PCUSA Calls for Disinvestment in Israel-Related Firms

A panel within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) passed a resolution on Friday calling for voting on disinvestment in multi-national companies that profit from non-peaceful activities in Israel-Palestine.

The General Assembly Mission Council recommended that the PC(USA) General Assembly, whose biennial meeting is scheduled for late June and early July in Pittsburgh, vote to pull out investments in three companies – Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard – "until they have ceased profiting from non-peaceful activities in Israel-Palestine," Presbyterian News Service reported Friday.

The council, which met at The Brown hotel in Louisville, Ky., alleged that these companies, by way of allowing all to use their services, had participated in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, constructed the "security barrier" between Israel and Palestinian territory, and destroyed Palestinian homes, roads and fields to make way for the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank – acts that are illegal under international law.

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"We have run out of hope that these companies are willing to change their corporate practices [in Israel-Palestine]," said the Rev. Brian Ellison, a Kansas City pastor and chair of the denomination's Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee. "We have made diligent effort to engage in conversation. We'd like to do more, to make progress, but substantial change does not seem possible."

Ellison said the measure should not be seen as a boycott, adding that it's not a call for general divestment either. "We hold stock in many companies that do business in Israel and the West Bank. What we are asking is divestment from particular companies where engagement has not been productive." His denomination, he said, had tried to engage both sides since the beginning of the Israel-Palestine conflict in 1948. "Our sole goal is a just peace."

Not all council members backed the recommendation. Member Kears Pollock opposed it, saying that divestment is "ineffective and unproductive and actually goes against peacemaking." Pollock argued that some of the activities of the companies had actually saved lives. "This action condemns every businessman sitting in Presbyterian pews across the country."

The Rev. Clark Cowden, executive of San Diego Presbytery, warned that "there will be some pretty strong negative consequences in some of our congregations and presbyteries ― the costs are greater than the benefits."

However, Member Teresa Bazemore responded by saying that the divestment issue had been "painted with too broad a brush." "We are invested in many companies engaged in peaceful pursuits in Israel-Palestine. These three companies have made a conscious decision not to do so. It is our right and responsibility not to invest in these companies."

The companies had not responded to the allegations at press time. However, Tama McWhinney, a spokeswoman for Motorola Solutions, told The Huffington Post that it has "a comprehensive set of policies and procedures that address human rights" to "ensure that our operations worldwide are conducted using the highest standards of integrity and ethical business conduct."

Jewish groups lambasted the church panel. Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said his group was "profoundly disappointed" by the council's recommendation. "Neither peace nor the long friendship between our two communities is served by this action," he said in a statement.

"It is tragic that national Presbyterian leaders are making the delegitimization of Israel a public witness of their church. Once again, we turn to our friends who will gather in the church's General Assembly this summer to find a path towards peace rather than dissension. The proposed resolution drives a wedge between our two communities, frustrates interfaith cooperation and undermines our joint efforts to pursue social justice."

In 2004, the General Assembly adopted a resolution that called for initiation of "a process of phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel." However, in 2006, the church amended the policy to investment in Israel, the Gaza Strip, eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank "in only peaceful pursuits." In 2008, the General Assembly decided against over-identification with one side on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

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