Sacks seeks talks after Synod vote on disinvestment

by
02 November 2006

THE Chief Rabbi, Dr Jonathan Sacks, is preparing to make a stand, after the Church of England threatened to disinvest from companies associated with Israel.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews agreed to find out where Israel stands with the Church, and to co-ordinate national and local action. Dr Sacks convened a meeting of synagogual bodies on Tuesday to work out a strategic approach to the question of disinvestment, which has reportedly left many Jews angry.

On Monday, he told the Archbishop of Canterbury in a letter that he wanted a dialogue between Jews and Anglicans on the issue. The crisis in Jewish-Christian relations has developed because of General Synod's resolution to "heed" a call from the Anglican Church in Jerusalem to stop investing in companies "profiting" from Israel's presence in the Palestinian territories. Its main target is the £2.2-million church investment in Caterpillar, a company that supplied the D9 bulldozers to Israel which have been used to flatten Palestinian houses "for security" ( News, 10 February).

The Archbishop of Canterbury wrote to Dr Sacks last week regretting the distress the Synod's decision had caused. He told him that it did not mean the Church was actually going to disinvest.

"The demolition of Palestinian homes in recent years has been a regular source of controversy. . . To review whether we should or could continue with an investment policy which appeared to accept something with which we were deeply uneasy is emphatically not to commend a boycott or to question the legitimacy of the State of Israel and its rights to self-defence; least of all is it to endorse any kind of violence or terror against Israel and its people."

Responding to Dr Williams, Dr Sacks said the Archbishop's letter would "help our two communities to come together in a process of mutual listening and speaking so that we may understand one another better and reach a fuller understanding of the deep issues at stake between Israel and the Palestinians". He endorsed the Archbishop's call for dialogue.

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A Lambeth Palace spokesman commented: "The Chief Rabbi's letter provides a very good basis on which to build further."

The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, last week condemned the Synod's move towards disinvestment. "I am ashamed to be Anglican," he told The Jerusalem Post. And in a letter to The Times, Lord Carey said the Synod's decision was "a one-eyed strategy". It rebuked one side sternly, but forgot "the traumas of ordinary Israelis who live in fear of suicide bombers and those whose policy it is to destroy all Jews". The Synod should have told the Commissioners to invest in both Jewish and Palestinian businesses, he wrote.

Canon Andrew White, the chief executive of the Foundation for Reconciliation in the Middle East, who has been involved in the Church's peace negotiations in the region, spoke of how the call to disinvest had left him "very angry". The majority of British Jews see anti-Zionism as anti-Semitism, he said from his office in Baghdad.

"Do we not realise that far more Jews have been killed at the hands of Christians than of Muslims? . . . The Church has fallen into the trap of thinking that you must be either pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian. The reality is that we should be pro both people."

The Church's Ethical Investment Advisory Group (EIAG) will consider the General Synod's resolution in June, a spokesman said. Although the C of E's shares represent a tiny fraction of Caterpillar's total capitalisation of $47 billion, EIAG encourages church investment bodies to use their influence as shareholders to affect company policy.

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Should the Church disinvest from Caterpillar? Vote here.

Click here to link to audio archives of Synod debates on the Church of England website.

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