Jewish groups predicted a rupture with Presbyterians in the wake of a close vote favoring divestment from three companies that deal with Israel’s security forces in the West Bank.
The Presbyterian Church-USA biennial General Assembly approved the measure 310-303 late Friday evening after hours of at times emotional debate. The resolution divests from three companies, Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard. A similar resolution was narrowly defeated at the last biennial in 2012.
Some of the delegates promoting the resolution were at pains to distance it from the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, noting that it targeted only American companies profiting from West Bank security systems, and successfully added amendments making the distinction clear.
Others said that the resolution, coupled with an anti-Zionist tract released earlier this year by a church committee, allied the church with groups that seek to dismantle Israel.
The “decision will undoubtedly have a devastating impact on relations between mainstream Jewish groups and the national Presbyterian Church (USA),” Rabbi Steve Gutow, the president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish public policy groups, said in a statement.
“We hold the leadership of the PCUSA accountable for squandering countless opportunities, not only to act responsibly to advance prospects for Middle East peace, but also to isolate and repudiate the radical, prejudiced voices in their denomination,” Gutow said.
Other groups anticipating a rift included the Anti-Defamation League, the Union for Reform Judaism and the American Jewish Committee. Many of the groups sent delegations to the general assembly.
Jewish Voice for Peace, which campaigned at the General Assembly for divestment, welcomed the vote.
“We are grateful the church voted not to profit from the suffering of Palestinians under Israel’s 47-year-old occupation,” said the group’s deputy director, Cecile Surasky, in a statement. “Now that US-backed peace talks have proven to be ineffective, we hope that others, including Jewish institutions, will follow suit. Divestment has become one of our best hopes for change.”
The URJ’s president, Rick Jacobs, had in a personal appearance on Thursday invited the church’s leadership to join him in making the case against West Bank settlement in a meeting this week with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as long as the resolution was rejected.
Earlier Friday, the general assembly also approved a resolution that called for reviewing the church’s commitment to a two-state outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.