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Presbyterians Move Closer to Israel Divestment

The Presbyterian Church USA moved a step closer to divesting from three multinational companies that do business in Israel and the West Bank.

The executive committee of the 2.4 million member church voted Friday to pass a resolution endorsing a recommendation of divestment from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard. The action followed a report released Sept. 9 by the church’s committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment that recommended divestment of companies it believes supports the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

The executive committee is now expected to put forth a divestment resolution which will be voted on in June at the church’s biennial General Assembly in Pittsburgh.

The resolution represents another swing for an issue that has been contentious within the church for years.

In 2006, the church replaced a 2004 policy that called for “phased selective divestment” from multinational corporations operating in Israel with one that called for investment in Israel, the Gaza Strip, eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank “in only peaceful pursuits.” In 2008, the church’s general assembly instructed Presbyterians to avoid over-identifying with one side on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Jewish groups and Presbyterian leaders opposed to the resolution have argued that the action will have negative effects on both Israeli-Palestinian and Presbyterian-Jewish relations.

“We are profoundly disappointed by the General Assembly Mission Council’s decision to recommend this report,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “Neither peace nor the long friendship between our two communities is served by this action. It is tragic that national Presbyterian leaders are making the delegitimization of Israel a public witness of their church. Once again, we turn to our friends who will gather in the church’s General Assembly this summer to find a path towards peace rather than dissension. The proposed resolution drives a wedge between our two communities, frustrates interfaith cooperation and undermines our joint efforts to pursue social justice.”

Some within the church remain skeptical that the resolution will pass. In September, Pastor John Wimberly of the Western Presbyterian Church and a co-convener of Presbyterians for Middle East Peace told JTA that the measure was unlikely to be adopted.

“The General Assembly would have to go against the opinion of the majority of Presbyterians,” Wimberly said. “It will be a struggle; they are determined although a very small group. We just have to make sure this small group can’t do something very big.”

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