Presbyterian committee passes call for divestment from occupation profiteers

ActivismIsrael/PalestineUS Politics
on 32 Comments
Caterpillar tractor
Caterpillar bulldozer, occupied territories

The Presbyterian committee on the Middle East has voted overwhelmingly in favor of divesting from three companies whose products are used by the Israeli military.

The vote this morning, with 36 in favor, 11 against and 1 abstention, is a boon to divestment activists who hope that the full Presbyterian general assembly will vote to divest. It removes the last barrier to a full plenary vote, which is set for Thursday or Friday of this week.

Here’s the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian church statement on the vote:

The Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is pleased to announce that today Committee 15 of the 220th General Assembly voted in favor of Resolution 15-11, which calls for divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions, over Israel’s use of their products in violations of Palestinian human rights. In voting to support divestment, committee members also recommended that the church reinvest divested funds into companies engaging in peaceful pursuits in Israel and Palestine.

“This is an encouraging step,” said Rev. Dr. Walt Davis, IPMN Education Co-Chair. “We hope plenary voters will follow the lead of Committee 15 and the recommendations of the Mission Responsibility Through Investing committee and support divestment from these companies that are profiting from Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. It’s been a long and thorough process and it’s finally time for the church to stop profiting from the suffering the peoples of the Holy Land.”

You can read the resolution here.

Caterpillar makes bulldozers that are outfitted by the Israeli military and used to destroy Palestinian homes. The corporation suffered a blow after the pension fund TIAA-CREF divested some holdings in the company last month following a decision by MSCI, a Wall Street investment service firm, to take Caterpillar off its index of “socially responsible” companies.

Hewlett-Packard and Motorola are also companies whose products are used to sustain Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank.

The vote came after a marathon session yesterday that featured heated debate over the measure.

The one abstention on the vote came from Ken Page, a Presbyterian commissioner from Florida who went on a Jewish Council for Public Affairs junket to Israel. He recused himself from all votes to avoid charges of bias.

Even before the vote, Israel lobbyists were fretting about the chances that the divestment resolution had. It appears their nervousness was justified.

Jewish Voice for Peace has a petition up encouraging Presbyterians to “vote your conscience on divestment from corporations profiting from the Occupation.” Sign it here.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is an assistant editor for Mondoweiss and the World editor for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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32 Responses

  1. Joseph Glatzer
    July 3, 2012, 1:05 pm

    You know what predictably comes next right? “This is no big deal! It is not a full vote for divestment so it doesn’t really matter!” Then if it gets passed and the Church does divest they will say, “Their holdings in Israeli companies is very small and this will make no impact whatsoever on the Israeli economy. The Presbyterian Church is turning its back on its Jewish allies and this is very troubling.”

    • justicewillprevail
      July 3, 2012, 1:25 pm

      The usual suspects can drag out their threadbare arguments for the nth time. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is that the realisation of the true nature of the Israeli occupation and its continuing vicious campaign against human rights for Palestinians is spreading across the board. The propagandists can jump up and down as much as they like, issue implicit threats, smear people, all the usual hoopla, but it won’t stop the dissemination of truth, and than means millions of more horrified people, who have a conscience, and will not to be told what to think by the army of toy soldiers that Israel employs.

      • Blake
        July 3, 2012, 3:38 pm

        Any criticism of the mammon nightmare is welcome news as far as I am concerned. Good for the Presbyterians.

    • giladg
      July 3, 2012, 4:22 pm

      The lines are so unclear Mr. Glatzer, that people will start to boycott Israel because trying to understand the lines will be impossible for some. This then means that Jews who say they care for Israel will be lending a hand delegitimizing the Jewish State. Is this what you want? Some of the damage being caused is not going to be reversible.

      • Avi_G.
        July 3, 2012, 6:10 pm

        The Jewish state has long delegitimized itself through its own actions. Nonetheless, a Jewish state has no legitimacy to begin with as it seeks to subordinate an entire people for simply belonging to a different religious group. Don’t you get that? It’s a simple concept.

      • Shingo
        July 3, 2012, 9:28 pm

        Some of the damage being caused is not going to be reversible.

        LOL. Just like the settlements hey Gilad?

      • ColinWright
        July 4, 2012, 2:43 am

        “The lines are so unclear Mr. Glatzer, that people will start to boycott Israel because trying to understand the lines will be impossible for some. This then means that Jews who say they care for Israel will be lending a hand delegitimizing the Jewish State. Is this what you want?

        Unless I missed something, it all sounds okay to me.

  2. Sherri Munnerlyn
    July 3, 2012, 2:44 pm

    This is great news, and coming after other BDS victories I cannot help but feel encouraged. This looks like it’s going a lot differently from the Methodist proposal, I choose to see that as a good sign. Companies profiting from all the suffering Israel is pouring out on millions of Palestinians should answer for their actions and pay consequences for the choices they make in benefiting off of Apartheid and Occupation.

  3. giladg
    July 3, 2012, 4:13 pm

    Those who have turned against Jews and Israel have brought demise upon themselves. There are many such cases in history, including the Nazi’s.
    When things get financially tough within the Presbyterian Church, the long knives will come out and inner bickering will be the order of the day, and they will remind themselves of this vote.

    • Ofer Neiman
      July 3, 2012, 5:24 pm

      Also sprach Jeremiah

    • Woody Tanaka
      July 3, 2012, 5:38 pm

      LMAO. I think I’m going to go give a donation to my local Presbyterian Chuch, on behalf of you, zio.

    • tear-stained uzi
      July 3, 2012, 7:23 pm

      giladg: “Those who have turned against Jews and Israel have brought demise upon themselves. There are many such cases in history, including the Nazi’s.”

      As long as you’re off your meds, why don’t you enlighten us as to those many other hysterical historical cases (besides the “Nazi’s” [sic])?

      • ColinWright
        July 4, 2012, 2:50 am

        Well, there’s Bogdan Khmelinsky (or something). He eventually came to a bad end, I think. Of course, the Poles probably thought it was because he was mean to them.

        There were the Spanish. They’ve actually bumped along, although I suppose you could argue that their empire fell apart.

        Then there are the Poles themselves. They could be pretty nasty to Jews. I suppose they’ve had a rough ride — but then, they were having a rough ride before the Jews showed up, so I’m not sure that’s evidence of much of anything.

        On the other hand, both France and England expelled the Jews — and went on to fine careers. Conversely, the Ottoman Empire always took them in — and staggered to an unedifying end in 1920 or so.

        However, if we work on it, I’m sure we can relate all world history to how various societies have treated Jews at various times.

      • seafoid
        July 4, 2012, 10:51 am

        enlighten us as to those many other hysterical historical cases (besides the “Nazi’s” [sic])?

        This is what gilad means

        link to judaicawebstore.com

    • Shingo
      July 3, 2012, 9:30 pm

      When things get financially tough within the Presbyterian Church, the long knives will come out and inner bickering will be the order of the day, and they will remind themselves of this vote.

      Why should things get financially tough within the Presbyterian Church Gilad?

    • ColinWright
      July 4, 2012, 2:44 am

      “Those who have turned against Jews and Israel have brought demise upon themselves. There are many such cases in history, including the Nazi’s…”

      This is either demented, extremely anti-semitic, or evidence that you see the hand of God in history. Which is it?

  4. Fredblogs
    July 3, 2012, 5:13 pm

    I’m not sure it is much of a blow to a company with market cap of over $50 billion that TIAA-CREF sold $72 million worth of their shares at market value (assuming they didn’t just move it from one pocket to the other) TIAA-CREF themselves have $370 million in Caterpillar stock left in other funds.

    It’s not like it costs Caterpillar anything to have TIAA-CREF sell some of their stock. Which is actually a couple of point higher now than it was a few days ago.

    • ColinWright
      July 4, 2012, 2:54 am

      Good stuff. So we can get organizations to boycott Israel, and you won’t mind.

      We can all be happy. I wonder how many companies had divested from South Africa by 1970?

      But never mind that. Be happy and confident. Blue skies ahead. Maybe with a few fluffy white clouds…hey, that’s blue and white! Better still…

      • Fredblogs
        July 6, 2012, 2:20 pm

        TIAA-CREF isn’t boycotting Israel. They have one fund that is based on someone else’s ideas about what makes a company socially responsible. In that one fund, they sold when their source took Caterpillar off their list. I think Caterpillar can stand a few “boycotts” in which people keep more than a third of a billion dollars in Caterpillar stock.

  5. talknic
    July 3, 2012, 5:22 pm

    Bravo

    .

    .

    .

    Poor giladg & co, dredging the bottoms of their empty buckets

  6. piotr
    July 3, 2012, 10:10 pm

    It is not a big deal, to be sure, but well above 1000 rabbis will be sad.

    By the way, what are most politically correct printers now?

  7. CitizenC
    July 3, 2012, 11:00 pm

    “Divesting from the occupation” is a left Zionist gambit to divert attention from the real responsibility of US citizens, official US support for Israel, and the forces in the US that produce it. South Africa was isolated politically, and divestment was much more important. No one distinguished betw companies doing business in bantustans and those in white South Africa.

    SA was sanctioned by the US, while Israel has overwhelming US support and rivers of aid. “Who profits from the occupation” is irrelevant and misleading. Corporate profits are not driving US policy and corporate investment in “the occupation” is not the main support.

    One wonders how much of the churches’ portfolios are in Israeli companies apart from those that profit from the settlements. And TIAA-CREF’s portfolio. And in the MSCI social investment fund. Many Israeli companies are listed on the NYSE. And foreign shares can also be held.

    BDS scares Israeli business—when its directed against Israeli companies and Israel itself. Much less so otherwise.

    When BDS first arose, in US universities around 2002, there was no distinction betw “the occupation” and Israel. Same with the 2005 call from the Palestinians. The distinction was created by groups like JVP, who attempt to be “a progressive voice in the Jewish community, a Jewish voice in the progressive community”—two, two, two mints in one. But the “community” whom they are trying to present with some palatable compromise—divest only from occupation—despises them anyway.

    The Israeli consul intervenes in the debate in the Berkeley student govt about BDS. 1300 rabbis denounce the Methodists. J Street and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs threaten to cut off relations with “the community” for divesting churches. The Presbys, heroically, stand their ground.

    The organized Jews are waging a global race war on behalf of The Jewish People, defending the least of its prerogatives like Masada. So why not cut to the chase? Call for divestment from Israeli companies and from companies doing substantial business in Israel. This at least focuses discussion on Israel; it implicitly questions the official US-Israel relationship, doesn’t blow smoke about “profiting from occupation”.

    Discuss Zionism as a racist ideology akin to apartheid, and propose to sanction Israel as an agent of war crimes. The Presbyterians are a resolute bunch, well-schooled on the issue. The overwhelming vote for divesting from occupation strongly suggests that JVP et al underplayed their hand. They could have raised much broader issues and had a larger impact.

    That is what JVP is trying to forestall. The first obstacle in overcoming Zionism in the US is the “left” itself.

    • Philip Weiss
      July 3, 2012, 11:45 pm

      yeah like the overwhelming momentum for divestment that JVP forestalled at the methodist conference?

      • CitizenC
        July 4, 2012, 5:04 am

        For the last 40 yrs, we have had “solutions” discourse/strategic asset/anti-occupation/ahistorical law and rights. Rather than classical Reform Judaism/Marxist internationalism/Shahak’s “modern secular Jewish tradition”, via Spinoza. Call it “Chomskyism”, the legacy of 20th c American Jewish chauvinism, vs universalism, the legacy of the Enlightenment and emancipation. If we’d been been sticking to fundamentals for 40 yrs, peace would not yet be at hand, but we would at least know what the issues are.

    • CloakAndDagger
      July 4, 2012, 11:50 am

      @CitizenC

      Discuss Zionism as a racist ideology akin to apartheid, and propose to sanction Israel as an agent of war crimes.

      Aye – but who shall put the bell on the cat? As MJ Rosenberg, and a host of others have attested, each raised voice is silenced and careers destroyed, be it in government or be it in industry. The giant US is on its knees, and deliverance is not in sight yet.

      But that morrow harkens.

  8. Nevada Ned
    July 4, 2012, 2:25 am

    The economic impact of one divestment resolution may be fairly small, but it makes a statement: we disapprove of Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians. And when it’s followed by other boycott/divestment resolutions, it changes the framing of the debate. It makes disapproval of Israel’s policies a respectable position. Smearing BDS advocates as anti-Semites no longer works.
    That’s why the Israel Lobby has been fighting BSD resolutions so ferociously.
    If (as Fredblogs says) this is not a big deal, then why are the Israelis and their supporters trying so hard to stop it??
    Twenty or thirty years ago, supporters of the Palestinians were isolated. Now the Israelis are starting to lose their control of the debate, at least outside the Washington beltway. (Inside the beltway it’s a different story).
    Some of the credit for the change goes to Ali Abunimah and EI, to JVP, to Chomsky & Finkelstein, and of course MondoWeiss, and lots of activists.

  9. ColinWright
    July 4, 2012, 3:03 am

    On the other hand, the more the discussion is moved into the mainstream, as long as the focus is on divestment in any form, the better.

    However you slice it, the very idea that one should divest implies that there is something wrong with Israel — and from my own experience, I think that’s the opening wedge. Once you accept that there is anything wrong with Israel at all, the rest follows (the feeble posturings of J Street et al notwithstanding).

    Just build a consensus that Israel indeed has shortcomings, and you have legitimized further criticism, and once you have legitimized further criticism, you have opened the doors of perception. And once those are opened, there’s no stopping short of the point where it has to be admitted the whole enterprise is rotten to the core.

    This is why the Israel lovers are fighting this tooth and nail. The resolution could be restricted to divesting from Uncle Alph’s Cluster Bomb Fuse Works. It’s the thin edge of the wedge — both for them and for us.

  10. ColinWright
    July 4, 2012, 3:09 am

    Indeed, it’s better if the resolutions are qualified, focused, etc — just so long as the Israel lovers rise to the bait.

    If the resolutions are mild as milk, then their opposition just looks that more unreasonable — and that many more bystanders can say ‘well, I don’t know about all this, but perhaps we shouldn’t profit from selling bulldozers that knock over people’s houses. I’ll go that far…say, just why are they knocking over people’s houses, anyway?’

    Next thing you know, the guy’s on Ma’an, and we’ve got another convert. ‘Jeepers. They’re doing this to Christians?’

    The fight is about winning, not about imposing ideological purity. That, they can reach their own. Just get the door unlocked…

    • CitizenC
      July 4, 2012, 12:30 pm

      Pulling punches is not “winning”. The vote in the Presbyterian committee was 36-11 and one abstention, apparently a membership of 48. Thus 25 were needed to pass a resolution. From the vote and the resolve shown in face of Jewish threats to break off relations, it’s clear the Presbyterians would have entertained a stronger resolution, one criticizing Israel and Zionism itself. There are ample precedents in Jewish activism, which JVP has succeeded in burying.

      The late, very great Elmer Berger co-drafted, with Fayez Sayegh, the UN resolution condemning Zionism as a form of racism. Berger worked with EAFORD, the International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, on many projects. See their publications, at

      link to eaford.org.

      A 1986 book, “Judaism or Zionism: What Difference for the Middle East?” is at

      link to eaford.org

      This was co-authored with American Jewish Alternatives to Zionism, Berger’s group. Berger and others from AJAZ contributed. The collection discusses Zionism as racism and reaction, with work from academics, religious people and other notables. Berger was of course the last great heir of classical Reform liberalism, which rejected Zionism in toto.

      The whole purpose of “progressive Jewish” politics, of JVP, and predecessors like New Jewish Agenda, and Tikkun, is to bury such precedents, in the spirit of “Chomskyism”, the left Jewish substitute for the universalism of Berger, et al, whatever they say about “occupation” and violation of human rights and international law.

      Au contraire, JVP activism is very much about ideological purity, the absolute superiority of Jewish power and privilege, in the form of Zionism, or in the right of JVP to tell the left what is and is not acceptable. JVP are Zionism’s “useful idiots”, in Lenin’s pithy phrase.

      Rachel Corrie gave her all for Palestine. Palestinians across the West Bank organize non-violently in defense of their life and lands, against the Wall, against settler pogroms, as the IOF looks on, like Russian pogromists under the indolent eye of czarism. JVP extols them as they sacrifice their lives, even as it undercuts them, haggles down its obligations, doing the grudging, reluctant minimum. Puke.

      See my “Liberal Citizenship, not ‘Jewish Identity’” for more.
      link to questionofpalestine.net

      More to come.

  11. annie bis
    July 4, 2012, 8:12 am

    Those who have turned against Jews and Israel have brought demise upon themselves.

    Again, Zio, lumping together Jews and Israel; I would really resent that if I were a Jew.

    • seafoid
      July 4, 2012, 10:42 am

      link to nybooks.com

      “Note that the legal aspect of the situation, which I’ve only outlined, is little more than a superstructure, one might even say a distant theory; on the ground what one sees is a refined form of human malevolence, incapable of justification in rational terms. The Israeli army, the police, the bureaucrats of the Civil Administration, the government, the cabinet, the Knesset, the military and civilian courts, and large parts of the Israeli press—all are deeply implicated in an act, or a series of acts, of gratuitous violence inflicted on innocent human beings, in broad daylight. No one should pretend that any of this is anything but a crime.”

  12. American
    July 4, 2012, 12:28 pm

    Been telling you the Evangelicals aren’t all on board with zionism. And this article has some inaccurate sort of “put downs”of the mainline faiths of course, typical of zionist writings….but anyway it set me to doing some further research on the difference in Evangelicals and actual christian zionist. Evangelical is a term applied to churches who ”evangelalize”..spread God’s word, do social work for good and/or convert others to christianity. Almost ALL churches , including mainline belong to the “National Association of Evangelicals”. So Evangelical does not mean
    Christian Zionist. It appears from nunerous church activities and leaders that the Evangelical push back against christian zionism has been simmering for long time.
    The leaders of this push back have been producing their own videos and phamplets for the public targeting what they call the distortions and faulty applications of the Bible by the Christian zionist.
    *Here is the census report for anyone interested in how the numbers for churches in general break down in the US.
    link to census.gov

    link to weeklystandard.com

    Religiously Targeting Israel

    ‘’Kairos USA … aims to reach across entrenched divides in American Christianity––black/white, mainstream/evangelical, conservative/liberal––to stand in solidarity with Palestine Christians as they resist the Israeli occupation of their native land,” the group’s website explains. It cites as inspiration “contemporary prophetic movements of Christians in Palestine, southern Africa, Asia and Europe, as well as the civil rights movement in this country and the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa.”
    Leaders include several evangelicals such as Wheaton College professor Gary Burge, former senator Mark Hatfield staffer and World Vision relief executive Tom Getman, and former World Vision executive Serge Duss, who serves on the evangelical advisory board of the Center for American Progress. There are also mainline Protestants such as former Presbyterian Church (USA) moderator Rick Ufford-Chase. Signers include Emergent Church guru Brian McLaren and Shane Claiborne, a popular pacifist preacher.

    The coalition reflects the limited success of anti-Israel activists to moving Christian opinion in America about Israel. But it also reflects the widening circle of anti-Israel activism beyond leftist, old-line Protestantism into mainstream evangelical circles, traditionally a bedrock of pro-Israel opinion.

    Increasingly, anti-Israel activists are targeting evangelicals, especially young people. Kairos USA organizer Gary Burge, who teaches at prestigious evangelical Wheaton College outside Chicago, helped produce “With God on Our Side,” a 2010 anti-Israel film faulting Christian Zionism in the U.S. for Palestinian suffering and still being widely shown. Burge is the author of the 2010 book, Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to “Holy Land” Theology, which criticizes pro-Israel evangelicals. The film won endorsements from prominent evangelicals such as Brian McLaren (who also endorsed Kairos USA), Tony Campolo, and Steve Haas of World Vision. It was also favorably reviewed by Christianity Today, evangelicaldom’s flagship publication.

    More recently, another film, Little Town of Bethlehem, also aims, more subtly, to persuade evangelicals to abandon traditional pro-Israel sympathies by highlighting the collaboration of Palestinian and Jewish Israeli pacifists. Evangelical endorsers include former World Vision president Robert Seiple and megachurch church leader Lynne Hybels, along with faculty of evangelical schools.

    The film featured Palestinian Christian activist Sami Awad, who addressed the Society of Pentecostal Studies meeting at Pat Robertson’s Regents University in Virginia Beach in March. Pentecostals are typically ardent Zionists, and most still are. But some evangelical elites are embarrassed by the old religious right and increasingly want to disassociate from figures like Pat Robertson. Disavowing pro-Israel views is sometimes an easy way to create a new evangelical identity.

    In March, numerous evangelical elites attended a “Christ at the Checkpoint” event in Bethlehem on the West Bank to highlight Christian solidarity with Palestinian suffering and against Israeli occupation. Speakers included mainstream liberal evangelicals such as Tony Campolo and Ron Sider, as well as Joel Hunter, a Florida megachurch pastor and spiritual counselor to President Obama. Lynne Hybels and Shane Claiborne also spoke.’’

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