The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted Friday (June 20) to divest church funds from three American companies it cited for profiting from the oppression of Palestinians within Israel’s occupied territories.
The 310-303 vote of the church’s General Assembly in Detroit marks a victory for divestment supporters both within and without the 1.8 million-member PCUSA, now the largest American church to embrace divestment as a strategy to pressure Israel to return its illegally held lands.
The divestment resolution targets companies that divestment supporters say supply electronic and earth-moving equipment that help Israel violate Palestinian rights. Presbyterians in support of the resolution described it as a long overdue stand on behalf of Palestinians suffering under the occupation, which began in 1967 when Israel pushed back attacks from neighboring countries.
The issue has roiled the church for the last decade, and during a more than three-hour debate, many lamented the divisiveness and noted how many around the world — in the U.S., Israel and the Palestinian territories – would be watching.
“After a decade of corporate engagement with Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions, these companies have failed to modify their behavior and continue to profit from Israeli human rights abuses and non-peaceful pursuits,” said the Rev. Walt Davis of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, a pro-divestment group within the church.
“This is a historic vote and the culmination of a long and deliberate internal process within the church,” he said.
But the vote also bodes ill for Presbyterian-Jewish relations, which are particularly fragile since the publication in January of “Zionism Unsettled,” a booklet produced by the church-chartered IPMN and sold on the PCUSA website, which argues the right of a Jewish nation to exist in the Holy Land is based on bad theology.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest branch of Judaism in North America, spoke before the General Assembly Thursday, and warned that a divestment vote would be taken as a sign that the church has aligned itself with those in the “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions” movement who vilify Israel and even question its right to exist.
“It would be an attack on the Jewish community and religion,” especially in the wake of the publication of “Zionism Unsettled,” Jacobs said. “I don’t want the commissioners (assembly delegates) to think they can vote for divestment and be part of the global BDS movement and think that they can still stand with us.”
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SOURCE: Religion News Service