Presbyterian investment committee recommends divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola over complicity in the occupation

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The Presbyterian Church (USA) will vote on a resolution to divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola at its next General Assembly to be held June 30 – July 7, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pa. The church is considering divestment because “products made by those companies are used in nonpeaceful ways in the Israel-Palestine conflict” and dialogue and shareholder actions with the companies have not yielded results.

From The Presbyterian Outlook:

The denomination’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee is recommending that the PC(USA) divest its holdings in three companies – Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions.

MRTI, which is responsible for implementing the denomination’s policy for socially responsible investing, says products made by those companies are used in nonpeaceful ways in the Israel-Palestine conflict, and that efforts to convince those companies to change their practices have failed.

The PC(USA)’s policies regarding Israel and divestment continue to be both closely watched and controversial – with interest groups weighing in both in support of the MRTI recommendation and in opposition. The question of Presbyterian policy towards Israel is likely to receive much scrutiny again at the 2012 General Assembly in Pittsburgh, and the rhetoric of the debate at times has been anything but nuanced.

The 2006 General Assembly determined that the denomination’s investments in the region should only be used for peaceful pursuits, and the assembly has instructed MRTI to follow a process of corporate engagement to assess whether firms doing business in Israel-Palestine are meeting that criterion, said Brian Ellison, a pastor from Kansas City who is chair of the MRTI committee.

MRTI 2Ellison tried to respond to some misunderstandings about the MRTI recommendations in a Feb. 16 presentation to the General Assembly Mission Council.

“We are not recommending a boycott of Israel,” Ellison said. “We are not recommending divestment of all companies that do business in Israel,” but only of three particular companies whose practices do not meet the criteria the General Assembly set up.

Council member Clark Cowden, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of San Diego, asked Ellison what the consequences might be for the PC(USA) of divestiture.

“The most important thing we can do is be very clear about what we are doing, and not allow that message to be misrepresented,” Ellison responded. “It’s not a statement against Israel or for Palestine, or vice-versa . . . We’ve never sided with one side or the other. The witness here is to peace and nonviolence on both sides.”

In recommending divestment in the three companies, MRTI has raised concerns about:

– Caterpillar, which sells equipment that Ellison said has been used to demolish Palestinian homes, knock down olive trees and construct homes in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories.

– Hewlett Packard, which makes biometric scanners used at Israeli military checkpoints and technology used by the Israeli defense forces.

– Motorola Solutions, which sells communications equipment used by the Israeli military.

Ellison outlined the efforts MRTI has made to communicate with each of these firms – including letters, conference calls, e-mails, face-to-face meetings and shareholder resolutions.

The article ends: “We really have tried” to make progress with the three companies, Ellison said. “We have tried to have dialogue with these three companies and do not see the likelihood of a productive outcome.”

Two days ago, the Rabbincial Council of Jewish Voice for Peace sent a letter of support to the Presbyterians, and encouraged them to take this divestment action.

The letter reads:

We write to you as members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council to encourage your efforts to initiate phased selective divestment from corporations which profit from or support Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. We applaud your initiative and want to communicate our support as Jewish leaders who also work for justice and peace for the people of Israel and Palestine.

We are aware that the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA) has unleashed a powerful campaign to dissuade you, and consequently dissuade the Presbyterian Church (USA) from moving forward with its well-considered divestment campaign. We have been dismayed to learn the JCPA has called your divestment campaign “anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and at times anti-Semitic”.

As Jewish leaders, we believe the JCPA’s stance does not represent the broader consensus of the American Jewish community. There is in fact a growing desire within the North American Jewish community to end our silence over Israel’s oppressive occupation of Palestine. Every day Jewish leaders – we among them – are stepping forward to express outrage over the confiscation of Palestinian land, destruction of farms and groves and homes, the choking of the Palestinian economy and daily harassment and violence against Palestinian people. Members of the Jewish community are increasingly voicing their support for nonviolent popular resistance against these outrages – including the kind of cautious, highly-specified divestment such as the Presbyterian Church (USA) is preparing to undertake.

However, even if the American Jewish community were unanimously opposed to such phased selective divestment by your Church – which is not at all the case – we believe it is still important that you move forward with the thoughtful multi-year process which your Church has begun. Your Church has long been active in pursuing justice and peace by nonviolent means, including divestment, in many places around the world. As Christians, you have your own particular stake in the land to which both our traditions have long attachments of faith and history. We particularly acknowledge the oppression of Palestinian Christians under Israeli occupation and the justice of your efforts to relieve the oppression directed against your fellows.

To advocate for an end to an unjust policy is not anti-Semitic. To criticize Israel is not anti-Semitic. To invest your own resources in corporations which pursue your vision of a just and peaceful world, and to withdraw your resources from those which contradict this vision, is not anti-Semitic. There is a terrible history of actual anti-Semitism perpetrated by Christians at different times throughout the millennia and conscientious Christians today do bear a burden of conscience on that account. We can understand that, with your commitment to paths of peace and justice, it must be terribly painful and inhibiting to be accused of anti-Semitism.

In fact, many of us in the Jewish community recognize that the continuing occupation of Palestine itself presents a great danger to the safety of the Jewish people, not to mention oppressing our spirits and diminishing our honor in the world community. We appreciate the solidarity of people of conscience in pursuing conscientious nonviolent strategies, such as phased selective divestment, to end the occupation.

With prayers for peace,

Rabbi Margaret Holub, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Brant Rosen, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Alissa Wise, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Julie Greenberg, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Michael Feinberg, JVP Rabbinical Council

Cantor Michael Davis, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Rachel Barenblatt, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Lynn Gottleib, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, JVP Rabbinical Council

Rabbi Joseph Berman, JVP Rabbinical Council

David Basior, Rabbinical Student, JVP Rabbinical Council

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