The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has signed up for another round of controversial deliberations over its approach to the Middle East, with its main mission agency asking a church assembly this June to pull investments from three U.S. contractors tied to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
The Presbyterian Mission Agency voted Feb. 6 to ask the governing General Assembly, which will meet in Detroit, to divest church funds from Motorola Solutions, Hewlett Packard and Caterpillar.
The same proposal fell short by two votes at the last assembly in 2012, held here in Pittsburgh. That assembly sought instead to encourage positive efforts toward peace and development in the region. It did, however, recommend a boycott of products manufactured in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, such as cosmetics derived from Dead Sea minerals.
A report by the denomination's Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI), which guides the denomination's efforts at socially responsible investing, said that several years of efforts, "utilizing all the tools available to investors (correspondence, dialogues, proxy voting and filing shareholder resolutions)," haven't changed anything.
"Three corporations, Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, remain entrenched in their involvement in non-peaceful pursuits, and regrettably show no inclination to change their behavior. In fact, if anything, these three corporations have deepened their non-peaceful involvement. As a result, MRTI regretfully informs the 221st General Assembly (2014) that Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions are not in compliance with GA policy, and recommends that these three corporations be added to the GA’s proscription/divestment list until such time as their corporate activities are confined solely to peaceful pursuits."
That list mainly includes tobacco companies and defense contractors.
The report says Motorola Solutions has provided sophisticated communications to Israeli Defense Forces, Caterpillar has provided heavy equipment used by Israelis to demolish Palestinians' homes and build Israeli settlements in occupied territories, and HP has provided high-tech support to the occupation.
The vote, and the debate leading up to it, is certain to reignite debate involving Jews, Muslims and Middle Eastern Christians, a full decade after the Presbyterians' first major effort at divestment was approved. The on-again, off-again efforts have strained relations between many Jews and Presbyterians. The two groups have historically been strong interfaith allies and cooperated on many charitable and legislative efforts in the U.S., but the Presbyterians have long advocated for Arabs in the Middle East and opposed the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories since 1967. Advocates for Israel have said divestment stigmatizes Israel and unfairly blames it for the crisis in a region where many oppose the existence of a Jewish state. The church also has strong ties to Palestinian Christian groups and interfaith ties with Muslims who have urged sanctions as a way to end the long occupation, including illegal settlements.