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Christians Tackle Divestment From Israel – With Investment

Invest in Israel! Visit Israel! And write your own letter whenever divestment is propagated by someone!

By Julie Stahl, CNSNews.com Jerusalem Bureau Chief, October 21, 2005

Jerusalem (CNSNews.com) - Christian Zionists are teaming up to encourage greater investment in Israel. They're hoping to counteract a campaign by a pro-Palestinian group, which has encouraged Christian denominations in the USA to divest from Israel.

The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem's is holding its annual Feast of Tabernacles celebration in Jerusalem this week. The ICEJ - in conjunction with the Brussels-based International Christian Chambers of Commerce (ICCC) and the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce - urged Christians to invest in Israel at a press conference on Thursday.

The weeklong ICEJ conference coincides with the Jewish holiday of Succoth. This year more than 5,500 Christians -- the largest number in the organization's 26-year history -- from more than 70 nations are attending the festival.

The "invest in Israel" initiative comes at a time when a number of churches in the U.S. have chosen to divest. Rather than fight the divestment campaign by lobbying individual companies or churches, the ICEJ and the ICCC are taking a positive approach, said ICEJ Executive Director Malcolm Hedding.

"In light of the troubling church divestment campaign as well as the ongoing rebound in the Israeli economy, our ministry as committed to redoubling its efforts to promote Christian investment in Israel," Hedding said.

The Presbyterian Church USA led the divestment parade, by launching an anti-Israel campaign in July 2004. The World Council of Churches and several other liberal denominations followed suit.

ICEJ spokesman David Parsons said he wanted to make it clear that his organization was not opposed to investment in the Palestinian people. "We love them. We have a 25-year track record of humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian Arabs of this land, whether Muslim, Christian, Druze - just so long as it's responsible, fully accounted for and it's not helping feed the terror chain," he said.

Investing in the Palestinians is acceptable, he said. But attacking and de-legitimizing Israel is something the ICEJ will stand against, he added.

New initiative
For years, the ICEJ has sponsored programs to help meet the material and social needs of disadvantaged and disabled Israelis, both Jews and Arabs alike, and it has helped more than 60,000 Jews to immigrate to Israel. This year one of the ICEJ's projects included raising a half-million Euros (nearly $600,000) to help fund a therapeutic swimming pool for handicapped children in the southern Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon. The feast celebration also infuses millions of dollars of income into the Israeli economy - more than $15 million in this year alone. But the new investment initiative aims to challenge Christians to invest in businesses here.

While there is already some Christian investment in Israel there is not enough, said Dale Neill, president of the ICCC. Christians should be encouraged by the resilience of the Israeli economy, said Neill. "Look what the economy has survived [in the last five years]," said Neill. "The economy is not based on tourism as much as people think."

During the last five years of Palestinian terrorism, tourism plummeted to all-time lows. But according to Uriel Lynn, president of the ICC, since former Finance Minister Binyamin Netanyahu began to implement his new financial policies in 2003, the Israeli economy has been growing."It's a very stable economy," said Lynn. This year the growth rate of the economy will surpass five percent, he said. "The growth rates [here are] the envy of countries in Europe."

According to Neill, the ICCC is working in conjunction with the ICEJ and the ICC to try to overcome some of the technical difficulties that make it hard for foreigners to invest in small- and medium-sized businesses in Israel.

Without elaborating, Neill said that part of the new thrust is to try to find ways to overcome those difficulties, to create the possibility for business opportunities here and to make creative new kinds of investment funds in order to make it possible for someone with even a small amount of money to invest in Israel.

Losing steam

The divestment campaign has lost momentum -- primarily because congregants didn't always back the church hierarchy's decision to divest -- and has not had a financial impact on Israel yet, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, an associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center in California. But left unchecked, it could have serious ramifications for Jewish-Christian relations in America, he said.

"There is a small group of activists within the church...who are very devoted to their worldview and their worldview is exclusively focused on the Palestinian narrative," Cooper told journalists. "It has not yet impacted [the U.S.] in terms...of spawning anti-Semitism or anti-Semitic acts on the ground because I don't think that this political campaign has yet reached the grass roots level," said Cooper. "But if it's left unattended it will absolutely have a negative impact."

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