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Divestment with a bite

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This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.

We’re entering the church convention season again and divestment, Israel-Palestine style, is on the agenda. In the coming days, Christians of various denominations will struggle with and against one another on the most vexing of issues, how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all. Jews will also be involved on both sides of the issue and at the conventions themselves. This is a new phase of Jewish-Christian partnership and, depending on which side you’re on, it bodes well or ill for the future of the Jewish-Christian dialogue.

But the devil is in the details of divestment. Not one of the churches that has approved divestment or who might in the days and weeks ahead has truly sacrificed on behalf of Palestinian freedom. In a common sense view, divestment means getting rid of something at a personal or communal sacrifice. Divestment as it plays out in the churches is simply shifting stock in their portfolios, usually with the guarantee, often vocalized in the convention debate, that the church’s portfolio won’t suffer at all. In fact, the accountants often raise the possibility that higher yielding stocks or bonds might be found. Instead of sacrifice, divestment might be profitable!

Divestment or, rather, shifting stocks should be supported if those involved realize that such shifting is symbolic. Symbolism is part and parcel of politics and religion. Shifting stocks is important. But more than symbolism is involved. The church shifting of stocks is decades behind the political curve in Israel-Palestine. What could have been revolutionary in the 1970s or 1980s, is now taken for granted by Israel and the American Jewish establishment. Though they won’t admit it, shifting stocks is known by both as a given. Symbolically, they have to fight it, of course. Any Israeli or Jewish establishment analyst worth their salary has to know that “divestment” has left the station.

The anniversary of the Gaza war shows that the international community and the churches have avoided the reckoning needed for the Palestinian struggle. Paradoxically, the shifting of stocks in the upcoming church conventions is part of this avoidance. Rather than divesting, the churches remain too heavily invested in Israel-Palestine and too dependent on the government of Israel. Church personnel, equipment and their institutions are all vetted and approved, or disapproved, by Israel. The churches continue to be heavily invested at how they appear to Israel, Jews and the American Jewish establishment. Rather than the Palestinian struggle, the churches are invested in not being labelled as anti-Semitic.

The churches are looking through the wrong end of their involvement. They can make a difference. It will be costly. Their stock portfolios are only the beginning.

What to do? By all means, cheer on the forces that seek to shift the stock holdings. But in doing so, call on one church at least to go all out and dedicate the next five years of its corporate life specifically to Israel-Palestine. Declare Israel an apartheid state. Pour church resources from a true divestment into the Palestinian struggle. Stop hedging church bets on a two state solution, security for Jews etc., and declare Israel a rogue state, supported by an unjust, imperial, United States. Publicly end the Jewish-Christian dialogue/deal with the Jewish establishment. Announce a new dialogue/vision of solidarity with Jews and Palestinians of Conscience.

Will this tip the scales of an unjust Israel? I doubt it. But it would be a real rather than a symbolic commitment to a just future for Palestinians and Jews in Israel-Palestine.

Call it divestment with a bite. Witness with a purpose. At a sacrifice.

Marc H. Ellis

Marc H. Ellis is Professor of History and Jewish Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of the Global Prophetic. His latest book is Finding Our Voice: Embodying the Prophetic and Other Misadventures.

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25 Responses

  1. ramzijaber on June 13, 2015, 12:54 pm

    Marc, thank you for this. I agree.

    I believe the first thing churches need to do is to explain in their sermons that when the Holy Bible and the Blessed New Testament talk about Israel and Jews, they refer to Israel and Jews of 2,000 years ago. In today’s world, those Jews are the Christian’s of today. Not the zionist entity.

    A major challenge we Palestinians face today in the west and primarily USA, is the MISS-ASSOCIATION of the zionist entity with Christianity. This Judeo-Christian perspective must be put in historical context and in today’s Palestine. Palestinian Christians everywhere must play an active role in this mission. A mission of justice, equality, and freedom.

    I already see major changes in the Church and the Christian world. The Holy See Pope Francis is really making great and significant steps forward towards Palestine. Not only will this help Palestine, it will also start to address the focus of Moslem extremists on Christianity, and will strip neo-conservatives of a key argument they use to support zionists. We need to make sure that ISIS is not driven by, or uses the Christian/Islam line as their cause. It is not. It shouldn’t be. Take Palestine out of that equation.

  2. Keith on June 13, 2015, 4:43 pm

    MARC ELLIS- “…declare Israel a rogue state, supported by an unjust, imperial, United States.”

    An “unjust, imperial, United States?” Aye, there’s the rub! The churches of empire openly confront the ugly reality of empire? Good luck on that! As long as Israel enjoys imperial support, the mainstream churches will continue to be mostly concerned with their portfolios while making moralistic noise from time to time.

    • lysias on June 13, 2015, 6:12 pm

      The mainline churches divorced themselves from apartheid South Africa at a time when the U.S. government continued to tacitly support it.

  3. MHughes976 on June 13, 2015, 5:14 pm

    I agree that selling stocks, shares and property – a one-off thing that will not be remembered for long and which actually makes money for you to some extent – seems half-hearted by itself. It works only if accompanied by a sustained campaign of moral pressure, which means enduring the answering cries of ‘anti-Semitism’, remembering that these cries will be raised very loudly by many Christians, not just in the ultra-Evangelical fringe. The Vatican will stick to its diplomatic traditions.
    The Church of England, my lot, is not known for decisiveness, but Archbishop Welby has recently backed the Bishop of Guildford in crushing the vocal, perhaps eccentric Reverend Stephen Sizer who has long opposed Zionism and had ventured fatally into the jungle of 9/11 conspiracy theories – not a topic on which Christian theology has implications. I mean really crushed.
    Not that any authentic Christianity can forget that it was to Jewish people that, as the Epistle to the Romans remarks, the oracles of God were committed.

  4. lysias on June 13, 2015, 6:09 pm

    Sizer posted a link on his Facebook page to an article entitled “9/11: Israel did it”. Does posting a link to an article even constitute a public statement of agreement?

    My own suspicion about 9/11 is that it was masterminded by the powers that be in this country, and that other countries like Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan operated as junior partners assisting the plan masterminded in this country. I can’t prove that. But is there any reason why I shouldn’t be allowed to state my suspicion? And, if I can do so, why should Sizer not be allowed to?

    • MHughes976 on June 13, 2015, 6:26 pm

      Quite agree, Lysias. The discipline of the Church should be about the doctrines of the Church and about the standards of moral behaviour required of ministers and it should have an element of due process. Extreme suspicions of Mossad (the organisation that I think the article mentioned) are not immoral or heretical – secret organisations invite suspicion in any rational mind, though it’s the way of suspicions to go beyond reason and become ‘paranoid’: I for one do not share the specific suspicions of Mossad that Mr. Sizer mentioned. Treating a link, even one provided in a way that suggests a certain sympathy, as a statement of agreement is indeed a kind of internet-age Mccarthyism.
      But it’s all an indication of how long and hard the road ahead is.

      • RoHa on June 13, 2015, 8:46 pm

        ‘though it’s the way of suspicions to go beyond reason and become ‘paranoid'”

        I find it difficult to recognize when paranoia goes beyond reason. History and experience teach me that they are out to get me.

      • Mooser on June 14, 2015, 12:59 pm

        “History and experience teach me that they are out to get me.”

        If it’s only they who are out to get you, you’re not doing too bad. They are out to get me, too, and so are lots of them!

  5. Citizen on June 13, 2015, 8:38 pm

    Has this new populist Pope said anything about Gaza, Israel, the Palestinian plight?

    • just on June 13, 2015, 9:56 pm

      “Has this new populist Pope said anything about Gaza, Israel, the Palestinian plight?”

      More than others.

      Less than he should.

      jmo, Citizen. He’s got the biggest pulpit on the planet. He can and should do more.

      It would be like this (from the archives):

    • John O on June 14, 2015, 4:46 am

      And sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words:

      • Kay24 on June 14, 2015, 10:46 am

        He did not need words to get the point across. I wish someone would use this picture for a poster. It would make a huge impact.

    • Walid on June 14, 2015, 8:31 am

      “Has this new populist Pope said anything about Gaza, Israel, the Palestinian plight?” (Citizen)

      You are betting on the wrong horse; inasmuch as Benedictus XVI was beholden to the Zionists, Pope Francis is now more so; he’s practically a kosher-approved pope. Abe Foxman had read the riot act to Benedictus in 2010 when he was about to announce that the Catholic Church neither recognizes that Palestine was promised to the Jews nor that the Jews are the chosen people; these 2 concepts have now been set aside by the Church. The threat remained in effect throughout Benedictus’ papacy to prevent the overdue canonization of Pius XII. This pope issued the 3rd repudiation of the Jews’ guilt of deicide, he said Jews as a collectivity had nothing to do with it and instead pinned the blame on those rooting for the release of Barabbas. The Zionists were holding some thing against Benedictus because he was in a Nazi youth party.

      Now 2 years have gone by for Pope Francis and he hasn’t gone anywhere near the Pius XII canonization story but instead has canonized 2 unknown Palestinian nuns for show. When Francis visited Israel a year ago, everyone was hopeful that he would get a concession out of Israel for its land grab of the Cremissan Monastery but not a word was mentioned about it. As a Cardinal in Buenos Aires, he was very close to the Jewish community there and on becoming Pope, the Zionists knew they had someone on their team. Abraham Foxman congratulated the new Pope and said that he was a true friend of the Jews. Bnai Brith International President Jacobs congratulated the new Pope and Shimon Peres was the first head of state to invite the new Pope to Israel.

      In short, Pope Francis is so close to the Zionists, don’t expect him to make any major waves to the benefit of the Palestinians.

  6. CigarGod on June 14, 2015, 9:45 am


  7. MHughes976 on June 14, 2015, 1:08 pm

    I’ve always believed that Pope F shared the liberal Zionism of almost everyone else in the Euro-American upper crust – he moves in circles where hardly anything else is imaginable. I don’t doubt that he prays sincerely for a 2ss every day, just like Obama and many others: they are all caught up in the endless inability of the 2ss to happen. That one picture by the Wall did not really mean much without context, renewed emphasis from time to time as part of sustained engagement with the problem. ‘Leading in silent prayer for the Middle East’ which F did on one occasion, as I recall, is not really a way of leading but a way of keeping silent.
    Did Pope B really go so far as to say that Palestine remains promised and committed to Jewish people – ie commit himself fully and unmistakably to Zionism? I had not appreciated that.
    Not to forget sins nearer home for me. The Church of England is much committed to the Council of Christians and Jews, with the Archbishop of Canterbury as joint President (or some such thing) and the Queen as patron. That organisation (very strong and honoured in my diocese, Oxford) advocates, when you look closely (which many members of the clergy seem not to do), a version of lib Zi which is one of the most illiberal around: Jewish statehood is a certain right, Palestinian statehood is a right ‘probably’: ugh. (Well, I really ought to double check before I report the opinion I formed a few years ago on reading its public statements in order to remonstrate with a prominent clergyperson who was singing its praises and had, it turned out, had a lovely time on an early version of a para-birthright trip. I may not be able to bear looking at such stuff again just before teatime.) The CCJ was prominent in the hounding of Sizer, which in some sense makes the Archbish ‘a judge in his own cause’.

    • MHughes976 on June 14, 2015, 1:17 pm

      I’ve forgotten to which Pope Netanyahu gave a copy of his father’s book on the Spanish Inquisition, which (as I think was said by someone on Mondoweiss at the time) meant ‘You still owe us and owe us quite a lot’. I’ve no doubt that the involvement of many Jewish people in left-wing and progressive causes throughout the 20th century means that a very barbed, not necessarily very balanced, story could be written and publicised worldwide about Jewish victimisation by Catholics both in and after the Spanish Civil War and, more pointedly, in the days of the Argentine dictatorship.

      • Walid on June 14, 2015, 6:56 pm

        For ever the lout, Netanyahu gave his father’s book to Pope Francis in December 2013. As soon as Francis was elected, stories about his questionable past as Archbishop of Buenos Aires and earlier began to appear. It involved stories of turning a blind eye to the junta’s persecution of priests to mysteriously disappeared babies born to incarcerated Argentinian women. But just as fast as they had appeared, those stories disappeared from the news. The stories were briefly touched on by the BBC:

        “… It has all been perceived as a breath of fresh air. The stuffy papacy, which resembled a mediaeval monarchy, some say, is now gone.

        But lurking beneath the surface are pressing concerns that threaten to dog Jorge Mario Bergoglio from his time as Jesuit superior and cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church in Argentina.

        Within 24 hours of the white smoke from the Sistine Chapel, allegations emerged that he withdrew protection from two of his fellow Jesuits during the early years of the brutal military dictatorship of 1976 to 1983, which resulted in their captivity and torture.

        The Vatican acted swiftly to deny the claims. The remaining surviving priest, Fr Francisco Jalics, issued an initial statement saying he was “reconciled with these events”. The words appeared ambiguous. Might he be saying he was betrayed but has now forgiven the Pope for his betrayal?

        A week later, a more robust statement was issued from his secluded monastery in southern Germany, saying that it was “wrong to assert that our capture took place at the initiative of Father Bergoglio”. Any suggestion of a smoking gun appeared to have been extinguished.

        But can Bergoglio’s efforts to be a witness for justice during the dark days of the military regime compare with those of Oscar Romero, the archbishop from El Salvador, whose uncompromising criticism of government death squads and oppression of the poor led to him being assassinated in 1980 as he celebrated Mass?

        “Bergoglio was not a Romero. Very few people were like that,” says Ivan Petrella, religious affairs commentator at think tank Fundacion Pensar in his Buenos Aires office.

        But if Romero scored 10 on a 10-point scale for his courageous stand, how had the current Pope fared? “I´d say 7.5,” says Petrella. “Allegations against him have no basis in evidence.”

        But there is another story that demands answers – the supremely toxic affair of “disappeared” pregnant women, who gave birth to their children while being held in detention centres. Most of the mothers were murdered and their children handed on to “deserving” couples who were well connected with the brutal military junta.

        This is very much a live political issue. A number of the children have discovered the painful truth about their past, while hundreds more still remain blissfully ignorant of their parentage. The campaigning grandmothers assert that many priests and nuns were complicit in what happened and are still at large in society. They show no sign of letting the matter rest…”

      • MHughes976 on June 15, 2015, 11:20 am

        Perhaps it’s not just that there weren’t many like Romero but that there was no one like him. Bergoglio made no very audible protest – I presume that the case that many would make on his behalf is a version of Pius and Hitler – to protest would have worsened and extended the suffering. But there is also a case against him and at a word from Netanyahu that case would be made vigorously – made by some of the most incisive journalists in the world and reviewed kindly by some of the most respected historians. I imagine the drafts are ready on several memory sticks.

      • Walid on June 15, 2015, 12:25 pm

        MHughes, Pius it now seems according to various Jewish publications actually saved over 200,000 Jews from Hitler.

        But this is not good enough for Abe Foxman and the Zionists that continue blocking his canonization by the Vatican. Foxman the man behind the blocking of the canonization since 2005 is claiming that many of those Jews were saved by Pius by having converted them to Catholicism (exactly as what had happened to Foxman himself during the war to save him from the Nazis) and he wants the Vatican to come clean and provide the names of all the Jews that had been converted to make them aware that they are actually Jews. In short, no list means no canonization of Pius and the Vatican is shaking in its pants at the prospect of being branded antisemitic by the Jews.

        From the ADL website in 2005:

        “ADL to Vatican: Open Baptismal Records and Put Pius Beatification on Hold

        January 13, 2005

        The recent disclosure of a Vatican directive, urging Catholic officials in France not to return Jewish children who were baptized and hidden during the Holocaust to their families, has raised anew questions about the appropriateness of the beatification of Pope Pius XII. ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman, a Holocaust survivor who was baptized by his Polish nanny and hidden in Lithuania, has said that the document’s insensitivity toward Jews in the aftermath of the Holocaust is shocking.

        In a letter to Vatican officials in charge of Jewish-Christian relations, Mr. Foxman called on the Vatican to freeze the beatification process until the Holy See opens its archives and makes available all documentation on Pius’ actions during the war. Beatification is the penultimate step before sainthood.

        The Vatican directive on hidden children evoked painful memories for Mr. Foxman, who as a child was hidden from the Nazis by his Catholic nursemaid as his parents were exiled into Jewish ghettos and concentration camps. At the end of the war, when Mr. Foxman’s parents came to reclaim their only child, his nanny refused, prompting a drawn out custody dispute. The Vatican directive sheds new light on the woman’s actions, Mr. Foxman said in a letter to The New York Times.

        In addition, ADL wrote to the Vatican Secretary of State to call once again for the release of wartime baptismal records. “There may have been tens of thousands of rescued and baptized Jewish children who to this day are not aware of their true origins,” Mr. Foxman said. ”

  8. JWalters on June 14, 2015, 6:17 pm

    “Rather than divesting, the churches remain too heavily invested in Israel-Palestine and too dependent on the government of Israel. Church personnel, equipment and their institutions are all vetted and approved, or disapproved, by Israel.”

    Does this mean Christian churches in America are dependent on the government of Israel?! That would be amazing control!

    • Walid on June 14, 2015, 7:19 pm

      “Does this mean Christian churches in America are dependent on the government of Israel?! That would be amazing control! ” (JWalters)

      Not the churches of America as much as the churches of Palestine that are under a more recent form of Babylonian captivity. Ellis touched lightly on this issue when he mentioned that Israel controls everything that the Palestinian churches do, almost to the point of controlling the air they breathe. This is in return for Israel allowing Christian churches operating in Occupied Palestine and Israel a very minimal and limited degree of autonomy, especially to the Greek Orthodox Church, which is the largest in the land and which owns the majority of land currently under the control of Israel. In fact, Israel has a say, along with Jordan and the Palestinian National Authority, on who gets elected as Greek Orthodox Patriarch. The Greek Orthodox Church, that’s actually controlled by Greece rather than by Palestinians, is the landlord holding the current leases with the Government of Israel on the land on which the Knesset is built, the Museum, the Prime Minister’s residence and most of Jerusalem’s developed downtown and all these leases are set to expire with all properties built on them becoming property of the Church in about 15 or 20 years. This involves billions that Israel is trying to negotiate their lease renewals with the church leaders in Greece and a much more important investment/divestment issue than the few millions currently invested in Israel by the various American churches.

      • JWalters on June 14, 2015, 7:53 pm

        “The Greek Orthodox Church … is the landlord holding the current leases with the Government of Israel on the land on which the Knesset is built, the Museum, the Prime Minister’s residence and most of Jerusalem’s developed downtown and all these leases are set to expire with all properties built on them becoming property of the Church in about 15 or 20 years.”

        Fascinating! This sounds like some serious leverage. Let’s hope the Greek Orthodox Church steps up to their moral duty as a church of Peace for all humanity.

  9. Lillian Rosengarten on June 15, 2015, 10:51 am

    Thank you Marc. You are completely correct. Along with the churches, the US and EU must break their silence. The pressure must come from the outside.

  10. Rob Roy on June 15, 2015, 8:24 pm

    This conversation reminds me of something Netanyahu said that, if the Christians knew, might nudge them to the side of justice for the Palestinians:
    “The Christian Zionists are scum, but don’t tell them that. We need all the useful idiots we can get.” (Smoke that in your pipe, John Hagee.)
    Netanyahu also said, “After we squeeze all we can get out of the Americans, they can turn to dust and blow away.”

    • Mooser on June 16, 2015, 12:26 pm

      “reminds me of something Netanyahu said”

      These aren’t things he said ‘on the couch’, as it were?

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