Church carefully weighs divestment issue

Published January 1, 2005

A Palestinian woman and her child shopping on the streets of Nablus amid posters praising Palestinian martyrs and prisoners. A member of the Anglican Peace and Justice Network who visited the area recently said network representatives “were shocked by the physical and spiritual deterioration of the situation” in Israeli-occupied territories.

Mississauga, Ont.

Archbishop Andrew Hutchison, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, said Anglicans must attempt to “have a balance” when dealing with the issue of Israeli-Arab conflict in the Middle East, even as some denominations are reviewing their investment policies with regards to multinational corporations doing business in Israel.

“There has been concern that some of the rise in anti-Semitism has come from criticism of the Israeli government,” said Archbishop Hutchison. He acknowledged that as former bishop of Montreal, where a large number of Holocaust survivors now resides “that’s where my ear has been seriously bent.”

He said that while he is “aware of the importance of standing in solidarity with our minority Christian brothers in the Middle East,” he also believes that the issue of imposing economic sanctions, among other acts of pushing the peace process, is “a complex one” that could also have repercussions for inter-faith dialogue.

The primate told the members of Council of General Synod (CoGS), who met here in November, that he has written to Victor Goldbloom, the national executive chair of the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC) and former president of the Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, underlining that the issue of divestment “is complicated.”

The CJC has expressed concern over reports that Anglicans may follow the lead of the Presbyterian Church (USA), which voted last year to withdraw from holdings in multinational corporations doing business in Israel as a way of pressuring the Israeli government to withdraw its armed forces from occupied areas of the West Bank and Gaza.

Concerns were raised after a visit to the Middle East last September by the Anglican Peace and Justice Network (APJN), which included a representative from the Anglican Church of Canada – Cynthia Patterson of the diocese of Quebec. Media reports said the network had recommended divestment as a strategy for pushing peace in the the area.

In a written report to CoGS, Ms. Patterson clarified that APJN had not called for divestment, but that some members had mentioned the idea in independent interviews by Ha’aretz newspaper.

Ms. Patterson said APJN representatives from 23 provinces, particularly those who had visited Israel previously, “were shocked by the physical and spiritual deterioration of the situation” in the Israeli-occupied territories.

She reported that, “since the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords in 1994, the expansion of settlements built illegally on occupied land has proceeded rapidly and on a stunningly large scale.”

She suggested many ways of engagement, including the examination of financial assets to “see if there are opportunities for dialogue and engagement with corporations whose products (for example, bulldozers) repeatedly take a deadly toll on housing, life and land,” as well as efforts to visit the Holy Land, a commitment to a period of reading and research on the issue, as well as outreach and relief work.

The Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA) has devoted a year to review what corporate actions it might take on Israel’s ongoing occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

ECUSA’s Social Responsibility in Investments Committee said it would do this in partnership with the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East and with the APJN, with input from ecumenical and interfaith partners in the U.S., and from Jewish and Palestinian groups in the Middle East.

Other churches that are conducting their own reviews are the Church of England and the Scottish Episcopal Church. The Anglican Church of Canada has said it will engage in an “education process,” Ellie Johnson, director of the partnerships department said in an interview with Anglican Journal.


  • Marites N. Sison

    Marites (Tess) Sison was editor of the Anglican Journal from August 2014 to July 2018, and senior staff writer from December 2003 to July 2014. An award-winning journalist, she has more that three decades of professional journalism experience in Canada and overseas. She has contributed to The Toronto Star and CBC Radio, and worked as a stringer for The New York Times.

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