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Stephen Bates, religious affairs correspondent | The Guardian | 7 February 2006
The Church of England's general synod - including the Archbishop of Canterbury - voted last night to disinvest church funds from companies profiting from Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.
The main target of the plan will be the US earth-moving equipment company Caterpillar which has supplied vehicles used by Israel to demolish Palestinian homes. When the worldwide Anglican communion called for such a move, at a meeting last summer, there followed protests from Israel and Jewish groups. The church currently invests about £2.5m of its £900m share portfolio in Caterpillar and had been engaged in negotiations with the company about its activities. Caterpillar insists it has not provided the earth movers directly to Israel but to the US military which sold them on.
So passionate was the debate that it squeezed out an equally contentious decision last Friday by the Church commissioners, managers of the church's investment and property portfolio, to sell off the century-old Octavia Hill housing estates for more than 1,000 poor tenants in south London to property developers.
On the first day of its meeting in London, the general synod, the church's parliament, heard denunciations of Israel's use of the machines from one of its own bishops and from the Anglican bishop of Jerusalem, who is Palestinian, whose letter was read out.
The Rt Rev John Gladwin, Bishop of Chelmsford, who is chairman of Christian Aid, told the meeting that the problem in the Middle East was the government of Israel rather than Caterpillar but that it was vital that the church should invest only in organisations which behaved ethically.