At least two-thirds of Presbyterians believe the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) should try to dissuade corporations from doing things that “directly or indirectly” support violence against Israeli or Palestinian civilians, and at least three in five Presbyterians believe that the denomination should shift its investment funds away from corporations that continue to support such violence despite pleas to stop.

These are findings of the August 2009 Presbyterian Panel survey of representative samples of members, elders, pastors and other ministers.

“Presbyterians don’t want companies supporting violence in the Middle East,” said Perry Chang, Panel administrator. “And they don’t think we should keep our investments in companies that continue to do so.”

The denomination currently avoids investments in corporations involved in alcohol, tobacco, gambling, military-related production and human rights violations.

Five in six non-parish ministers (84 percent), three-quarters of pastors (74 percent) and two-thirds of laypeople (members, 67 percent; elders, 68 percent) “strongly agree” or “moderately agree” that the PC(USA) should try to dissuade corporations “from doing things that directly or indirectly support violence against Israeli or Palestinian civilians.”

Four in five other ministers (80 percent) and two-thirds of members (66 percent), elders (66 percent) and pastors (64 percent) “strongly agree” or “moderately agree” that the denomination “should shift its investment funds away from corporations if it is unable to dissuade them from doing things that directly or indirectly support” that violence.

The panel results were released before the denomination’s General Assembly Council voted Feb. 26 to ask the upcoming 219th General Assembly to denounce profit-making by Caterpillar Inc. on sales of its heavy machinery to Israel. Caterpillar equipment is used by the Israeli government to bulldoze Palestinian homes in occupied territory and to construct the so-called “separation barrier” and settlements on disputed territory in Israel/Palestine.

Five in six non-parish ministers (83 percent), seven in 10 pastors (72 percent) and half of laypeople (members, 51 percent; elders, 54 percent) “moderately oppose” or “strongly oppose” settlement expansion.

Three in five ministers (pastors, 59 percent; other ministers, 60 percent) oppose construction of the separation barrier between territories that the Israeli government administers and Palestinian authorities administer.

More laypeople oppose (members, 35 percent; elders, 34 percent) than support (18 percent; 24 percent) the construction. Four in nine laypeople (members, 46 percent; elders, 43 percent) either “neither support nor oppose” construction or have “no opinion” about it.

About four in five ministers (78 percent of pastors and 86 percent of specialized clergy) and about two-thirds of laypeople (65 percent of members and 68 percent of elders) favor a two-state solution, with both a state of Israel and a state of Palestine.

Many analysts believe that settlement expansion by Israel is rapidly diminishing the chances for a two-state solution. More and more settlements are being constructed on land that would comprise part of the state of Palestine as outlined by the “Green line” border established by the United Nations after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.

“Presbyterians don’t have clear-cut opinions about every Israel/Palestine issue,” said Chang. “But there are some things, like supporting a two-state solution and opposing expansion of Israeli settlements, on which Presbyterians do have definite opinions.”

Three-quarters of ministers (pastors, 74 percent; other ministers, 76 percent), three in five elders (59 percent) and five in nine members (55 percent) “strongly agree” or “moderately agree” that Presbyterians should try to improve the situation in Israel/Palestine and the rest of the Middle East.

And roughly two-thirds of panelists (61 percent of members, 66 percent of elders, 74 percent of pastors and 76 percent of specialized clergy) believe that Presbyterians CAN contribute to peace-building in Israel/Palestine and the rest of the Middle East.

A PC(USA) committee comprehenisively studying Israel/Palestine issues is to report to the 219th PC(USA) General Assembly, which will meet this summer in Minneapolis. The study team’s report is due out later this week.

For more information about Panel surveys and other Research Services studies and services, go to the PC(USA) Research Services website. For information about PC(USA) mission in Israel and Palestine, go to the PC(USA) World Mission website on Israel/Palestine.