Presbyterians overwhelmingly vote for boycott of settlement products; endorse ‘choice of conscience’ option for pension holders to screen CAT, Moto, and HP from portfolios

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(11:55 AM EST) In a surprise move, the Presbyterian General Assembly voted to endorse a “choice of conscience” option for pension holders who want to avoid investments in Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett Packard. Anna Baltzer explains:

The assembly voted by 57% to accept a recommendation by the Board of Pensions (which supports divestment) for them to create a “choice of conscience” option for Pension holders troubled by investments in Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett Packard, which would be voted on for approval at the next General Assembly.

The significance, in my initial interpretation:

1. The approval illustrates that investment in CAT, Moto, and HP represent a crisis of conscience for the church.

2. This would be, essentially, an occupation filter.

3. This shows that GA members support divestment in theory, but are scared for their church to recommend it, likely, I believe, due to fear of losing Jewish relationships. This is no consolation to those suffering under Israeli oppression, but it’s illustrative that people are not opposed, in principle, to divestment.

4. It’s a reminder that the entire church is for divestment — the Board of Pensions, Mission Responsibility Through Investment, Advisory Committee on Racial & Ethnic Concerns, etc. The Board of Pensions was so troubled by the votes that they tried to find a way ultimately to pursue divestment.

The exact wording of the proposal should be up at https://pc-biz.org/Committee2.aspx soon.

Correction: Baltzer sent this: “It was a commissioner, not the Board of Pensions, that made the proposal (though the Board of Pensions did support MRTI’s divestment recommendation).”

(10:35 AM EST) Presbyterian General Assembly votes for blanket boycott of goods produced in settlements:

The Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) sent out the following release:

Presbyterian General Assembly Passes Boycott Motion

Following last night’s vote by the plenary of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) on a motion to divest from three companies whose products are used in non-peaceful pursuits in the occupied Palestinian territories, the plenary has voted in favor of a separate resolution to boycott products made in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, including Ahava Dead Sea beauty products and dates grown by Israeli cooperateive Hadiklaim.

Although the plenary failed to pass the divestment motion, its approval of the boycott resolution sends a strong signal nonetheless that the Presbyterian Church (USA) supports those Palestinians who are using peaceful means to secure their freedom and human rights in the face of Israel’s 45-year-old military occupation and colonization of their lands. The Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) believes this is a positive step and hopes the church will continue to support Palestinians who are struggling nonviolently to achieve freedom and self-determination.

The razor thin margin of last night’s vote on divestment, which was defeated by just two votes, demonstrates that the General Assembly remains divided on both divestment and investment, and has failed to provide a clear mandate on these issues. Sadly, it is the millions of Palestinians living under occupation who will pay the price for this lack of a moral directive.

(10:16 AM EST) The Presbyterian General Assembly votes to drop several Israel/Palestine related items, saying that they fall under last night’s vote. This includes item 15-03 which called for divestment from Caterpillar. This means there will not be a separate vote on divesting from Caterpillar.

(9:55 AM EST) There was a vote on whether to reconsider last night’s decision on replacing divestment with investment in the occupied territories. The General Assembly voted 62% to 38% to not reconsider the vote.

Here are Twitter updates from the General Assembly:

 

Last night the the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly voted to endorse investment in the occupied Palestinian territories over an overture to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard due to their role in the occupation. The real vote came on a procedural move to substitute the divestment motion in favor of the investment proposal, and on that vote divestment lost 333 to 331, with 2 abstentions. Two votes away from a straight up vote on divestment.

Jewish Voice for Peace sent out the following press release:

Not Over Yet: Presbyterian vote to divest from companies that profit from Israel loses by just 2 votes.
Proponents vow to bring issue up again Friday.

[OAKLAND- July 5th, 2012] The Presbyterian Church USA vote to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard because the companies profit from the Israeli Occupation failed tonight by an extraordinarily narrow margin of 333 to 331, with 2 abstentions.

Resolution proponents, who relied on a cadre of Christian and Jewish volunteers and a shoe-string budget— in sharp contrast to divestment opponents who have pledged to spend millions to fight divestment — have vowed to continue the fight on Friday. A critical vote on boycotting settlement goods will also take place.

Rabbi Alissa Wise, Jewish Voice for Peace Director of Campaigns, who had been in Pittsburgh at the General Assembly where the votes are taking places said, “It’s too early to know what is going to happen, but I have been moved to tears on multiple occasions as I saw authentic recognition of Palestinian experience and deep commitment to justice for all people by the Presbyterian Church. This is a historic moment in the struggle for dignity and justice, and I commend the PC(USA) for getting us this close to holding corporations accountable for profiting from the occupation. I suggest we all wait to see what unfolds on Friday.”

Here is how the New York Times describes the scene:

A deeply divided Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Thursday became the latest American church to shy away from divesting in companies that supply equipment to Israel to enforce its control in the occupied territories, after a passionate debate that stretched late into the evening and a vote that was nearly a tie.

The decision not to divest, the culmination of an eight-year process, was watched intensely by Christians, Jews and Palestinians in the United States and in the Middle East. It is likely to bring a sigh of relief to Jewish groups in Israel and the United States that lobbied Presbyterians against divestment, and to dismay the international movement known as B.D.S. — Boycott, Divest and Sanctions — which advocates using economic leverage to pressure Israel to return occupied land to the Palestinians.

By a vote of 333 to 331, with two abstentions, the church’s General Assembly voted at its biennial meeting in Pittsburgh to toss out the divestment measure and replace it with a resolution to encourage “positive investment” in the occupied territories. The results were so close that, when posted electronically in front of the convention, they evoked a collective gasp. After two and a half hours of passionate debate, the replacement resolution to invest in the territories passed more easily, 369 to 290, with eight abstentions.

There are more votes on the docket this morning, including a possible vote on divestment from Caterpillar. You can see here the overtures that passed the Middle East and Peacemaking Committee of the General Assembly. Last night the vote was on item 15-11, but divestment from Caterpillar is also raised in item 15-03. It is unclear whether this will be brought to a separate vote. In addition there will be a vote on item 15-02 which has been expanded to include a boycott on all products produced in Israeli settlements.

More updates to come . . .

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