The Church of England is to disinvest funds from companies profiting from Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.
The landmark decision was made in an overwhelming vote at the general synod of Britain’s established church on Monday night with the support of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams. The main target of the disinvestment plan is directed at funds investment in US-owned Caterpillar earth-moving equipment company, which manufactures bulldozers used by Israel to arbitrarily destroy Palestinian houses.
The decision comes after the worldwide Anglican Consultative Council called for such a move last summer, despite protests from Israel and Jewish lobby groups. It is believed that the church currently invests about pnds 2.5 million (dlrs 4.2 m) of its pnds 900 million share portfolio in Caterpillar. The first day of the synod, the church’s quasi-parliament, was dominated by denunciations of Israel’s use of the machines, including from one of its own bishops and from the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, Riah Hanna Abu El-Asal whose letter was read out. The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt. Rev. John Gladwin, who is also chairman of Christian Aid, told the meeting that the problem in the Middle East was the Israeli regime rather than Caterpillar and that it was vital that the church to invest only in ethical firms.
"Caterpillar may be a company being used for dreadful purposes across the world, but the problem is not Caterpillar. The problem is the situation in the Middle East and the government of Israel," the bishop was quoted saying by the Daily Telegraph Tuesday. Rev Simon Butler, from Southwark, south London, also warned Caterpillar that ‘in our understanding of sin, acts have consequences’.
The US firm, which has been the target of protests including at its plants in the UK, has insisted that it has not provided the earth movers directly to Israel but to the US military which sold them on. The move is seen as hugely symbolic but has to be approved by the Church Commissioners, which manages the church’s investment and property portfolio. The Telegraph suggested that the disinvestment decision put the Church of England on a collision course with Jewish leaders and the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey who has argued that Israel needs the church’s support. Carey argued that last summer’s report by the Anglican Consultative Council urging disinvestment would be ‘disastrous’ for peace efforts in the region. Last May, Britain’s biggest lecturers’ union backed an academic boycott of two Israeli universities but the move proved short-lived after it was overturned by an emergency executive following the controversial intervention by Foreign Office Minister Kim Howells. Sue Blackwell from the University of Birmingham, who led the academic campaign, said the importance of the original boycott decision showed that people will no longer be able to ignore the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians