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Presbyterian Church takes step towards divesting from Israeli military-linked companies

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Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council members Lynn Gottlieb (left) and Brant Rosen (right) at the Presbyterian Church assembly. (Photo: Jewish Voice for Peace/Twitter)

Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council members Lynn Gottlieb (left) and Brant Rosen (right) at the Presbyterian Church assembly. (Photo: Jewish Voice for Peace/Twitter)

The Middle East Issues Committee at the Presbyterian Church’s general assembly in Detroit voted 45-20 today to recommend divesting from three companies that do business with the Israeli military. While the resolution still has to go to the general plenary for it to be adopted, Palestinian rights advocates celebrated the move as a first step towards divestment.

“Voting for divestment is a powerful statement of conscience. It speaks to the Presbyterian heartfelt witness and desire to realize an end to the Israeli occupation and for peace, justice and equality for Israelis and Palestinians,” Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) member Carolyn Klaasen said in a statement. 

The three companies named in the resolution are:  Caterpillar, which makes bulldozers the Israeli army uses to demolish homes; Hewlett-Packard, which has extensive contracts with the military and designed a permit system for Palestinian workers installed at checkpoints; and Motorola Solutions, which has designed virtual fences for Israeli settlements. In total, the Presbyterian Church has $21 million invested in the companies.

The resolution underwent significant changes before it was adopted.  The original measure rejected divestment.  But a call for divestment was added in during discussion on the resolution, alongside a call for “positive investment” in the Palestinian economy. The resolution also calls for a two-state solution.

The Middle East Committee’s endorsement landed as both sides of the divestment battle gear up for this week’s plenary debate on the issue, which will feature over 600 commissioners who get to vote.

In addition to Presbyterian groups like the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, Jewish Voice for Peace, alongside Palestinian allies, are in Detroit lobbying in favor of divestment.  On the opposite side are groups like J Street–which opposes the occupation but also opposes divestment–and the Israel Action Network.  Israel lobby groups started mobilizing last year to oppose divestment efforts, which have been brought up at past Presbyterian assemblies.

On Saturday, the anti-divestment group Presbyterians for Middle East Peace organized a breakfast discussion featuring opponents of calls to divest. Rachel Lerner, J Street’s vice president for community relations, told the audience at the breakfast that divestment lays blame on one-side of a two-sided conflict, and that it was a “tactic that seeks to divide, to oversimplify, and to punish.”

Lerner said she didn’t plan on showing up the general assembly this year. But the publication “Zionism Unsettled”–an IPMN publication featuring harsh criticism of Zionism as an ideology–convinced her to go. Lerner said “Zionism Unsettled” made her angry and sad, and she claimed it distorted Zionism and Judaism, which “it twists into a racist, supremacist religion.”

The Presbyterian Church first voted for divestment in 2004, but rescinded the vote after it fueled backlash in segments of the Jewish community and among Presbyterians who opposed divestment. In 2012, the church narrowly voted to reject divestment, though the plenary did endorse a settlement boycott.

The Middle East Committee also considered other Israel/Palestine related measures. On Monday, a resolution to call Israel’s system of control “apartheid” failed by a 33-32 vote, with one abstention.  But it will still be considered by the general plenary.

Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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4 Responses

  1. just on June 18, 2014, 7:17 am

    Crossing my fingers in anticipation of the general plenary doing the right thing for justice!

    • on June 18, 2014, 7:38 am

      Israel is becoming more and more unhinged. I don’t think we have the time it will take for BDS to have a real affect. The USA needs to pull the plug on this sick welfare state. Now.

  2. ritzl on June 18, 2014, 10:03 am

    Do and/or will Presbyterians go to the AIPAC (as an example) convention to lobby for divestment?

    Oh wait, they wouldn’t be allowed in. or

    J Street convention? Stand With Us convention? ADL convention? Not likely, but in the interests of interfaith dialog they should try. Emphasis on “inter” and “di.”

    Thanks, Alex. You do a great job reporting the politics of this issue.

  3. Sherri Munnerlyn on June 18, 2014, 11:43 am

    I am reading Dr Jerry Pillay will speak at a luncheon today at noon on the issue of Apartheid in Palestine.

    Is anyone aware whether any website will make this speech available to be listened to by the public?

    I read of a visit to Palestine previously by Dr. Pillay and others in the article referenced below :

    “We did not expect the extent to which Israel violates international laws to oppress the Palestinian people.  Our exposure to East Jerusalem and the West Bank was overwhelming, one which traumatised us.  However, even though we experienced that the Palestinians live in open-air prisons, they were still able to inspire us with their dignity and their commitment for a just peace based on human dignity for both themselves and the Israelis.  “We want more than human rights,” they told us, “we want our human dignity and reconciliation”.”

    “Issued by:
    Bishop Zipho      Siwa, Presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church in Southern Africa

    Dr Jerry Pillay, General Secretary of the Uniting Presbyterian Church in Southern      Africa and President of the World Communion of Reformed Churches….”

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