Rabbi Lori Cohen addresses Anglican primate Archbishop Andrew Hutchison at a recent interfaith dinner held in Toronto’s Beth Tzedec Synagogue.
Archbishop Andrew Hutchison recently assured Toronto’s Jewish community that no proposal for disinvestment from companies with ties to Israel has come before the Anglican Church of Canada, “nor is such a proposal on the agenda for consideration.”
Speaking at the 20th annual neighbourhood interfaith dinner held in the Beth Tzedec Synagogue in Toronto, the primate of the Canadian Anglican church said he was “pleased” to know that the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PCUSA) is reconsidering its decision, approved in 2004, for “selective divestment” of its holdings in corporations doing business with Israel as a strategy for pursuing peace in the Middle East.
PCUSA, “where this (divestment) movement seems to have originated, is stepping back from its position,” said Archbishop Hutchison. “In June its General Assembly will receive a motion to suspend the offending resolution.”
Archbishop Hutchison also clarified reports that the Anglican Communion has voted to disinvest in Israel. “May I say right away, on the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, the reports are not correct,” he said.
He explained, however, that there were calls for divestment from various groups following a call made by the Anglican bishop in Jerusalem, Riah Abu El-Assal, who is Palestinian, to disinvest from Caterpillar Inc., since its bulldozers are used by Israeli soldiers to destroy Palestinian homes in the occupied territories.
“It is a call that was given serious attention by a network of justice and peace co-ordinators in the Anglican Communion, meeting about a year ago,” and recently, by a meeting of the Church of England’s General Synod, said Archbishop Hutchison. The synod had adopted a resolution to heed the call “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.”
Archbishop Hutchison explained that the resolution had included “a resolve to continue to deliberate the issue,” including conversations with Caterpillar. “Following those consultations, the Ethical Investment Advisory Group of the English synod was to report again to Synod with an update of its recommendations,” he said. “While none of this will be pleasing to some of you, it is a long way from a decision to disinvest either from Caterpillar, or the State of Israel.”
The advisory group recommended March 7 that the church hold on to its $4.4 million stake in Caterpillar because “there are no current or projected sales by Caterpillar equipment for use by the Israeli government.” However, it said it would “revisit” this decision if direct sales began.
Archbishop Hutchison also said that criticisms of Israel are likely to emerge from time to time since the Anglican Communion “is not a monolithic institution. It is a family of 38 independent churches in communion with each other.”
Nevertheless, he said, “we must be clear in saying that criticism of a policy or action of the State of Israel is not a criticism of Judaism, or of the Jewish people. It is criticism of a political decision and only that.” At the same time, he added, “given the legacy of Christian anti-Semitism, churches must be particularly sensitive about the perception of their stances. Too often our pronouncements and actions are one-sided and allow for an interpretation that is far beyond what is intended.”
Jewish leaders in Canada and around the world have condemned calls for divestment as “one-sided” and harmful to the Middle East peace process.
The Anglican Church of Canada has stated that it would engage in an “education process” before arriving at any decision. Last fall, the Council of General Synod, the church’s governing body in between General Synods, passed a resolution urging its eco-justice committee to request Kairos, a Canadian ecumenical justice group to which it belongs, to research the activities of companies “believed to be contributing to ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine,” as well as those “contributing to ongoing peace and economic stability” in that region. The resolution also issued a call to “explore a range of socially responsible investment strategies, including corporate engagement and positive investment or divestment.”
The dinner, which drew a crowd of about 400, was attended by members of the Beth Sholom Synagogue, Beth Tzedec Synagogue, Calvin Presbyterian Church, Holy Blossom Temple, Holy Rosary Catholic Church, Temple Sinai, Timothy Eaton Memorial Church, Yorkminster Park Baptist Church and the Anglican churches of St. Clement’s, Christ Church Deer Park and Grace Church-on-the-Hill.