RELIGION

United Church of Christ to divest over Israeli policies in occupied Palestinian territories

The top legislative body of the United Church of Christ voted Tuesday to divest from companies with business in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories, in a sign of the growing momentum of a U.S. protest movement against Israeli policy.

The denomination's General Synod endorsed the action on a vote of 508-124 with 38 abstentions during its meeting in Cleveland.

The liberal Protestant group is the latest to take such action. Last year, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to sell stock in a few companies whose products are used by Israel in the territories. The United Church of Christ resolution was broader. Delegates are calling on the denomination's financial arms to sell off stock in any company profiting from what the church called human rights violations arising from the occupation. The church also voted to boycott products made in the territories.

Peter Makari of Global Ministries, an agency that is part of the United Church of Christ, said the resolutions "reflect our urgent concern for the worsening effects of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian people and lives, including the disparity in rights and power." The church affirmed Israel's right to exist, along with a "sovereign, independent" Palestinian state.

The American Jewish Committee, an advocacy group based in New York, slammed the resolutions and said the action would "bolster those who oppose peace."

Later Tuesday, the denomination was tol vote whether to label Israeli policies in the territories as "apartheid."

Separately, the Episcopal Church, meeting in Salt Lake City, was considering a divestment resolution. And at another meeting this week, the Mennonite Church USA will also take up a divestment proposal.

The votes are taking place as the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, known as BDS, is gaining strength on U.S. college campuses and in many places in Europe. The Israeli government and many Jewish leaders have condemned the movement as anti-Semitic and an attempt to delegitimize Israel.

The two major financial arms of the United Church of Christ — a pension board and investment fund — together control nearly $4 billion dollars. However, each is guided by directors who can decide whether to follow the call for divestment.