Monday, October 17, 2005

U.S. churches back off divestment

From Ynetnews (10.16.05, 13:58) ...

No church in U.S. except Presbyterians has voted for divestment. Some say corporate engagement is more effective strategy to bring about change than selloff that leaves former shareholders without voice or influence

CHICAGO - Some U.S. Protestant churches are turning their back the idea of dumping investments in companies profiting from Israel's West Bank occupation, people involved in the issue said. Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, along with a debate over whether divestment is the right move in the first place, may have helped cool what looked like a growing trend just a few months ago.

'My reading, as a central Jewish player in this, is that there never was a (general) move toward divestment,' said David Elcott, director of inter-religious affairs for the American Jewish Committee . 'Here is the reality: No church in the United States except the Presbyterians has voted for divestment,' he added, and the only place where divestment looked like it was moving forward may have been in the media.

U.S. Episcopal Church leaders recently rejected divestment in favor of corporate engagement and another major denomination, the United Church of Christ, turned down the divestment idea at its convention last summer.

Five singled out

The 2.5 million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the largest body of that denomination in the country, approved in 2004 a "phased, selective divestment" involving its USD 8 billion portfolio beginning no earlier than July 2006. In August, it singled out five companies - Caterpillar Inc., Citigroup Inc., United Technologies Corp., Motorola Inc. and ITT Industries Inc. - for "dialogue, shareholder resolutions and public pressure."

... How much the Presbyterians have invested in the companies was not revealed, and the church said divestment was only a last resort that may be considered if "progressive engagement fails." Barry Creech, church spokesman on the issue, said the matter is still on course and "we're not in a hurry" to get to the point of divestment before the church's membership meets again next summer.

'Major mistake'

The Rev. William Harter of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, a force behind Presbyterians Concerned for Jewish and Christian Relations, which opposes divestment, said, "As people look at this with clear heads and understand what's really involved, there's a growing awareness that this was a major mistake. It won't work. There's no way what's being proposed is going to have an impact on decisions that the Israelis or Palestinians make about peace and certainly not the U.S. government," he said. It is also outdated because the Israelis have made "major concessions and a major step toward peace," Harter said. There is a "widespread and growing" movement among church members to reverse the divestment idea at next summer's membership meeting, he said.

Meanwhile, the leadership of the 2.3 million-member U.S. Episcopal Church recently chose a different path: to use the church's USD 3.6 billion portfolio and future investments as a tool "for selected companies to change behavior resulting in a more hopeful climate for peace." Its report said "corporate engagement is a more effective strategy to bring about change" than a selloff that leaves former shareholders without a voice or influence in a company. The action drew praise from the American Jewish Congress. Juda Engelmayer, a group representative,
said the trend is away from the divestment idea "when you get past the leadership and get to the (general church) membership. It is shifting."

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles said: "I think as the concerns of the Jewish world become known and as people began to see that these moves do not improve the lot of Palestinians, there is a move to go in a slightly different direction ... investment in positive things that will benefit Jews and Palestinians in general." ...

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