Photo: Reuters
Security fence has sparked numerous protests: Now church group gets in on them
Photo: Reuters
Church group seeks 'economic leverage'
Jewish groups call proposal to exert pressure on Israel to topple security fence 'anti-Semitic'

ATLANTA - The United Church of Christ voted to use "economic leverage" to promote peace between Israel and Palestinians and to call for the dismantling of the Jewish state's security fence.


The resolutions were criticized by some Jewish leaders, who called them anti-Semitic.


The votes by the UCC's General Synod came in the closing minutes of the church's annual meeting.


After the vote, Peter Makari, the church's executive director for the Middle East and Europe, said the church remains committed to religious dialogue and participation among Jews, Christians and Muslims.


'Functionally anti-Semitic'


"These resolutions condemn all acts of violence on both sides and indicate a clear desire by the Synod to end violence and promote peace," Makari said.


However, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean for the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called the resolutions "functionally anti-Semitic." He accused the UCC, which has 1.3 million members and 5,700 congregations, of holding Israel to a different moral standard.


"The UCC has disqualified itself as a legitimate partner for a just and equitable peace in the Holy Land," Cooper said.


The Synod discarded a previous resolution endorsing divestment against companies involved with Israel in favor of a proposal to use the tools of "economic leverage" - including divestment - to promote peace, Makari said.


Such efforts would begin with trying to persuade companies to stop profiting from conflict in the Middle East. If that failed, church officials might sell stock in those companies.


The church would also invest in groups that promote peace and cooperation and pressure the Bush administration to reallocate foreign aid in the interest of ending the militarization of the region.


Saving lives


The second resolution calls for the Israeli government to stop construction of the security barrier around Palestinian territories and tear it down. Palestinians have claimed that portions of the wall extend into their territory in the West Bank. Israel says the wall has blocked terrorists.


"The wall has devastating effects on the lives and livelihoods of Palestinians," Makari said. "It prevents the opportunity for interaction for people who desperately want there to be peace."


David Elcott, the American Jewish Committee's U.S. Director of Interreligious Affairs, criticized the measure.


"We understand Christian concerns about a wall, but we believe that saving human lives is more significant than property," he said. "That wall has saved the lives of Jews, Christians and Muslims."


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