Guardians of the Fence

Though there is nothing new in several Christian conferences' accusations against Israel, the entry into the field of economic boycott constitutes a dramatic change in policy.

Several Christian conferences in Europe and the United States in recent months have been teaching about the anticipated political battle in Israel following the disengagement. In various frameworks of Protestant churches, discussions have been conducted on Israel's policy of repression in the occupied territories and the need to implement an economic boycott, as well as divestment and restrictions on business with Israel.

Declarations and warnings have been approved in conferences of Methodists, Evangelical Lutherans, Episcopalians and others. The top leadership of the Anglican Church decided in June to encourage the use of economic measures against Israel, and a similar decision was approved by the international association of Protestant churches - the Geneva-based World Council of Churches.

During the course of the disengagement in August, an additional effort was made, the first of its type. The Investments Committee of the Presbyterian Church of the U.S. defined the goals of the boycott and singled out four companies that do business with Israel: ITT, United Technologies (which provides equipment for Israel Air Force helicopters), Caterpillar (which produces the bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes, the committee noted) and Motorola (criticized for supplying communications equipment to the Israel Defense Forces and investing in cellular companies in Israel that harm the Palestinians' economic interests and means of communication).

Committee representatives explained that these companies assist the Israeli occupation and the construction of the West Bank separation fence (which they refer to as the "wall"). In an ostensible effort at balance, the committee also added Citigroup, which has facilitated money transfers to charitable institutions accused of financing acts of terror.

Though there is nothing new in these accusations, or in the anti-Israel policies of most of these churches, the entry into the field of investments and economic boycott constitutes a dramatic change in policy. The Presbyterian Church has an investment portfolio of $8 billion, including investments in companies cited on the black list. In the past, it defined a framework for an economic boycott on companies investing or earning more than $1 million in business with Israel.

This is an organized battle aimed at mobilizing the "central stream" of Protestants against Israel. But it also has the signs of an internal Christian struggle against the pro-Israel evangelical right, which numbers tens of millions of Protestants and is concentrated in the Bible Belt of the southern United States.

The economic struggle focuses on the separation fence as a source of the occupation's troubles and as a symbol of the racist policy of segregation and apartheid. The comparison to apartheid is a well-known Arab tactic aimed at reinforcing the use of economic sanctions, following the model of the struggle against South Africa during the period of apartheid. Palestinians play a central role in coordinating this struggle, especially via the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, led by Reverend Naim Ateek of the city's St. George's (Anglican) Cathedral.

The call for an economic boycott by Christian churches raises many concerns among American Jews - at both the national leadership and community level. Jews are seeking to develop mechanisms of rapprochement and have turned to the media, including advertisements in local newspapers. More aggressive Jewish spokespeople are calling the boycott campaign an anti-Semitic policy aimed at choking Israel via economic means. They note the churches' double standard as reflected in their silence regarding Saudi Arabia's anti-Christian policy and support for terror, for example, and the slaughter of a million Christian Arabs in southern Sudan.

Professor Paul Merkley of Carleton University in Canada, a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, recently protested against the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic trend, which does not allow Protestant representatives to meet with Israeli supporters to hear the side of the accused party. He cites anti-Semitic statements by Rev. Ateek comparing the crucifixion of Jesus with the crusade Israel is waging against the Palestinians.

The Sabeel Center is also a center for coordinating the visits of delegations of Christian religious leaders in Jerusalem and the territories; these leaders refuse to meet with Israeli spokespeople or with Christian supporters of Israel. Sabeel representatives appear at Christian conferences in the U.S. and Europe and stand behind the new tactic of struggle against the separation fence. For example, at a conference of the Church of Christ in the U.S. last month, the participants rejected a more moderate resolution that called for moving the separation fence to the Green Line, and instead adopted the extremist resolution calling for economic pressure and the complete dismantling of the fence.

The emphasis on dismantling the fence represents a prevalent attitude among the Palestinian leaders, who claim that Israel should be allowed to annex the territories because the Arabs will ultimately constitute a democratic majority. The vision for the future expressed in the "Jerusalem Sabeel Document: Principles for a Just Peace in Palestine-Israel" clearly explains their opposition to the separation fence: "One state for two nations and three religions."