Church Group Considers Israel Divestment

After Caterpillar Win, Boycott Groups Look to Presbyterians

CAT Fight: The boycott Israel has won a victory over Caterpillar, which has provided bulldozers used by the Israeli military. Now it is pushing a Presbyterian group for a tougher stand.
getty images
CAT Fight: The boycott Israel has won a victory over Caterpillar, which has provided bulldozers used by the Israeli military. Now it is pushing a Presbyterian group for a tougher stand.

By Nathan Guttman

Published July 02, 2012, issue of July 06, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

Other denominations have, so far, not responded positively to BDS motions. The Methodist Church recently rejected a divestment resolution, as did the Episcopal Church. BDS supporters believe that the opening provided by the Caterpillar downgrading gives them momentum to break through some of this resistance after years of futile efforts.

“The way things are going are to our direction, not away from us,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of the pro-BDS group Jewish Voice for Peace.

In fact, the relationship between TIAA-CREF’s purging of Caterpillar and the Israel controversy was less direct than the BDS proponents portrayed it. It was only on June 21, in a press release, that a coalition group led by JVP belatedly trumpeted TIAA-CREF’s divestment of Caterpillar in its social responsibility funds as a BDS triumph. Until then, no one seemed to notice the action taken last March. But after it was issued, everyone involved felt pressured to respond.

TIAA-CREF disavowed any motive on its part involving Israel. The assets management company explained that it simply relied on MSCI as its vendor for providing “social screens” for these funds.

It was after TIAA-CREF’s statement that MSCI issued its own.

“The key factors determining the rating include a January 2012 labor dispute and subsequent plant closing in Canada, an ongoing controversy associated with use of the company’s equipment in the occupied Palestinian territories, management of environmental issues, and employee safety,” MSCI stated.

In annual reports to Congress, the U.S. State Department has repeatedly criticized Israel’s demolition of thousands of Palestinian homes in the occupied territories of Gaza and the West Bank and in East Jerusalem over many years. The demolitions have often been implemented with Caterpillar bulldozers and other heavy equipment, leading to the divestment protests against Caterpillar. The company’s bulldozers go to the Israeli army and are sometimes financed via sales deals through a special Pentagon program.

According to a report in the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, the army retrofits its version of the Caterpillar D9 bulldozer with a heavy machine gun and a bulletproof cabin, among other military modifications.

Israel has defended the demolitions implemented with the bulldozers as actions taken within the context of Israeli law. Many demolished homes, particularly in East Jerusalem, lack proper building permits, though the State Department reports that Israeli laws and procedures make such permits difficult for Palestinians to obtain. Homes of suicide bombers have also been demolished, although that practice has been suspended in recent years. The army sometimes demolishes homes after declaring the land on which they sit to be part of a live-fire zone.

Calls to divest from certain companies dealing with Israel, specifically those supplying goods to the Israeli army or doing business with West Bank settlements, date back a decade. The 2003 death of American peace activist Rachel Corrie, who was run over by a Caterpillar-made bulldozer as she was protesting a house demolition carried out by the Israel Defense Forces, focused much of the divestment efforts on the Peoria, Ill.- based heavy machinery manufacturer. The verdict in a civil lawsuit filed by the Corrie family against the State of Israel is expected to be announced on August 28.

Still, Jewish activists believe that just as in the past, calls for divestment now will not resonate with most Americans. Stern, of the AJC, said that Jewish crowds he speaks with are always surprised to hear that despite the vocal campaign, there have yet to be any universities or pension boards to join the boycott or divest from Israel.

“People understand that singling out Israel is no different than singling out anyone else,” he said.

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • What do you think of Wonder Woman's new look?
  • "She said that Ruven Barkan, a Conservative rabbi, came into her classroom, closed the door and turned out the lights. He asked the class of fourth graders to lie on the floor and relax their bodies. Then, he asked them to pray for abused children." Read Paul Berger's compelling story about a #Savannah community in turmoil:
  • “Everything around me turns orange, then a second of silence, then a bomb goes off!" First installment of Walid Abuzaid’s account of the war in #Gaza:
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.