The World Council of Churches (WCC) has urged its members to consider economic measures to oppose Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory and praised the action of a denomination in the United States that has started a process of selective divestment from companies linked to the occupation.
“Multinational corporations have been involved in the demolition of Palestinian homes,” said the WCC’s main governing body in a statement adopted during a February meeting in Geneva. They “are involved in the construction of settlements and settlement infrastructure on occupied territory, in building a dividing wall which is also largely inside occupied territory, and in other violations of international law.”
The WCC’s central committee commended the action of the Presbyterian Church in the United States (PCUSA) in initiating a process of phased, selective divestment from multinational corporations involved in the occupation.
The WCC committee encouraged its 347 member churches “to give serious consideration to economic measures that are equitable, transparent and non-violent.” (The Anglican Church of Canada has stated that it plans no action regarding divestment from Israel “at this time.”)
WCC’s decision drew strong reaction from the Israeli government and Jewish organizations in the United States.
“We don’t see this sort of one-sided decision as being helpful and constructive when there is new hope and when Israel has decided to pull out of Gaza and take down the settlements in part of the West Bank,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson Mark Regey told Ecumenical News International.
U.S. Jewish leaders said the WCC statement was ill timed and surprising given the recent progress in Middle East peace efforts, including a summit in February between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
“The Middle East has changed radically in recent weeks,” said David Harris, director of the American Jewish Committee. He added that the WCC’s action “actually undermines the renewed peace process, and only serves the interests of those in the Arab world opposed to Arab-Israeli peace.”
Jewish organizations have criticized PCUSA’s decision, calling it unfair. More recently, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights group, asked the church to suspend its decision. In a letter to Clifton Kirkpatrick, PCUSA’s chief executive, the centre suggested that recent good-faith actions taken by Israel to improve relations with the Palestinians warranted a suspension of the divestment proposal.
The WCC’s governing body also reaffirmed one of its own earlier statements that “criticism of the policies of the Israeli government is not in itself anti-Jewish.”
With files from ENI and ENS.