I Support the Presbyterian Church (USA) Divestment Resolution

As a Jew, a rabbi and a person of conscience, I am voicing my support of the divestment resolution being brought to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) this June.

This resolution, which has been a point of divisive contention between the PC (USA) and some American Jewish organizations for many years,  recommends that the Church divest its funds from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard. It was put forth by the church’s committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment – an appointed body that recommended church divestment of companies engaged in “non-peaceful pursuits in Israel/Palestine.”

There is a long and tumultuous history to this resolution – here’s a basic outline:

- In 1971 and 1976 the Presbyterian Church stated that it had a responsibility to ensure that its funds be invested responsibly and consistent with the church’s mission.

- In 1986, the PC (USA) formed the Committee for Mission Responsibility Through Investing (MRTI) in 1986. The MRTI Committee carried out the General Assembly’s wish to engage in shareholder activism and as a last resort, divest itself of companies which contravened the GA’s position. Divestment would follow a phased process starting with attempted dialogue and shareholder resolutions and ultimately the total sale of and future ban on the church’s holdings in a company.

- In June 2004, the PC (USA) General Assembly adopted by a vote of 431-62 a resolution that called on the MRTI Committee “to initiate a process of phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel.” The resolution expressed the church’s support of the Geneva Accord, said that “the occupation . . . has proven to be at the root of evil acts committed against innocent people on both sides of the conflict,” that “the security of Israel and the Israeli people is inexorably dependent on making peace with their Palestinian neighbors”, that “horrific acts of violence and deadly attacks on innocent people, whether carried out by Palestinian suicide bombers or by the Israeli military, are abhorrent and inexcusable by all measures, and are a dead-end alternative to a negotiated settlement,” and that the United States government needed to be “honest, even-handed broker for peace.”

- In 2005, MRTI Committee named five US-based companies – Caterpillar Inc., Citigroup, ITT Industries, Motorola and United Technologies – for initial focus and that it would engage in “progressive engagement” with the companies’ management.

- In 2006, following an uproar of criticism from American Jewish organizations, the PC (USA) General Assembly overwhelmingly (483-28) replaced language adopted in 2004 that focused the “phased, selective divestment” specifically on companies working in Israel.  It now called for investment in Israel, the Gaza Strip, eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank “in only peaceful pursuits.” The new resolution also required the consideration of “practical realities,” a “commitment to positive outcomes” and an awareness of the potential impact of strategies on “both the Israeli and Palestinian economies.”  The 2006 resolution also recognized Israel’s right to build a security barrier along its pre-1967 boundaries. The GA acknowledged the “hurt and misunderstanding among many members of the Jewish community and within our Presbyterian communion” that resulted from the 2004 resolution and stated that the Assembly was “grieved by the pain that this has caused, accept responsibility for the flaws in our process, and ask for a new season of mutual understanding and dialogue.”

The most recent resolution is the result of this new process and now focuses on three of the original six companies under consideration.  From the PC (USA) website:

The General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC) is recommending that the upcoming 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) divest the church of its stock in three companies “until they have ceased profiting from non-peaceful activities in Israel-Palestine.”

The three companies are Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard.

At issue are their participation in the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the construction of the “security barrier” between Israel and Palestinian territory, and the destruction of Palestinian homes, roads and fields to make way for the construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, which have been declared illegal under international law.

“We have run out of hope that these companies are willing to change their corporate practices [in Israel-Palestine],” said the Rev. Brian Ellison, a Kansas City pastor and chair of the denomination’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI). “We have made diligent effort to engage in conversation. We’d like to do more, to make progress, but substantial change does not seem possible.”

As stated above, I support this resolution without reservation and urge other Jewish leaders and community members to do so as well. I am deeply dismayed that along every step of this process, Jewish community organizations (among them, the Anti-Defamation League, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Jewish Council on Public Affairs) that purport to speak for the consensus of a diverse constituency have been intimidating and emotionally blackmailing the Presbyterian Church as they attempt to forge their ethical investment strategy in good faith.

It is extremely important to be clear about what is at stake here. First of all, this is not a resolution that seeks to boycott or single out Israel. Divestment does not target countries – it targets companies.  In this regard speaking, the PC (USA)’s ethical investment process seeks to divest from specific “military-related companies” it deems are engaged in “non-peaceful” pursuits.

We’d be hard-pressed indeed to make the case that the Israeli government is engaged in “non-peaceful pursuits” in the Occupied Territories and East Jerusalem.  I won’t go into detail here because I’ve been writing about this tragic issue for many years: the increasing of illegal Jewish settlements with impunity, the forced evictions and home demolitions, the uprooting of Palestinian orchards, the separation wall that chokes off Palestinians from their lands, the arbitrary administrative detentions, the brutal crushing of non-violent protest, etc, etc.

All Americans – Jews and non-Jews alike – have cause for deep moral concern over these issues.  Moreover, we have cause for dismay that own government tacitly supports these actions. At the very least, we certainly have the right to make sure that our own investments do not support companies that profit from what we believe to be immoral acts committed in furtherance of Israel’s occupation.

As the co-chair of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council, I am proud that JVP has initiated its own divestment campaign which targets the TIAA-CREF pension fund, urging it to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation. Among these are two of the three companies currently under consideration by PC (USA): Motorola and Caterpillar.

Why the concern over these specific companies? Because they are indisputably and directing aiding and profiting the oppression of Palestinians on the ground. Caterpillar profits from the destruction of Palestinian homes and the uprooting of Palestinian orchards by supplying the armor-plated and weaponized bulldozers that are used for such demolition work.  Motorola profits from Israel’s control of the Palestinian population by providing surveillance systems around Israeli settlements, checkpoints, and military camps in the West Bank, as well as communication systems to the Israeli army and West Bank settlers.

And why is Hewlett-Packard under consideration for divestment by the PC (USA)? HP owns Electronic Data Systems, which heads a consortium providing monitoring of checkpoints, including several built inside the West Bank in violation of international law.  The Israeli Navy, which regularly attacks Gaza’s fishermen within Gaza’s own territorial waters and has often shelled civilian areas in the Gaza Strip, has chosen HP Israel to implement the outsourcing of its IT infrastructure.  In addition, Hewlett Packard subsidiary HP Invent outsources IT services to a company called Matrix, which employs settlers in the illegal settlement of Modi’in Illit to do much of its IT work at low wages.

I repeat: by seeking to divest from these companies the PC (USA) is not singling out Israel as a nation.  The Presbyterian Church has every right to – and in fact does – divest its funds from any number of companies that enable non-peaceful pursuits around the world.  In this case specifically, the PC (USA) has reasonably determined that these particular “pursuits” aid a highly militarized, brutal and oppressive occupation – and it simply does not want to be complicit in supporting companies that enable it.

I am fully aware that there are several organizations in the Jewish community that are already gearing up a full court press to intimidate the PC (USA) from passing this resolution in June.  JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow recently accused national Presbyterian leaders of “making the delegitimization of Israel a public witness of their church.” The Simon Wiesenthal Center has called the resolution “poisonous,” and that by considering it the PC (USA) is “showing its moral bankruptcy.”

These sorts of statements do not speak for me nor, I am sure, do they speak for the wide, diverse spectrum of opinion on the issue in the American Jewish community.  There is no place for public bullying in interfaith relations – it is, needless to say, decidedly counter to principles of honest, good faith dialogue.  To our Presbyterian friends: please know there are many Jewish leaders who stand with you as you support the cause of peace and justice in Israel/Palestine.

In a recent open letter to the PC (USA), Rabbi Margaret Holub, my colleague on the JVP Rabbinical Council expressed this sentiment eloquently with the following words:

Your Church has long been active in pursuing justice and peace by nonviolent means, including divestment, in many places around the world.  As Christians, you have your own particular stake in the land to which both our traditions have long attachments of faith and history.  We particularly acknowledge the oppression of Palestinian Christians under Israeli occupation and the justice of your efforts to relieve the oppression directed against your fellows.

To advocate for an end to an unjust policy is not anti-Semitic.  To criticize Israel is not anti-Semitic.  To invest your own resources in corporations which pursue your vision of a just and peaceful world, and to withdraw your resources from those which contradict this vision, is not anti-Semitic.  There is a terrible history of actual anti-Semitism perpetrated by Christians at different times throughout the millennia and conscientious Christians today do bear a burden of conscience on that account.  We can understand that, with your commitment to paths of peace and justice, it must be terribly painful and inhibiting to be accused of anti-Semitism.

In fact, many of us in the Jewish community recognize that the continuing occupation of Palestine itself presents a great danger to the safety of the Jewish people, not to mention oppressing our spirits and diminishing our honor in the world community.  We appreciate the solidarity of people of conscience in pursuing conscientious nonviolent strategies, such as phased selective divestment, to end the occupation.

I am proud my name is under this letter, alongside many other members of our Rabbinical Council. If you stand with us, please join us in supporting the PC (USA) divestment resolution at their GA in Pittsburgh this summer.


9 Comments on “I Support the Presbyterian Church (USA) Divestment Resolution”

  1. I_like_ike52 says:

    Well, Brant, since you are calling for disinvestment from the supposedly “illegal” settlement of Modi’in Illit, why don’t you go all the way and call for a boycott of all companies that are in the illegal city of Tel Aviv. Your Jewish Voice For Peace gives a detailed explanation of how Tel Aviv was built on supposedly “stolen” land from which the Arab were supposedly expelled already long before the War of Independence in 1948. Yes, I know in the following paper by your JVP you say that although Tel Aviv’s founding and development were a crime against the Palestinian people, it isn’t technically “illegal” (is it because some JVP people have relatives there or that there are some members of the radical Israeli Left resident there and they don’t want to give up their homes, they just want to expel Jews from Modi’in Ilit so they can feel better about themselves as progressives?). This distinction is simply wishy-washy, trying to appeal both the Zionist Left and anti-Zionists at the same time for political reasons that avoid the real issues.

    You have stated that the creation of Israel was wrong. Why don’t you have the guts to go ALL THE WAY and demand a full boycott of Israel? If you think Israel’s existence is immoral and then you call only for selective boycotts of the hated settlements on the West Bank, then this is no different than the theff who steals $100 from someone and then says he feels morally obligated to return $20 to the victim, but he feels entitled to keep the rest because he has “expenses”. What kind of justice is that?

    See how JVP shows us how Tel Aviv is an illegal settlement:

    https://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/301/images/JVPTIFFhistoricalfactsheet.pdf

  2. Jordan Goodman says:

    Shalom Rav,

    On a practical, application oriented level as an individual, have you personally divested from any from any mutual fund investments whose portfolios include the stocks or bonds of Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard, the companies you listed in your post? Have you presented this idea of personal divesting to your congregation? Have you accepted monies for yourself or the activist groups to which you belong e.g., fees for speaking from congregants or others who work for these companies? Would you? Have you advised your congregation and its leadership against accepting monies for dues or other contributions from congregants or others who work for these companies? Would you?

    Biv’racha,

    Jordan

    • My answer to you as that this campaign is not about “personal divestment” (as you put it).

      I’ll quote the definition from the website of the Palestinian National BDS Committee:

      Divestment means targeting corporations complicit in the violation of Palestinian rights and ensuring that the likes of university investment portfolios and pension funds are not used to finance such companies. These efforts raise awareness about the reality of Israel’s policies and encourage companies to use their economic influence to pressure Israel to end its systematic denial of Palestinian rights.

      Having said this, I make an effort to pursue ethical investing personally (which includes among others, companies that benefit from Israel’s occupation). Yes, I do indeed promote ethical investment as an important practice. (No, I have not advised my congregational leadership to reject dues from members who work at Motorola.)

  3. Rich Katz says:

    Brant, thank you for bringing the MRTI committee’s proposed disinvestment resolution to our attention. I appreciate the thoughtful and soul-searching work that has been done by the group. Having witnessed first-hand the deplorable and dehumanizing tactics of the Israeli government in the Occupied Territories, I wholeheartedly support the resolution. Divesting from the companies that help perpetuate these gross abuses of the Palestinian People seems to me a rational and achievable goal by people of good will. Hiding behind an all-or-none approach–as one commenter appears to be doing–allows self-righteous inaction and avoids the real issues that prevent Israel from achieving a lasting peace with its neighbors in the Territories and in the wider region–a peace that is vital for the survival of Israel.

  4. Jim McGown says:

    Thank you, Rabbi Rosen, for lifting your voice up to both explain and support the reasons for the PC(USA)’s consideration of divesting from three American companies whose products support and profit from the Occupation of the West Bank. I was an Elder Commissioner to the 2006 General Assembly and remember vividly the controversy surrounding the 2004 call for a “phased, selective divestment.” I received letters from the Simon Wiesenthal Center and several other Jewish groups expressing their displeasure over the 2004 call. I voted to change the language as you report in your blog. However, since that time the building of settlements, Israeli-only roads, the illegal demolition of Palestinian homes, the destruction of Palestinian agricultural lands and olive trees to clear a path for The Wall, the number of checkpoints, administrative detentions of children, the settler violence in Hebron and other places have all continued and even accelerated. If the limited divestments pass at the PC(USA) General Assembly, perhaps it will give the leadership in Israel pause to reconsider the ruinous path it is right now pursuing. Perhaps Israel’s leaders will finally heed the warnings of JVP, Rabbis for Human Rights, Peace Now, Machsom Watch, B’Tselem, and many other Jewish voices that the way to peace and security is through justice and compassion and not through iron-fisted militarism.

  5. Ken says:

    Brant,
    I don’t understand your “dismay” with the activities of the Jewish organizations. They have every right to use their power and influence to affect change where they believe a great wrong is being committed. It’s the same right that you and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church are exercising. Many Jews and Christians do not agree with the interpretation of history and current events reflected in the General Assembly’s resolution and your positions on these issues. Why is attempting to change and influence a decision making process, or the way people think, only open to those who agree with your positions?

  6. Good on the Presbyterian Church (USA) and good on the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council.

    Thank you Brant and to all those who seek to ensure corporate accountability and for a just response to the people of Palestine and Israel.

  7. J Meeks says:

    Actually, it is the U.S. government that sells the Caterpillar machinery to Israel, so it is the U.S. government that directly profits from this action. Maybe we should boycott them, too.

    Here’s an idea; how about we buy more shares of stock in these companies, and then during their annual shareholder meetings we vote, as OWNERS of the companies, to change their policies? Why not take an active stance rather than a reactionary one that removes our voices from the corporate table? Shareholders have a voice in the way companies operate. Non-shareholders have ethics; shareholders have ethics and the ability to instigate change.


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