Effort Eyed To Combat Divestment

By Marc Perelman

Published July 15, 2005, issue of July 15, 2005.
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In an effort to combat the growing mainline Protestant efforts to divest from Israel, a leading Jewish civil-rights organization is weighing the creation of a new interfaith coalition uniting liberal and conservative Christians.

A key piece of the plan, being considered by the American Jewish Congress, would be the recruitment of liberal Protestants to protest their church’s support for divestment. The first meeting of the would-be coalition is to be held in New York in early August. Its focus will be solely on Israel, particularly on combating efforts by Protestant churches to divest from companies doing business in Israel and on preventing academic boycotts against Israeli scholars.

“We need to reassess our relationship with those churches and work with the friends we have,” said Eugene Korn, the AJCongress’s new director of Jewish affairs and the driving force behind the effort. “After carefully studying the issue, I have come to the conclusion that the ideologues driving those divestment campaigns within those churches are fundamentally anti-Zionists.”

The decision by the AJCongress marks a departure from the cautious stance and quiet diplomacy adopted by most Jewish groups in response to several mainline Protestant churches taking up the divestment issue.

Last week, the United Church of Christ recently adopted at its general synod a resolution calling for the use of “economic leverage” to promote peace in the region, language criticized by several Jewish groups as a hidden way of calling for divestment. UCC delegates also voted a resolution asking Israel to remove its security barrier entirely, rejecting compromise language urging that the barrier be moved to reflect Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

In late June, the Anglican Church voted to think about divesting in companies that support the Israeli occupation, but also advised its regional groups to consider similar actions against companies that support terror against Israelis. During the past year, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the World Council of Churches, the United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church all passed similar measures at their annual meetings. Jewish groups have been trying to thwart such steps mostly through dialogue and behind-the-scenes diplomacy. But the AJCongress now appears willing to take a more confrontational course.

Korn said that a silent majority within leading mainline Protestant churches was favorable to Israel but has been kept in the dark and outmaneuvered by pro-Palestinian militants. The new interfaith coalition’s goal would be to reach out to those Israel-friendly members while tapping into the evangelical right’s traditional support for Israel.

While he refused to say specifically who would join the proposed coalition, Korn said it would include members of the Presbyterian Church, the UCC and possibly the Episcopal Church, alongside groups aligned with “moderate” evangelical groups, such as the Chicago-based International Fellowship of Christian and Jews.

The executive director of the American Jewish Congress, Neil Goldstein, has sent harshly worded letters to the leaders of the UCC and the Anglican Church urging them to rescind the divestment resolutions.

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