NEW YORK - The governing body of the World Council of Churches has asked its members to consider bringing economic pressure on companies that benefit from Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories. American Jewish leaders have condemned the recommendation as biased.
The Central Committee of the Geneva-based ecumenical group said Monday that its members should look to the Presbyterian Church, (U.S.A.), as a model for pursuing divestment. The Presbyterians voted last year to research divesting from companies that profit from the Israeli presence in the West Bank and Gaza - a strategy the World Council committee said was "commendable in both method and manner" and "uses criteria rooted in faith."
However, the Presbyterian vote sparked a crisis in U.S. Jewish-Christian relations that remains unresolved despite several meetings between leaders of both faiths.
U.S. Jewish leaders from across the political spectrum said the approach was one-sided, since the Presbyterians made no concurrent demand that the Palestinian Authority work to end suicide bombings against Israelis. Jewish leaders predicted any divestment would harden Israel against a negotiated settlement, ultimately hurting the Palestinians.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, the international Jewish human rights group based in Los Angeles, has asked the Presbyterians to suspend their move toward divestment in light of the revival of talks between Israel and the new Palestinian government.
The World Council panel noted in its statement that "there is a renewal of hope" in the Mideast and said it welcomed "that momentum is building for peace," but said "there is not yet a reduction of the threats that separate the parties to the conflict."
The Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish civil rights group based in New York, chided the World Council panel for making the recommendation without consulting Jewish leaders.
The World Council says its 340 Protestant and Orthodox Christian member denominations represent about 400 million people. Mainline American Protestant churches belong to the council and some members of those denominations are already exploring the idea of divestment.
© 2005 The Associated Press.