Divestment Bad for Israelis, Palestinians

In the past year, several mainline American church bodies have favored divesting their assets from companies doing business with Israel. As an

Anglican priest, I find this very disturbing, especially so when my own American branch of Anglicanism (The Episcopal Church) has considered a similar course. I have discussed this with my friend, Rabbi John Rosove of Temple Israel Hollywood, which is near my parish of St. Thomas the Apostle. Our discussion motivated me to write to the appropriate national committees of my church to protest any possible divestment.

At the recent Anglican Consultative Counsel, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams opposed divestment. This statement echoes the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, when he also spoke in opposition to divestment.

Earlier this year, Massachusetts Episcopal Bishop Thomas Shaw publicly stated that he, too, is against any effort to divest funds from Israel.

“Divestment is especially inappropriate now,” said Shaw, at a time he described as a “period of hope for peace.”

And he correctly pointed out that divestment would also harm Palestinians because of the interrelationship between the Israeli and Palestinian economies. Shaw pronounced that he would “continue to work for the rights of the Palestinian people and a secure state of Israel.”

Subsequently, more and more bishops throughout the Anglican Communion are taking a public stance opposed to divestment. Most recently and notably, the Rev. Mark Sisk, bishop of New York, asserted that “now is the time to invest not divest” in the State of Israel.

Since the death of Yasser Arafat and the subsequent election of Mahmoud Abbas as leader of the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian-Israeli negotiations have reached their highest levels of activity and hopefulness in years. Abbas, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian King Abdullah joined together in a summit declaring a cease-fire. Abbas publicly declared that the war with Israel is over. Mubarak and Abdullah have agreed to return their ambassadors to Israel.

The relationship between Israel and other Arab nations has never showed such signs of hope. Israel unilaterally abandoned all settlements in Gaza and four in the northern West Bank. Major Palestinian areas are being restored to Palestinian control. In addition, the Israeli security barrier has been rerouted to include less than 5 percent of West Bank territory, and Israel has ended the policy of demolishing homes of Palestinians tied to terrorism.

In spite of this, in February of this year a Tel Aviv suicide bombing claimed the innocent lives of five Israelis and injured another 50. Most recently, a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up Sunday near the central bus station in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba, seriously wounding two security guards who tried to stop him in the first such attack since Israel began a withdrawal from the Gaza Strip this month.

I have visited Israel on three separate occasions (once in residence at St. George’s College, Jerusalem). While there, I had the opportunity to meet some prominent Anglican Palestinians in their homes. I also have traveled throughout the country, including the West Bank and visited Palestinian cities. Then, too, I have stayed on kibbutzim and been a guest in Jewish Israeli homes. I consider myself a priest with a social conscience and sensitivity, which might lead one to assume that I would blindly support the Palestinian perspective. And I have considerable sympathy for Palestinian concerns. However, I discovered that there are two sides to the extremely complex political situation involving the Palestinians and Israelis. Thus, I came to support both peaceful Palestinian self-determination and the security of the Israeli state. I believe a Palestinian state and a Jewish state can co-exist.

When it comes to divestment, it would be wrong to adopt a policy that so hastily condemns and punishes Israel. I sincerely hope that the leaders of the Episcopal Church — my church — would choose instead to assist in the development of democracy, the economy and the active peace effort within the new Palestinian government. By investing rather than divesting, we encourage the tentative overtures between the Arab world and Israel, and we use economic clout to pressure Syria and Iran to support the peace process rather than to sabotage it. Divestment, in contrast, would serve only to harden the extreme positions in both societies.

I am not alone in feeling this way. Given the mounting protests by Episcopal bishops and clergy, I am encouraged that any movement toward divestment from Israel will not receive sufficient support.

The Rev. Mark D. Stuart officiates at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in Hollywood.