With a vote of 45-20, the Middle East Issues Committee of the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is recommending that the denomination divest from Caterpillar, Inc.; Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions — companies some say are engaged in “non-peaceful pursuits” in Israel-Palestine.
The vote came after a day and a half of testimonies from interested parties, debate among committee members and parliamentary twists and turns.
“It is the right and ripe time for us to take a prophetic stance,” said David Thornton, a commissioner from the Presbytery of Pittsburgh. He was speaking in favor of divestment but noted that he also supports positive investment in the region.
Although the financial impact of the PC(USA) divesting would be minuscule for all three companies, the church has the opportunity to make a spiritual impact that could serve as a wake-up call, Thornton said.
The recommendation is to divest from corporations, but Jews in his community will feel personally attacked if the PC(USA) proceeds, said Kenneth Macari, a commissioner from the Presbytery of Elizabeth. If the Assembly approves the committee’s recommendation, Macari said he’ll be a vocal conscientious objector.
Many commissioners expressed concern that supporting divestment from the three companies would align the denomination with the international boycott, divestment and sanction movement, also known as BDS— a stance they did not support.
But Christine Dickerson, a commissioner from the Presbytery of Riverside, said “divestment has nothing to do with BDS or finances and has to do with human rights.”
Calling divestment the wrong solution to the conflict in Israel-Palestine, Robert Opie, a commissioner from the Presbytery of Stockton, recalled his experiences in the Vietnam War. As a platoon leader, he used a Caterpillar bulldozer to destroy cemeteries used as firing points; although he abhorred the actions he was directed to take, he did not hold Caterpillar at fault.
“We’re missing the target,” he said. “We should be aiming at changing the policy of the Israelis and not directing our concerns toward a particular company.”
The committee approved a Commissioners’ Resolution stating that Zionism Unsettled, a study guide produced by the PC(USA)’s Israel Palestine Mission Network, does not represent the views of the denomination.
Released in January, the study guide is available for sale in the PC(USA)’s online store and has been accused of being one-sided propaganda by some Jewish groups. Citing censorship concerns, the committee voted to not remove the guide from the store.
With a vote of 52-12, the committee disapproved an overture calling for the PC(USA) to boycott all Hewlett-Packard products “until the company ceases to profit from all non-peaceful pursuits in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and the violation of Palestinian human rights.”
The committee also approved
- an overture instructing the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy to provide a history of General Assembly policies favoring a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine and to prepare a report to the 222nd Assembly (2016);
- an overture condemning the recent attack by the Israeli military on Tent of Nations, a peace project in the West Bank, and encouraging Presbyterians to visit the project and pursue legal efforts at protecting and rebuilding it;
- an overture calling on the Stated Clerk to call on the interfaith community and PC(USA) partners to pray for justice and peace in Israel-Palestine;
- an overture reaffirming the PC(USA)’s commitment to the human rights of all children, especially those in Israel-Palestine; and
- an overture endorsing a paper written by the Ecumenical and Interreligious Work Group of the Presbytery of Chicago, “Perspectives on Presbyterian Church (USA) Support for a Just and Peaceful Compromise of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” Cited as a third-way solution, the paper had not been read by many of the commissioners.