ECUSA Rejects Divestment, Says Investment Is Key to Resolving Mideast Conflict

Contrary to expectations and observations by church policy analysts, the Episcopal Church USA decided not to “divest” from Israel as a means to secure peace in the Middle East.

"Our recommendation is not divestment, which I think some people were anticipating," the Rev. Canon Kate J. Cullinane, chair of the Social Responsibility in Investments committee, told the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church during its fall meeting in Las Vegas last week.

To divest would mean to walk away, she said. “We’re going to stay involved.”

The Council agreed with the SRI recommendations to use the church’s investments to encourage “positive change” in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Words like “positive investment” and “corporate engagement” were included throughout the executive council’s Oct. 8 resolution.

“The goal is for selected companies to change behavior resulting in a more hopeful climate for peace. If the church simply divests, nothing positive has happened,” the resolution stated.

The Episcopal Church’s decision comes during times of heightened tension between historic mainline churches and American Jewish groups surrounding the issue of divestment.

A handful of mainline denominations, headed by the Presbyterian Church USA, announced within the last year that they would consider pulling their investments from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of disputed Middle East territories.

Jewish groups and some conservative Christian organizations criticized that policy as unfairly targeting Israel in what is a two-party conflict. The Episcopal Church was among the churches criticized from considering the policy.

However, following last week’s decision, American Jewish groups released statements “lauding” the church and urged other protestant denominations to follow suit.

“As the committee's report acknowledges, divestment from Israel does not offer any positive steps toward solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” a statement from Neil B. Goldstein, Executive Director of the American Jewish Congress, read. “Other churches and organizations promoting divestment-such as the Presbyterian Church USA and the World Council of Churches-would do well to recognize this basic truth, and reverse their policies accordingly.”

The Episcopal Church’s resolution directs the SRI committee to “engage in dialogue with and, where appropriate, to file shareholder resolutions" with companies in which the church invests who operate in the Occupied Territories and "whose products or services contribute to violence against either side, or contribute to the infrastructure that supports and sustains the Occupation."

And in stark contrast to divestment strategies, the resolution encouraged companies to “invest” in West Bank and Gaza Strip infrastructure.

Full text of the SRI committee's report to Executive Council is available online at: http:// www.episcopalchurch.org/1866_68277_ENG_HTM.htm.