The largest U.S. Presbyterian church narrowly voted Friday to divest from three multinational corporations that it said supply Israel with products that promote violence in occupied Palestinian territories.
The divestment, vehemently opposed by many of the nation’s prominent Jewish organizations, and hailed by many pro-Palestinian activists, passed by seven votes after hours of tense and complex debate. It means the Presbyterian Church (USA) will sell its shares of Motorola Solutions, Caterpillar and Hewlett Packard, worth about $21 million.
The vote at the church’s biennial General Assembly, meeting this week in Detroit, was 310 to 303. It makes the 1.76-million member church the largest religious group to vote for divestment, an issue that has been fiercely debated in recent years among mainline Protestants. The Episcopal Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America both have rejected divestment. Presbyterians have discussed divestment for a decade, and a similar vote was defeated by a slim margin two years ago at the last church assembly.
There was an audible gasp on the floor in at the COBO Center in downtown Detroit after the motion passed. “In no way is this a reflection of our lack of love for our Jewish brothers and sisters,” Heath Rada, the church assembly’s moderator, told the assembly afterwards.
But opponents described it as exactly that.
“This decision will undoubtedly have a devastating impact on relations between mainstream Jewish groups and the national Presbyterian Church (USA),” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, whose organization was one of several major Jewish groups that had flown rabbis to Detroit to plead against divestment. Gutow, in a statement, described the vote as stemming from a “deep animus” in church leadership against “both the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”
Supporters of the wider Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, described Presbyterian divestment as a victory, though the measure the church passed Friday evening separated itself from the movement.
Divesting from the three companies is “not to be construed or represented by any organization of the PC(USA) as divestment from the State of Israel, or an alignment with or endorsement of the global BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement,” said the text of the Presbyterian’s overture… see more