March 28, 2017


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Untangling the threads of divestment

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 21/6/2013 (1375 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

One of the most deeply held principles for relief and development groups is listening to their partners in the developing world.

Most times, that means getting good advice on how to do better programming.

But sometimes they pose difficult or uncomfortable questions about decisions made in Canada that affect their lives -- questions about how much we consume, the effect of our energy-use on the environment, or how we invest our money.

The last question is one Mennonite Central Committee is wrestling with.

Christians and others they work with in Palestine have asked the agency to examine its financial portfolio to ensure none of its investments are being used to support violence in the region.

In response, on June 5 the board of Mennonite Central Committee in Manitoba passed a resolution to make sure its investments do not "contribute to the suffering of Palestinian people, or any other people groups."

According to MCC Manitoba executive director Ronald Janzen, while the decision was taken in response to a specific request, this is "not a new policy action."

The resolution also "goes both ways," he says. "We also want to avoid investing in any companies that produce products and services that harm Israelis. We're against all violence and human suffering."

The action is not a boycott, he emphasizes. "We're very deliberate that this is about investments," he says, adding it is also largely symbolic since MCC Manitoba's investment portfolio is small and most of its investments are done locally.

To assist it in its investment strategy in Palestine and Israel, MCC is using the American Friends Service Committee "Israel/Palestine Investment Screen" list. Among the 29 companies on the list are Boeing, Caterpillar, General Electric, Hewlett Packard, Motorola and Volvo.

MCC has been involved in Palestine for over 60 years, offering relief, development and a variety of programs promoting peace and reconciliation in the region.

Members of the Jewish community in Winnipeg have expressed concern about the resolution.

"The real question is why MCC isn't looking for opportunities to invest in peace, for the benefit of both Palestinians and Israelis alike, instead of looking for businesses to blacklist," says Shelley Faintuch, Community Relations Director for the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg.

She notes that these divestment campaigns have not only "failed at every turn, they have ironically targeted Israeli companies that employ hundreds of Palestinians."

For Faintuch, it is disappointing "MCC doesn't seem to recognize that one can be pro-Palestinian without being anti-Israel."

Alan Green, senior rabbi at Shaarey Zedek synagogue, understands MCC's stand "is born of compassion for the all-too-real suffering of the Palestinian people."

His problem with the resolution is that it "fails to take into consideration the numerous attempts... to divide the land equitably between Israelis and Palestinians, and the Palestinian leadership's consistent rejection of the same."

In the mid-1990s, I visited Israel and Palestine. Near the end of the visit my hosts took me to Canada Park, a beautiful national park located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It was a deliberate choice, a way to help me understand the complexities of life in the region.

Canada Park was established in 1975 with help from a $15-million gift from the Jewish National Fund of Canada. It is also the site of three former Palestinian villages, including the biblical village of Emmaus -- the place where the Bible says Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection.

Following the 1967 war, the villages were razed and the inhabitants forced to relocate.

Standing in the park, I realized how complicated the situation was -- in this one place you had many layers of hope, history, suffering, memories and money involving Palestinians, Israelis, Canadians, Muslims, Jews and Christians. For me, the threads were difficult to understand, much less untangle.

Is divestment one of those threads? Some say it is. Others disagree. One thing I know; like Canada Park, it's a complex issue.


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