The United Church of Christ called yesterday for the use of "economic leverage" to promote peace in the Middle East but rejected resolutions urging divestment in companies that supply Israel with bulldozers and military equipment.
In the final act of business at its general synod in Atlanta, the UCC also demanded that Israel tear down the barrier it is erecting on the West Bank to separate the Israeli population from Palestinians.
A day earlier, delegates to the synod voted to endorse equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, becoming the first mainline Protestant denomination to take that step. The UCC has about 1.3 million members in 6,000 congregations, each of which is independent and not bound by the denomination's decisions.
Participants said the resolutions on the Middle East were even more hotly debated than the marriage resolution, largely because of the outcry that followed a vote last year by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to consider a phased divestment in companies doing business with Israel. Many U.S. Jewish organizations reacted angrily to the Presbyterians' decision, which led to months of quiet fence-mending efforts by Protestant and Jewish leaders.
The UCC, which includes New England's Congregational churches, sought to take a more evenhanded approach. It rejected two proposed resolutions on divestment from Israel and adopted compromise language after hearing from U.S. Jewish leaders and Palestinian activists, according to Peter Makari, the UCC's executive for the Middle East and Europe.
The final resolution, adopted by a show of hands, called for various forms of economic pressure, including "divesting from those companies that refuse to change their practices of gain from the perpetuation of violence" by any side in the conflict between Israelis, Palestinians and neighboring Arab states, Makari said.
The resolution also condemned anti-Semitism and said that God's covenant with the Jewish people "remains inviolate." It denounced all forms of violence in the Middle East, "including acts of suicide bombing by Palestinians and the use of force by Israelis in perpetuating occupation of Palestinian lands."
The response from Jewish groups was mixed. David Elcott, a representative of the American Jewish Committee who attended the synod, said he was "very pleased that the UCC rejected those resolutions which we considered absolutely offensive."
Elcott said the resolution on economic leverage expressed "a kind of moral equivalency between Israeli self-defense and Palestinian suicide bombing, and we reject that." But, he said, it also contained a "very clear and unequivocal" statement of support for Israel's security.
"The only use of economic leverage is against companies that profit from violence, and while we may consider that naive, this is a non-violent church, and they may oppose even what we consider to be self-defense," he said.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles was not mollified. "By treating Israel within a different moral yardstick than the rest of the world, these moves are functionally anti-Semitic, undercut the forces of peace and moderation, and embolden the forces of terrorism," its associate dean, Rabbi Abraham Cooper, said in a statement.