Presbyterians Split on Israel Boycott

Church Opposes Divestment But Backs Settlement Boycott

Not Going Away: The confusing decisions by the Presbyterian church show the issue of boycotting Israel over the occupation of the West Bank is not going away.
getty images
Not Going Away: The confusing decisions by the Presbyterian church show the issue of boycotting Israel over the occupation of the West Bank is not going away.

By Blair Thornburgh

Published July 06, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Hours after it narrowly rejected divestment from some companies that do business with Israel, the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted to endorse a boycott of products made in the occupied West Bank.

The church’s general assembly also cleared the way for a vote in 2014 to establish an Israel occupation-free “conscience plan” for participants in its pension plan.

The split decision amounted to a confusing and chaotic end to a showdown over corporate involvement in Israel by the 2 million-strong denmination.

On Thursday night, the group voted by a razor-thin 333-331 margin to reject a call to divest church fnds from companies that provide supplies and equipment to Israel, including Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola. That vote basically rejected the proposal of a church committee, which had recommended divestment to the full body.

The rejection looked to most observers like a defeat for the boycott Israel movement, which just last week celebrated a victory when a financial ratings group downgraded Caterpillar from its socially responsible index.

“It’s clearly a milestone when yet again, an American church rejects divestment,” said Ethan Felson, vice president and general counsel for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “The better angels prevailed.”

Proponents of divestment said the close vote was a sign that they are close to winning the divisive fight.

The issue is not going away,” said Sydney Levy, Advocacy Director for Jewish Voice for Peace, some of whose members testified in Presbyterian committee meetings.

It didn’t take long for the view of boycott proponents to be vindicated.

By a 457-180 margin, delegates voted to support boycotts of Ahava beauty products and dates from the Hadiklaim Israel Date Growers because they come from Israeli settlements on Palestinian land, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

The motion was amended to be less sweeping than originally proposed, and includes a provision to end the boycott if “significant progress” toward Palestinian rights and independence is made.

A separate vote overwhelmingly approved a “positive investment” efforts to fund schools and other institutions that promote peace between Israel and Palestine.

It was a significant victory for boycott Israel proponents, especially when coupled with the step toward establishing new pension options for those who want to express their opposition to the Israeli occupation.

“Overwhelmingly, the general assembly is in favor of allowing people to express their conscience,” Levy said.

The Presbyterian Church, the country’s largest Presbyterian denomination representing some two million members in the United States, follows other American Protestant churches that have rejected divestment, including the United Methodist Church this past May and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 2007 and 2011. The Friends Fiduciary Committee, responsible for investments of 250 Quaker meetings nationwide, did divest from Caterpillar this year.

No matter their position, all parties involved see a protracted battle on the issue.

“We’re not naive,” said Bill Borror, senior minister at Media Presbyterian Church in Media, Pa. “Rather than talk, this is a way to get our hands dirty and put our bodies on the line.”


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!
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • 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.