Church of England votes to divest from Caterpillar

In a big boost to the sclerotic campaign to divest from companies that do business with Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, which includes East Jerusalem, the Church of England reversed earlier expectations, voting to divest from the Caterpillar corporation:

Church votes to sell off shares in Caterpillar

Stephen Bates, religious affairs correspondent February 7
The Guardian

The Church of England’s general synod – including the Archbishop of Canterbury – voted last night to disinvest church funds from companies profiting from Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.

The main target of the plan will be the US earth-moving equipment company Caterpillar which has supplied vehicles used by Israel to demolish Palestinian homes. When the worldwide Anglican communion called for such a move, at a meeting last summer, there followed protests from Israel and Jewish groups. The church currently invests about £2.5m of its £900m share portfolio in Caterpillar and had been engaged in negotiations with the company about its activities. Caterpillar insists it has not provided the earth movers directly to Israel but to the US military which sold them on.

So passionate was the debate that it squeezed out an equally contentious decision last Friday by the Church commissioners, managers of the church’s investment and property portfolio, to sell off the century-old Octavia Hill housing estates for more than 1,000 poor tenants in south London to property developers.

On the first day of its meeting in London, the general synod, the church’s parliament, heard denunciations of Israel’s use of the machines from one of its own bishops and from the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, who is Palestinian, whose letter was read out.

The Rt Rev John Gladwin, Bishop of Chelmsford, who is chairman of Christian Aid, told the meeting that the problem in the Middle East was the government of Israel rather than Caterpillar but that it was vital that the church should invest only in organisations which behaved ethically.

A CD containing a PowerPoint presentation on Divestment (based on the Sabeel MRI report), an audio presentation and the text of the Divestment paper presented to the Church of England General Synod is available for £5 including postage. An MP3 version of the talk will be available for download from Stephen Sizer’s website www.sizers.org later in the week.

Here is the text of the motion passed by General Synod:

“This Synod:
(a) heeds the call from our sister church, the Episcopal Church in
Jerusalem and the Middle East, for morally responsible investment in the Palestinian occupied territories and, in particular, to disinvest from companies profiting from the illegal occupation, such as Caterpillar Inc, until they change their policies;
(b) encourages the Ethical Investment Advisory Group to follow up the
consultation referred to in its Report with intensive discussions with Caterpillar Inc, with a view to its withdrawing from supplying or maintaining either equipment or parts for use by the state of Israel in demolishing Palestinian homes &c;
c) in the light of the urgency of the situation, and the increased support needed by Palestinian Christians, urges members of the EIAG to actively engage with monitoring the effects of Caterpillar Inc’s machinery in the Palestinian occupied territories through visiting the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East to learn of their concerns first hand, and to see recent house demolitions;
d) urges the EIAG to give weight to the illegality under international law of the activities in which Caterpillar Inc’s equipment is involved; and
e) urges the EIAG to respond to the monitoring visit and the further discussions with Caterpillar by updating its recommendations in the light of these.”

The Episcopal Bishop of Jerusalem, the Right Revd Riah Abu El Assal had sent the following challenging message to the Synod:

“I am saddened to witness less courage within our church than one would expect. Both time and energy have been spent on issues such as human sexuality. But non violent instruments such as divestment from companies that produce death rather than life does not get the same attention. No wonder the church is loosing credibility in many parts of our world.

“The Elijah’s are absent and the voiceless wait in vain for church Synods to be their voice. Need the church wait until there are no homes and no trees for our people to wake up and tell the Ahabs of today that Naboth is but another child of God and deserves to lead a life with dignity and secure enough that those bulldozers will not reach his home.”

+ Bishop Riah Abu El Assal

See our last post on Israel/Palestine.

  1. Divestment not mandatory
    Times Online February 07, 2006
    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,1-2028504,00.html

    Synod in disinvestment snub to Israel
    By Ruth Gledhill, Religion Correspondent, for Times Online

    The Church of England is expected to face condemnation from Jewish leaders after it voted to disinvest from companies whose products are used by the Israeli government in the occupied territories.

    In a surprise move, the General Synod voted to back a call from the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East for “morally responsible investment in the Palestinian occupied territories”.

    In particular, the Synod backed the Jerusalem church’s call for the Church Commissioners to disinvest from “companies profiting from the illegal occupation”, such as Caterpillar Inc. Caterpillar, a US company, manufactures bulldozers used in clearance projects in the occupied territories, and also used by Palestinians in their own rebuilding work.

    The motion was passed overwhelmingly, in spite of strong lobbying from leading members of Britain’s Jewish community, concerned that Israel’s right to protect itself from suicide bombers and other Palestinian terror attacks should not be compromised. No time was made to debate an amending motion put forward by Anglicans for Israel, the new and influential pro-Israel lobby group.

    The motion came from Keith Malcouronne, a lay member from the Guildford diocese. He moved that the synod “heed the call from our sister church, the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, for morally responsible investment in the Palestinian occupied territories and, in particular, to disinvest from companies profiting from the illegal occupation, such as Caterpillar Inc, until they change their policies”.

    Mr Malcouronne also urged synod members to visit Israel “to see recent house demolitions”. He urged the Church’s Ethical Investment Advisory Group, the body which resisted recent pressure from pro-Palestinian campaigning bodies to divest from Caterpillar, to “give weight to the illegality under international law of the activities in which Caterpillar Inc’s equipment is involved”.

    The Church Commissioners have £2.2 million holdings in Caterpillar. Although the vote does not mean they will necessarily be sold, because the Commissioners do not have to comply, it has huge symbolism.

    The Jewish community’s distress will be augmented by the fact that the vote to disinvest was backed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams. By contrast, Dr Williams has so far not commented on the recent Palestinian election victory of Hamas, an organisation committed to destroying the state of Israel.

    Among those expected to be angered are the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which at the last synod held a special presentation, the first of its kind, in an attempt to explain the plight of Israel and its need to protect itself from incessant terror attacks from its Palestinian community.

    The Chief Rabbi Dr Jonathan Sacks is also expected to be concerned, as is the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey of Clifton, who believes the Church should support Israel. Judaism is the mother religion of Christianity and Jesus Christ himself was Jewish.

    In the debate Mr Maclouronne said that the Bishop of Jerusalem, the Right Rev Riah Hanna Abu El-Assal, had written to him urging the disinvestment cause.

    The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Rev John Gladwin, said that Christians in Palestine were in despair. Although recent reports have indicated high level of Muslim persecution of Christians in Israel, Bishop Gladwin blamed the Israeli government for their plight.

    Bishop Gladwin said: “Caterpilar may be a company being used for dreadful purposes across the world, but the problem is not Caterpillar, The problem is the situation in the Middle East and the government of Israel,” he said.

    The Rev Simon Butler, from Southwark, south London, warned Caterpillar that “in our understanding of sin, acts have consequences”.

    But the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev Christopher Herbert, who is chairman of the Council of Christians and Jews, suggested that the debate was unbalanced. He said there was a “belief and hope” in the Jewish community that Christians would understand their perspective in such debates, but the Synod had not reflected the complexity of the situation.

    Last summer the Anglican Consultative Council, representing the worldwide Church, backed a report urging divestment from companies that “support the occupation”.

    Lord Carey said at the time that approval of the report would be “disastrous” for peace efforts in the region. He said the Israelis already felt traumatised by attacks on them and this would be “another knife in the back”.

    The Chief Rabbi’s office and the Board of Deputies also made strong private representations to Dr Williams. A spokesman for the Chief Rabbi said last summer that a policy of disinvestment “would not only be misguided, particularly at the present time, but it would have worrying effects on the long-established ties between Jewish and Anglican communities worldwide”.

    1. Anglicans for Israel
      Anglicans for Israel, the new and influential pro-Israel lobby group

      It’s one bloke with a blog, backed up with a few pro-Israel clergy and an MEP. The guy in question, Simon McIlwaine, is a Tory libertarian who used to run “Peace Now In Southern Africa” back in the 1980s – I’d love to find out more about that!

      1. hmm…
        Interesting, Bartholomew. This was all I could find in Lexis-Nexis searching for his name and “african.” What do you make of it? I wonder who might know more about this sort of thing..

        The Guardian (London)

        February 15, 1986

        BYLINE: Edited by STUART WAVELL and STEPHEN COOK

        BODY:
        A compassionate thought this morning for exminister Patrick Jenkin, who will spend the day chairing the AGM of the Greater London Young Conservatives. A clutch of tumultuous rightwingers, some with their roots in the notorious Federation of Conservative Students, is making a bid for power under its banners of support for Ulster, Nicaragua, South Africa, the Association for a Free Russia etc etc. Geoff Winnard, a Monday Clubber, is their candidate for chairman, with Simon McIlwaine for vice-chairman and Huw Shooter (he of the CND submarine incident) for treasurer. Andrew V R Smith is standing for office too, listing his interest as ‘law and order, Communist and leftist subversion.’ (He was born in 1964). Most were enthusiastic hecklers of Heseltine at the YC conference last weekend. Sir Basil Feldman, a predecessor of Jenkin as GLYC president, is reputed to have said that, compared to the GLYC AGM, chairing the annual Tory conference is a doddle.

          1. It gets better…
            this is from Wikipedia on FCS:

            The Federation of Conservative Students (FCS) was the student wing of the British Conservative Party until it was disbanded by Party Chairman Norman Tebbit in 1986.
            In the 1980s it was noted for being more radical than the main party until it was disbanded by the then party chairman Norman Tebbit for publishing an article which accused former Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan of being complicit in the massacre of Serbian prisoners of War in the aftermath of World War II. This was far from the only extremist position the FCS held however.”Hang Nelson Mandella!”,[Picture of the poster here] “Execute Arthur Scargill!” and “Smash the NHS!” were among the slogans which appeared on their badges and pamphlets.
            After the FCS conference at Loughborough in 1986 Jeffrey Archer was heard to mutter upon leaving the hall “we’ll have to review the funding of this lot” after receiving a particularly difficult Q&A session.
            There was some damage during the 1986 FCS conference at Loughborough, leading to press reports of a “riot”. Some members were accused of glorifying death squads in Central America. The FCS received further embarrassment when one of its regional chairmen, William Beggs, was caught and convicted of the sexual murder of an 18 year old man. Another former leading FCS activist, Lloyd Beat, committed suicide whilst being investigated for alleged paedophile offences.[1]
            […]

            1. The Monday Club
              Lovely company young Simon was keeping. From Wikipedia on the Monday Club:

              The club was formed as a reaction to Harold Macmillan’s ‘Winds of Change’ speech made at Cape Town, South Africa. In it Macmillan stated that the “wind of change is blowing through this continent. Whether we like it or not this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept this fact and our national policies must take account of it.”

              The speech was seen to herald the Macmillan government’s opposition to apartheid[1] and its acceptance of decolonisation in Africa, and elsewhere. This met with considerable opposition within the Conservative Party at home. The Monday Club stated that Macmillan had “turned the Party Left”, and their first pamphlet opposed these policies, as indicative of the Conservative Party’s move towards liberalism. The Club opposed what it described as the “premature” independence of Kenya, and the breakup of the Central African Federation, which was the subject of its first major public meeting in September 1961 and reported in the Daily Mail [cf.Copping, vol.1, p6]. It was fundamentally opposed to decolonisation, and defended white minority rule in South Africa and Rhodesia.Macmillan, in Volume VI of his memoirs, alludes briefly to a Monday Club call for his resignation.

              In making comparisons between the Monday Club and the Bow Group, Ian Waller, writing in the Sunday Telegraph in 1971, asserted that the Club had overtaken the Bow Group. He also claimed that it was in tune with the prevailing mood among Conservatives, and praised its leadership. [cf.Copping (i) p.28).

              John Biggs-Davison, MP, in his Foreword to Robert Copping’s second book on the history of the Club (May 1975), stated that “by its principles [the club] has kept alive true Tory beliefs and held within its ranks many who contemplated defecting from the Conservative and Unionist Party”.

              The Club’s revised Constitution (21 May 1984) stated that “the objects of the Club are to support the Conservative & Unionist Party in policies designed to maintain loyalty to the Crown and to uphold the sovereignty of Parliament, the security of the realm, and defence of the nation against external aggression and internal subversion; to safeguard the liberty of the subject and integrity of the family in accordance with the customs, traditions, and character of the British people; to maintain the British constitution in obedience and respect for the laws of the land, freedom of worship and our national heritage; to promote an economy consistent with national aspirations and Tory ideals. to encourage members of the Club to play an active part, at all levels, in the affairs of the Conservative and Unionist Party.” The club’s Chairman, David Storey, described it in June 1981 as “an anchor to a ship”, referring to the Conservative Party. The playwright David Edgar described it in an academic essay as “proselytis[ing] the ancient and venerable conservative traditions of paternalism, imperialism and racism.” [cf.Levitas, p.60]. Harold Wilson, twice Labour Prime Minister, described the club as “the guardian of the Tory conscience”. Roger Griffin [p.161] refers to the Club as practising an anti-socialist and elitist form of conservatism. It has been described as “far-right” by journalists in newspapers across the political spectrum from the Daily Telegraph to The Guardian and, in 2002, as a “bastion on the Tory hard right” by the British Broadcasting Corporation[2].

              In 2001, Conservative Party chairman David Davis informed the Club’s board that links between it and the party were being severed until it stopped promoting several of its long-held views such as the voluntary repatriation of ethnic minorities. Davis later told the media: “I have told them that until a number of things are concluded – particularly some concerns about the membership of the club, and a review of the club’s constitution and a requirement that the club will not promulgate or discuss policies relating to race – the club is suspended from any association with the Conservative party.”[3]. This action by the party was widely interpreted as part of promoting the party’s move towards the ‘centre ground’ of British politics.
              […]

      2. AFI McElwain
        ..he is also an aggressive lawyer who has successfully sued
        various newspapers over the years . By all accounts, he is a dangerous creature……