If you’ve been keeping an eye on the anti-Israel campaign of the Interfaith Group for Morally Responsible Investment (IMRI), in which Stephen Sizer has been active, you may have noticed that the subject of divestment from Caterpillar has raised its head again.
IMRI, you may recall, called for a boycott of Caterpillar back in 2006. When the Church of England’s Central Board of Finance apparently refused to implement the decision of the General Synod to divest from Caterpillar, Rev Dr Stephen Sizer withdrew £120,000 of his church’s money from the Church of England investment account in protest, saying that “If the CBF will not withdraw our money from Caterpillar, then we will do it for them.” During this campaign, Sizer became infamous for using seemingly antisemitic language against opponents of the boycott.
On Sunday, an article appeared on Stephen Sizer’s blog in which he claimed:
“In what may be a major triumph for the Interfaith Group for Morally Responsible Investment, unattributed sources linked to a leading British Newspaper claim that the Church Commissioners have secretly sold their £2.2. million shares in Caterpillar.”
Yesterday, various websites carried this story.
The UAE’s The National reported that:
“Christian clerics today demanded that the Church of England honour its commitment to disinvest from Israeli companies operating in the occupied territories.
More than 20 clerics and theologians, including Alun Morinan, national co-ordinator of the Christian Network’s Campaign Against the Arms Trade, signed a letter to be published today in The Guardian newspaper, calling for immediate action.”
Yet this letter did not appear in The Guardian yesterday.
UAE’s Al Arabiya explains:
“The Church of England said Monday that it withdrew £2.2 million ($3.3 million) from Caterpillar Inc. in late December 2008 because of economic considerations. Israel used bulldozers bought from the U.S.-based manufacturer of construction and mining equipment to demolish Palestinian homes.
News of the church’s divestment came late Saturday just in time to prevent the planned publication of a letter in the Guardian signed by 23 theologians accusing the Church of England of not acting on its policy to promote morally and ethically responsible investments.”
Church of England spokesperson Steve Jenkins insisted that:
“The Church of England withdrew shares it held in the company for purely investment reasons.”
Yet IMRI chair Garth Hewitt claimed:
“I think it is a little bit sad that they quietly removed their holdings presumably to avoid any fuss,” he said, adding that members of the General Synod had no news of divestment.
“We only heard about this by accident as it was not publicized. It appears to have been done secretly and leaked, then later announced as divestment but not at [our] instigation,” he said.
Whatever the truth may be about the reasons behind the decision to sell its shares, clearly the Church of England was put under pressure not just by IMRI, but also by the wider Palestine Solidarity Campaign.
The “Interfaith Group of Moral Investment” is, of course, anything but. IMRI is not ostensibly a religious group but instead a coalition of various anti-Israel political groups, including Interpal, Amos Trust, War on Want, European Jews for a Just Peace, JFJFP, ICAHD UK and Architects & Planners for Justice in Palestine.
Judging from their own descriptions of themselves, not one of these last four groups can be considered as “faith” groups, but are rather political Jewish anti-Zionist groups. Neither is Interpal a religious group. Even the nominally-Christian Amos Trust and War on Want have recently been accused of using religious imagery to push a political agenda.
Nor indeed should the group be considered as worthy to judge “Moral Investment”: with three prominent members of IMRI (Sizer, Hewitt and Hewitt) contributing to a website which denies the genocide in Darfur, they are unlikely to call for the Church to divest from Sinopec or Petrochina any time soon.
When Sizer withdrew his church’s funds from the Church of England in 2006, he claimed that:
“This is not an attack on Israel or the Jewish people but a non-violent response to an unjust and intolerable situation.”
Yet if Garth Hewitt is to be believed, IMRI’s next proposed action appears to be exactly that:
“Our interest now is to go to Veolia, a company supporting war crimes by helping to build a rail way to Jewish settlements,” he said, adding that the Stockholm Council in Sweden already turned down their contract.
As far as I’m aware, Veolia is simply planning a light railway system in Jerusalem.
In any case, is there not something very creepy and disturbing about IMRI targetting train companies working in the Jewish state?