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Presbyterian Church votes to divest in protest of Israeli policies

Published time: June 21, 2014 03:30
John Moore / Getty Images / AFP

John Moore / Getty Images / AFP

The Presbyterian Church has narrowly voted to move forward with divestment in various companies in protest of Israeli policies toward Palestinians. The group has now become the most prominent in the US to endorse some form of divestment.

The top US policymaking body for the Presbyterian denomination has opted to sell its stock in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions by a vote of 310 to 303, ratifying a move that had failed two years prior. All three companies have been identified as making products used by Israel in the occupied Palestinian territories.

During the General Assembly’s vote Caterpillar was identified as having provided the IDF with equipment used to demolish homes in the West Bank, as well as used in the construction of Israeli settler-only roads in the territory, reported Daily Kos. Meanwhile, Motorola was linked to surveillance systems used by Israeli settlements, while HP has provided biometric scanning technology used on Palestinians at checkpoints.

Though Friday’s vote suggests that the divestment movement may be making inroads into mainstream groups, even those who advocated for divestment by the Presbyterians insisted they were not linked to the broader BDS push -- or boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

Frank Allen of the Central Florida Presbytery led an effort to strike down the move for divestment, arguing that "divestment is not a good tool for peace-making," and would alienate Presbyterians from the Jewish community.

“Divestment will create dissension. Dialogue and relationship building will lay the ground work for true peace," said Allen.

The measure adopted by the Presbyterian Church meanwhile reaffirmed Israel’s right to exist. Prior to Friday’s vote, PC (USA) distanced itself from a publication by its Israel/Palestine Mission entitled “Zionism Unsettled,” which criticizes the ideological basis of Zionism and emphasizes human rights abuses. Jewish leaders have branded that publication as anti-Semitic. In response, PC (USA) voted for a resolution stating that the paper did not represent the wider views of the denomination.

The vote itself is considered to be largely symbolic, as the Presbyterian holdings in all three companies is estimated at $21 million and does not represent a significant financial impact.

Still, the narrow vote in favor of divestment was made in spite of a concerted effort by the largest American Jewish organizations. According to the New York Times, more than 1,700 rabbis from all 50 states had signed an open letter to sway Presbyterian voters, stating that “placing all the blame on one party, when both bear responsibility, increases conflict and division instead of promoting peace.”

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the leader of the Jewish Reform movement, had also offered to broker a meeting between top Presbyterian leaders and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu so they could voice their concerns regarding territorial occupation, but only if divestment was discarded.

For its part, Motorola Solutions has said that it complies with the law and its own internal policies on human rights. Hewlett-Packard responded by stating that its involvement in checkpoints for Palestinians were developed to allow passage “in a secure environment, enabling people to get to their place of work or to carry out their business in a faster and safer way.” Caterpillar, meanwhile, has previously stated that it sells its equipment directly to the US government.