On Wednesday Caterpillar Inc. will hold its stockholder meeting in Chicago. Some have proposed a resolution for Caterpillar to stop selling its products to Israel because of Israeli policies. This is part of a wider campaign by some churches to weaken Israel by pressing for selective divestment of companies selling their products to the Jewish state.
Jews and Christians have special concern for the Holy Land, and that concern must be channeled into constructive action. Yet the divestment initiatives under consideration by the World Council of Churches and certain American Protestant churches are wrong -- for Christians, for Jews and for the region. However well-intentioned, they hinder the prospects for peace and justice. Here are some moral, political and economic realities to ponder:
People of moral character take stands based on their moral principles. But such moral stands must be both credible and sound, and the divestment initiatives are neither. The Presbyterian Church USA case arguing for divestment is so blatantly skewed that one knowledgeable about the conflict sees immediately that it is but a partisan posture.
The PCUSA position fails to call for any parallel campaign of action against Palestinian murder and terror, even though they are central factors to the conflict. It belittles the fundamental security concerns of Israeli citizens, voiding it of fairness.
The PCUSA literature consistently distorts basic historical and legal facts. Examples abound, and here are two obvious ones: The description mentions Arabs displaced by the 1948 war, but not the similar number of Jewish refugees evicted from Arab lands. It erroneously claims that U.N. Resolution 242 calls for Israel to withdraw today from all lands conquered in 1967. In fact 242 requires that Israel withdraw only from "territories" (the Unites Nations rejected the formulation, "the territories") and only after the warring parties agree formally to a cessation of hostilities. These are not different points of view, but objective facts systematically ignored. Rather than a voice of moral authority, the PCUSA is now viewed as a cheerleader for one side.
Divestment and its transparent suggestion of moral equivalency between Israel and South Africa harm peace prospects. One-sided pressure increases Israel 's isolation and discourages her from risking the compromises necessary for peace. When Israelis and Palestinians are moving toward peace through direct discussion and increased understanding, outside parties should not interfere via partisan pressure. Do Christians really want to be seen as obstructive outsiders obstructing peace and healing?
The divestment proposal has badly damaged relations between Jews and the Presbyterian Church. The World Council of Churches has had a long-standing bias regarding the Middle East conflict, and the result of this blatant bias is WCC irrelevance. Surely PCUSA does not wish to become similarly irrelevant, yet the divestment proposal and disturbing facts like PCUSA's "Church and Society" calling Judaism "a militant Zionist synagogue" put PCUSA perilously close to this position. Most Jews accept legitimate criticism of Israeli policies, but such criticism must take into account elemental realities and evidence a fair concern for Israeli interests.
Even within the church, 42 percent of members and 46 percent of church elders oppose divestment, while only 28 percent and 30 percent respectively support it.
Boycotts and divestment campaigns usually fail, and often lead to more effective counter-campaigns. Sponsors of recent divestment initiatives at American universities have experienced only embarrassment at the pummeling their initiatives have taken: At Harvard and MIT, anti-divestment supporters outnumbered divestment supporters by 10 to 1; Columbia's divestment resolution attracted about 1,000 signatories, but the anti-divestment resolution attracted more than 33,000. Church divestment proposals are certain to lead to counter-investment, as Israel 's many friends -- Jewish and Christian, private and public, individual and institutional -- will invest in Caterpillar and other divestment targets. Wall Street has issued "buy" recommendations for all these companies, providing added incentive for counter-investment.
People of faith should stress ethical values in resolving conflict. But faith makes heavy spiritual demands: Those taking religious stands must be dedicated to accuracy, fairness and real justice -- and this means resisting blind rhetoric and simplistic solutions. Only then will such campaigns resonate with morally honest people.
Eugene Korn is director of Jewish Affairs at the American Jewish Congress and adjunct professor of Jewish thought at Seton Hall University .