Saturday, August 06, 2005

Sunday Comment: the Presbyterians Play Hardball

The Presbyterian Church U.S.A. is borrowing a page from the Jesuit Order's playbook - attempting to effect the policy of powerful corporations through socially-conscious investing. Over the past few years, the Church has pressured companies accused of abetting human rights abuses in countries like China, the Sudan, Myanmar, Nigeria and Guatemala. This Friday, in a more controversial move, the Church threatened to dump the roughly $60 million that its pension fund and various foundations have invested in four corporations unless they cease providing military equipment and technology to Israel for use in the occupation of the Palestinian territories. The Church accused Caterpillar, Motorola, ITT Industries and United Technologies of selling helicopters, cellphones, night vision equipment and other items Israel uses to enforce its occupation.

Some Jewish leaders accused the Church of singling out Israel, even of being "functionally anti-semitic." The Church responded that it is "fully committed to the state of Israel" but that it cannot, in good conscience, invest in companies "that are doing damage and creating injustice and violence, whether that's the building of the separation barrier, construction related to the occupation, or weapons and materials that lead to suicide bombings."

I believe that Churches should do all they can to end both the Israeli occupation and Palestinian terrorism. Unfortunately, it is much more difficult to track support to the latter. American companies don't deal openly or directly with suicide bombers. But they do deal openly with the Israeli military. The fact that the Church can't do much with its portfolio to prevent suicide bombings shouldn't stop it from doing what it can do to slow violence in the Middle East.

That being said, there is still an easy, principled way that the Church can insulate itself from all criticism that it is singling out Israel. Why not refuse to invest in all companies that supply any military? Should Church assets really be used to support making weapons of war, no matter who is going to use them?

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