United Methodist Church rejects divestment

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A vigil greeting delegates yesterday morning at they arrived at the United Methodist Church General Conference where divestment will be voted on. (Photo: US Campaign)

UPDATE [6:22 p.m.]: Jewish Voice for Peace released the following statement:

Jewish Voice for Peace Statement on the United Methodist Church Efforts to Divest from Companies Profiting from the Israeli Occupation

May 2nd, 2012

JVP is disappointed that the resolution calling for divestment from three companies that profit from the Israeli Occupation (Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions) failed to pass at the United Methodist Church’s 2012 General Conference on May 2nd.

In many ways, this effort was a success even though the resolution did not pass. Since the last Methodist General Assembly in 2008, support for divestment has grown enormously, as is evident by the support by the Assembly of another resolution condemning settlements and calling for a boycott of settlement goods. West Ohio, New York, and Northern Illinois are three regions of the United Methodist Church that have already divested from the Israeli occupation at their own annual conferences.

We are pleased that the church has come to a consensus that the Israeli occupation is wrong and must end. We are gratified to share with our Methodist friends this commitment to ending the occupation and its wrongful treatment of Palestinians.

Through the work of our Methodist allies, we have learned that the companies named in the petition to divest have been utterly non-responsive to church members repeated attempts at engagement, and are clear that they have no intention of changing their business practices. As the General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society of the UMC, Jim Winkler, recently stated:

“As someone who has been involved in the discussions by UM agencies and ecumenical partners with Caterpillar for six years, I would like to share critical issues we have repeatedly raised with the company. Regrettably, in all of these meetings, including one last week, Caterpillar has told us it has no intention to change any of its business practices relating to the occupied Palestinian territories.”

We also see an evolution in our own community. As dozens of Rabbis noted in an open letter to the UMC:

“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-specific divestment such as the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) are preparing to undertake.”

We re-affirm that divestment “alternatives” such as the Ruggie Principles that were passed as an alternative to divestment are an inadequate way for businesses to protect Palestinian human rights. The Ruggie Principles language does not require any action or enforceable accountability for companies that sign them, and thus are a fig leaf for companies to continue to profit from the Occupation. Positive investment in the Palestinian economy, which was also passed in the Assembly as a divestment alternative, does not address the real and present dangers to Palestinian people whose homes continue to be demolished, whose families are harassed by Israeli settlers, and whose lives means of income and livelihood are curtailed by Israeli checkpoints.

We regret that the values we share with the United Methodists Kairos Response, that were so beautifully expressed on the floor before the vote, were not turned into action.

We were most proud that this effort provided the opportunity to conduct hands-on, meaningful, and impactful interfaith work. The coalition that supported the United Methodist Kairos Response during their push for selective divestment was a remarkable array of groups across faith, ethnicity, nationality, and religion. The coalition included clergy who have made great strides from questioning the merits of divestment to now proudly supporting the church’s effort, Congolese Methodists who see parallels with struggles in their country, and Jews who stand side-by-side with their Christian brothers and sisters in this historic struggle for justice, equality and self-determination. Most importantly, the plight of Palestinian Christians, and all Palestinians, under occupation were at the center of this struggle.

We salute the United Methodist Kairos Response for their organizing efforts. We will continue to work with them and with all people of good conscience in an effort to end the Israeli occupation and to bring justice and peace.

UPDATE [5:24 p.m.]: The United Methodist Kairos Response just sent out the following statement:

United Methodist Church Fails to Align its Words with its Actions

Today, United Methodist Kairos Response (UMKR) did not get the decision that we had hoped for, as the General Conference plenary voted against a motion calling for divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions, companies that profit from Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights and denial of Palestinian freedom. The conference faced a choice between standing with the oppressed as Jesus did, or yielding to fear. It appears that they yielded to fear as a result of misinformation spread about the consequences of supporting divestment.

However, we have achieved a great victory nonetheless. We have succeeded in raising awareness amongst the general public and in our churches about the suffering of Palestinians, including Palestinian Christians, living under Israel’s nearly 45-year-old military occupation, and the colonization of their lands. The brutal reality of the Israeli occupation can no longer be hidden, and the myth that Christians are leaving the Holy Land because of Muslim pressure has been exposed as false. Palestinian Christians who traveled 6,000 miles to share their reality told delegates that they suffer alongside their Muslim neighbors from Israel’s occupation.

Though the Pension Board has chosen to keep church funds in companies that profit from the occupation, a number of annual (regional) conferences within the church have already divested. Individual United Methodists will also do so. Friends Fiduciary, the large Quaker financial services corporation, voted last month to divest from Caterpillar. Other churches will soon follow the Quakers.

This issue has brought together conservative, moderate and liberal leaders in our own denomination, as well as others, who support justice and human rights for all, and we believe our shared experience in advocating for this issue will result in closer working relationships on other issues as well. The quest for justice unites people in ways that go far beyond theology, ethnicity, or politics. Deep and lasting interfaith friendships have been forged through this initiative. We have been humbled by the rabbis and other Jewish supporters who traveled to Tampa to stand with us.

Despite this disappointment, our efforts to inform and educate United Methodists and others about the plight of the Palestinians, and the ways in which church investments further their suffering, will continue, as will the global struggle for peace and justice for all the peoples of the Holy Land.

Original Post:

Today, the United Methodist Church is expected to debate and vote on divesting from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard for their involvement in the Israeli occupation. Read this post from Anna Baltzer and Sydney Levy on what has transpired at the Methodist General Conference to this point (you can find all the Mondoweiss posts on the Methodist vote here).

You can follow the General Conference via live video here, and over Twitter at the #churchdivest hashtag.

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