TCS Daily


Divesting Moral Authority

By J. Peter Pham & Michael I. Krauss - March 6, 2006 12:00 AM

On February 6, the General Synod of the Church of England acted on a motion to:

"Heed the call from our sister church, the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, for morally responsible investment in the Palestinian occupied territories and, in particular, to disinvest from companies profiting from the illegal occupation, such as Caterpillar Inc., until they change their policies."

The Caterpillar policy that the English churchmen decided was in need of changing was the decision to sell heavy equipment, to, among others, Israeli government agencies and private businesses. Some of that equipment has been used in the construction of the security barrier that today protects Israeli civilians and visiting pilgrims from terrorist attacks originating in the Palestinian territories. Caterpillar's D9 model tractor, which can bear the weight of heavy armor, is notably used by the Israeli Defense Forces Combat Engineering Corps to clear mines and improvised explosive devices that the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah regularly plants on the Israeli side of the border with Lebanon. For these crimes Caterpillar "earned" divestment.

The Anglican £2.5 million stake in Caterpillar represents less a small drop in the Church's £900 million portfolio, and its sale is not likely to impact the stock price of a company whose 2005 global revenues amounted to over $36 billion. In fact, Caterpillar's share price has moved up since the General Synod's action, moving from a $68.70 close on February 6 to $72.05 last Friday. The Anglicans' "good works" have thus far cost them some $250,000 in lost gains.

What is worrying about this divestment is the trend it represents and the underlying message it sends. The Anglicans are not the first Christian group to tread down this slope. Last summer, the 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) authorized a "corporate witness office" to gather data permitting selective divestment of holdings in corporations doing business with the Jewish state.

Criticism of specific Israeli policies or even of the State of Israel is not itself proof positive of hatred of the Jewish people -- else most Knesset debates could surely be termed "anti-Semitic." But when a hypercritical attitude is applied to no one but Israel, the conclusion is different. As Norman Podhoretz has noted, the application to Israel of a double standard -- indeed a standard that is often diametrically opposed to that employed with respect to any other country in the world -- inescapably anti-Semitic.

Coming two weeks after the victory in the Palestinian Authority elections by Hamas, a terrorist group committed to the destruction of Israel and the reduction of Palestinian Christians -- including the Anglicans' "sister church" in Jerusalem -- to second class status, one would have thought the Synod would have had other fish to fry than tractor makers. Or while they're at it, why not divest from companies making the steel rods that are the essential component of the Palestinian Qassam and Jenin "rockets"? Lacking a guidance system (their handlers simply launch them in the general direction of an intended target), these missiles violate fundamental norms of the international law of war, which ban both deliberate targeting of civilians and weapons that have that the same effect due to indiscriminate inaccuracy.

Putting aside Israel and the Jewish people, where is the General Synod's concern about the ethics of investments in companies whose products might be used by a regime like that of Saudi Arabia to ferret out "illegal" Christians?

Charges of anti-Semitism, like any indictment for racism, should never be lightly made. However, in the light of the historical responsibility acknowledged by Christian leaders -- including the late Pope John Paul II -- for the climate in which virulent 20th-Century anti-Semitism flourished, these institutions have a special responsibility to assess the perception created by their stances. By this standard, the Anglican General Synod didn't just sell off valuable shares of stock; it also divested itself of its moral authority.

J. Peter Pham is director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University. Michael I. Krauss is professor of law at George Mason University School of Law. Both are academic fellows of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.


8 Comments

Divestment is antisemitic
When a hypercritical attitude is applied toward Israel, in the opinion of the author, that is never applied toward anyone else, it is proof of antisemitism.

What then, do we call the attitude that condemns Hezbollah mining of Israeli positions at the border of Lebanon (Shebaa Farms/Har Dov, last year) but fails to mention Israeli shelling into Lebanon? These actions are battles in a larger war. It's false to speak only of one side's aggression against the other.

The answer apparently is that Hezbollah should not be allowed to fight back. Nor should investors be allowed to divest in companies they consider to be morally repugnant. Their actions are immoral, antisemitic and should be made illegal.

Israel, on the other hand, a shining beacon of perfect rectitude, is perfectly within rights to have used those D-9's in Jenin to crush houses before looking to see whether cowering people might still be inside. It's all in how you look at it.

What do you call this kind of thinking? I guess it's prosemitic.

Divestment
Asserting actions are based on moral teachings when they are more likely based on politics, only serves to create even more confusion and controversy.
No church, can claim moral certainty when it delves into political situations. Islam is getting a bad rap for doing just that. For Christian churches to join in this fray by taking a side, only serves to add to the mess.
roy_bean asserts Israel is as guilty as the Palestinians.
Perhaps. Both sides now claim they are defending themselves from attacks. Whether those attacks are based on a military response to the actions of terrorists or the actions of a group looking to respond to the killing of one of its leaders.
After all of these years of killings & destruction, few in the world can see the situation with any clarity. Most especially those on the ground where this is taking place.
That neither side in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict feels it can, or should, offer or accept a compromise, is the real tragedy. Many looking in at this mess, feel it will last as long as mankind lives. Once mankind vacates the premises of planet earth, many feel God will decide who was right & who was wrong.
So maybe we all need to get used to killings, destruction, bombs, terrorists, hate speeches, riots, and all of the nasty that goes with this struggle. Then, according to scripture of most major religions, all will find out how God feels about it & what price we must pay for our earthly deeds (or is it mis-deeds??).

Politics vs morality
I'm wondering how you can possibly distinguish the two. Certainly for a certain kind of person, politics is an amoral pursuit. Their relationship with the world they live in is primarily one of utility. But to define morality in terms of one's duty to one's fellow creatures-- rather than to some self-serving god-- action in a sociopolitical arena is merely the embodiment of one's principles. Or so it seems to me.

The demonization of one group as being "terrorists" while the other considers itself to be merely the responders contributes to a failure of understanding that is just as much the case today as it was in the First Crusade. Sad that when I was young, in 1945, the world had the sense that moral progress was possible, and that certain collective sins must be consigned to the ash heap of history.

Ah, but "never again" was just a stirring slogan. Ask the Bosnians, the Iraqi Kurds, the Cambodians, the Rwanfan Hutu or the peasants of Darfur whether these things never happen again.

Moral failure condemns us all to live in a world of ongoing crimes against humanity. It's a small thing not to invest in one company-- but at least it's better than just throwing up one's hands and saying "C'est la vie".

Sad also that guilt and blame are still assessed collectively. Most Israelis and Palestinians are noncombatants. When they are killed by the other side they are innocent victims, quickly to become mere statistics or ammunition in the war for people's minds. Those really to blame are rarely brought to justice. Ask Idi Amin, who enjoyed a comfortable retirement as have most of the deposed dictators of our time.

The ugliest of deeds are committed by those who loudly proclaim the virtue of their cause, but secretly fear justice. To avoid it they will literally do anything. This is the way the Indian Wars were won. Again, just my opinion.

Divestment and Darfur
Black Churches Taking Lead on Pressing Sudan Issue
Religion & Ethics newsweekly, August 19, 2005

A decade ago, when evangelicals made advocacy on Sudan a centerpiece of their campaign against religious persecution, many African-American churches were reluctant to join in. Today, however, black churches are increasingly at the forefront of the grass-roots momentum to end what the United States calls "genocide" in Sudan's western Darfur province...

Radio talk show host Joe Madison said there were a number of reasons for the initial black reluctance to get involved, including a lack of knowledge about the issue and "disconnect between evangelical, conservative, Republican-oriented ministries and, in essence, the black church."

...But the issue is now gaining momentum in the black community. Many African-American politicians, civil rights leaders and actors, including Danny Glover, are now on board and have made Sudan a priority issue. They've LAUNCHED A NATIONAL DIVESTMENT CAMPAIGN similar to those against South Africa during the apartheid era.

http://www.beliefnet.com/story/173/story_17357_1.html

anti-semitism
Knowingly telling lies may not be prima facia evidence of anti-semitism, but it's a darn good clue.

Isreal's shelling into Lebanon, come only after rocket attacks, and hit only those sites that launched the rockets. The two actions are only comparable to those who are hopeless mired in anti-Semitism.

The Jenin incident was conducted by Lebanese, not Israelis. Nor was it a massacre as propounded by the militants and their usefull idiots in the west.

I think you've been misinformed
I've been reading your posts for a while now. The amount of blatant misinformation you cite is just staggering. Just where did you read that Jenin was flattened by the Lebanese? I would look forward to your sources with great interest.

Regarding Shebaa Farms, I was referring to last year's incident, where Hezbollah buried an IED that killed an Israeli soldier. But in the current brouhaha I understand it was started by the IDF killing of a teenaged shepherd. Any truth to that?

http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=1&categ_id=2&article_id=21963

As for the general pattern of who it was that shot at who first, I've noticed that the pattern that has been established throughout the Second Intifada is for there to be a lull, then an IDF atrocity of some sort, followed by a suicide bombing, followed by condemnation and then another lull. The IDF has most frequently been the party breaking the lull and starting the next cycle of violence. The Pals have been wretchedly slow learners, and grab the bait every time. And so it goes.

What do you make of the current Hamas cease fire? Does it not make us wish the Israelis would reciprocate, and meet them in a gesture of peace?

truth and lies
I'm not surprised that a flaming anti-semite such as yourself will believe any lie, as long as it makes Isreal the villian.

Citations are missing
I notice that citations in support of your argument are lacking. Was there a teenage shepherd who was initially killed by the IDF? Or not? How about citing your evidence?

And Jenin... was it really flattened by the Lebanese? This one should be really easy to support. If it's true. Come on, have a go at it. Share the news dispatches with us.

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