established ties between Jewish and Anglican communities worldwide".

If the report is adopted tomorrow, the 38 provinces which make up the worldwide Church will be asked to implement it, but they will be under no obligation to do so.

• The Anglican Consultative Council yesterday reaffirmed its commitment to traditional Church teaching on homosexuality following efforts by liberal Americans and Canadians to justify their consecration of a gay bishop and sanctioning of gay "blessings". The council also narrowly voted to exclude Americans and Canadians from key committees of the Council, at least until the 2008 Lambeth Conference.


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