The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) narrowly voted to divest from three multinational corporations that allegedly sell products to Israel to help promote violence in Palestinian territories. The move was criticized by the Anti-Defamation League, the Union for Reform Judaism and other groups.
The PC(USA) General Assembly, held in Detroit, voted 310-303 to sell stock in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions on Friday, about two years after rejecting a similar proposal by just two votes.
The Associated Press quoted Heath Rada, moderator for the church meeting, as saying after the vote that "in no way is this a reflection of our lack of love for our Jewish brothers and sisters."
"We as a church cannot profit from the destruction of homes and lives," the Rev. Gradye Parsons, Director of Operations of Office of the General Assembly, said in a statement. "We continue to invest in many businesses involved in peaceful pursuits in Israel."
Representatives of the Presbyterian socially responsible investment arm said at the meeting the decision was taken after their efforts to lobby the three companies for change had failed.
The holdings of the Presbyterian Church in the three companies is estimated to be around $21 million, according to a church spokeswoman.
Motorola Solutions issued a statement saying the company abides by the law and has policies to address human rights.
Hewlett-Packard also said it has checkpoints for Palestinians to expedite passage "in a secure environment, enabling people to get to their place of work or to carry out their business in a faster and safer way."
Caterpillar has denied it sells equipment to Israel, adding it sells only to the U.S. government.
The ADL denounced the church's decision, calling it "out of step with the views of the majority of Presbyterians in the pews and sends a painful message to American Jews."
"Over the past ten years, PC(USA) leaders have fomented an atmosphere of open hostility to Israel within the church, promoted a one-sided presentation of the complex realities of the Middle East, and permitted the presentation of a grossly distorted image of the views of the Jewish community," the ADL statement said.
The denomination sought to suggest that the decision was not an embrace of Boycott Divestment Sanctions against Israel.
However, the ADL responded by saying, "The claim by the PC(USA) that it does not support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is simply not reflected in this resolution and the overall tone of the discussions."
The New York-based American Jewish Committee also said the measure was "driven by hatred of Israel."
Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said the decision will "undoubtedly have a devastating impact" on the denomination's relations with mainstream Jewish groups. "We hold the leadership of the PCUSA accountable for squandering countless opportunities, not only to act responsibly to advance prospects for Middle East peace but also to isolate and repudiate the radical, prejudiced voices in their denomination," the council said in a statement.
The decision included an endorsement of the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, reaffirming Israel's right to exist.
Earlier this month, a group of Messianic Jewish leaders signed an official statement denouncing PC(USA)'s then proposal for divestment, reaffirming the leaders' commitment to supporting the modern state of Israel.
"Amid reports of growing worldwide anti-Semitism, the church's Israel/Palestine Mission Network offers 'Zionism Unsettled,' a study guide that explicitly delegitimizes Israel as a Jewish state. In the face of such actions, the international Messianic Jewish community expresses its unwavering support for the Jewish homeland in Israel."
Signatories for the statement included John Fischer, president of the International Messianic Jewish Alliance; Russell Resnik, executive director of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations; Paul Liberman, president of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America; and Frank Lowinger, chairman of the International Association of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues.