The Council's central committee, meeting in Geneva, praised the Presbyterian Church for examining the possibility of divesting from Israeli companies, similar to the financial boycott it used against the apartheid regime in South Africa two decades ago.

The Presbyterian threat, which echoes divestment debates at some US universities, has angered Jewish-American leaders.

But the central committee, in a document approved at a week-long meeting at WCC headquarters that ended on Tuesday, highlighted the divestment push and encouraged other member churches to consider doing the same.

For peace

"This action is commendable in both method and manner, uses criteria rooted in faith and calls members to do the things that make for peace," it declared, using St Luke's Gospel in the Bible as a reference.

"Economic pressure, appropriately and openly applied, is one such means of action," it added.

It was not clear how many of the WCC's 342 Protestant and Orthodox member churches would heed the call.

"This action is commendable in both method and manner, uses criteria rooted in faith and calls members to do the things that make for peace"

World Council of Churches

"Multinational corporations have been involved in the demolition of Palestinian homes," the WCC statement said.

They were also involved in "the construction of settlements and settlement infrastructure on occupied territory, in building a dividing wall which is also largely inside occupied territory and in other violations of international law".

The Presbyterian Church's general assembly called last July for a "phased, selective divestment" beginning no earlier than July 2006.

But a dissident group is asking church leaders to place a moratorium on the project as early as next month.

List of targets

No companies have been singled out but a report naming the most likely targets is due in August.

Human rights groups have urged Caterpillar Inc, the world's largest maker of construction machinery, to stop selling bulldozers to the Israeli army, saying they are used to wreck innocent Palestinian homes in occupied Gaza and the West Bank.

No one knows yet how much of the church's $8 billion portfolio - investments covering pensions and other holdings controlled by its leadership - might be at issue. 

Jewish groups are clearly upset.
   
"Instead of talking about peace we're talking about Presbyterians," David Elcott, director of inter-religious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, said this month.

"They have deflected conversation in a very negative way."    

The 2.5 million-strong church, the ninth largest in the US, represents most US Presbyterians.