The Presbyterian church is on the brink of approving a long-debated measure to divest church funds from three companies that do business with Israel.
The move, opposed by mainstream Jewish groups, was overwhelmingly approved by a vote of 36 to 11 by a committee of the Presbyterian Church (USA) on July 3. The church’s general assembly could deliver final approval as early as July 5.
“Obviously, it doesn’t bode well,” said Benjamin Suarato, a spokesman for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which has been organizing against the PC(USA)’s divestment efforts for years.
If the resolution is passed by the church’s general assembly, one of the nation’s largest mainline Protestant denominations will sell its church holdings in Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett-Packard. Divestment advocates say these firms sell equipment directly or indirectly to Israel that is used by the country’s military to support occupation policies in the West Bank, Gaza, and in East Jerusalem. They say the companies have failed to respond to the denomination’s concerns.
Activists within the PC(USA) have advocated selective divestment from firms doing business with Israel since 2004. At the denomination’s general assembly in 2010, Jewish activists from the JCPA and some members of the Presbyterian church were successful in lobbying the body to tone down the rhetoric of some of its statements on Israel.
This year, Jewish groups are pessimistic about their prospects for convincing the denomination to reject divestment.
According to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Jews, Palestinians, and Presbyterians gave passionate testimony before the committee.
“When Jesus walked into the temple and overthrew the money changers, he overthrew the money changers’ carts,” said Rami Khouri, a Palestinian Christian divestment advocate, according to the Post-Gazette. “He didn’t just tell them to think about it.”
In an emailed statement, Suarato called the moneychangers analogy “inflammatory.”
The success for boycott advocates in the denomination’s committee vote comes on the heels of a decision by financial analysis firm MSCI to remove Caterpillar from its index of socially responsible companies, a decision made in part because of the firm’s sale of bulldozers to Israel via a Pentagon financing program.
Presbyterians Move Toward Israel Divestment
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.