The American Presbyterian church voted Friday by a slim 310-303 margin to divest itself of holdings in three companies accused of supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.
The measure by one of the largest mainline Protestant denominations, which is a victory for the boycott Israel movement, means the church will sell about $21 million in stock in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, all of which sell products or services to the Israeli security forces.
“We as a church cannot profit from the destruction of homes and lives,” said Reverend Gradye Parsons in a statement about the decision at its meeting in Detroit. “We continue to invest in many businesses involved in peaceful pursuits in Israel.”
A similar proposal failed by just two votes at the church’s last general convention two years ago.
Supporters and opponents of Israel have fiercely lobbied churches and academic organizations in recent years, with mixed results.
Presbyterian leaders insisted they hope the move will not damage relations with Jews.
Reform leader Rabbi Rick Jacobs said the vote would make it all but impossible to work for Mideast peace with Presbyterians.
“They are not a partner for joint work on Israel-Palestine peace issues,” Jacobs said in a statement. “Whatever the intent of some who supported this resolution, this vote will be widely understood as endorsement of and support for the BDS movement.”
Caterpillar, which could not immediately be reached for comment, has said it cannot control how its equipment is used.
Hewlett Packard did not immediately respond to requests for comment but has said it has a strong human rights policy and complies with the highest standards in every market in which they operate.
Kurt Ebenhoch, a spokesman for Motorola Solutions, said: “Motorola Solutions has a comprehensive set of policies and procedures that addresses human rights, which is designed to ensure that our operations worldwide are conducted using the highest standards of integrity and ethical business conduct applied uniformly and consistently.”
The church, which has included in its ranks many U.S. Presidents, said the companies supply equipment and materials used to destroy homes and construct and monitor Israeli checkpoints and settlements, which most countries view as illegal and an obstacle to peacemaking.
The motion carried in the vote also expressed support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and affirms Israel’s legitimacy as a state, among other commitments.
Church officials were careful to say they are not fully aligning themselves with the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which campaigns for a blanket boycott of all Israeli goods and questions Israel’s legitimacy.
“We are already losing control of our message. Divestment will not end the conflict and bring peace. Divestment will bring dissension,” said Frank Allen, of the Presbytery of Central Florida, in a statement about the meeting.
It was unclear exactly what investments the church sought to shed and when such trades would happen, though church agencies meeting in the fall would hear the new policy and instruct investment advisors, church officials said.
The decision comes a day after the gathering voted to allow their clergy to perform same-sex weddings, in a major reversal.