Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Presbyterian Church USA Turns Down Divestment by 2 Votes

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Presbyterian Church USA Turns Down Divestment by 2 Votes

Article excerpt

By a hairbreadth vote of 333-331, the Presbyterian Church USA rejected a proposal Thursday to divest from companies whose products are used by Israel to enforce occupation of the West Bank.

The vote, at the church's biennial meeting held this year at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, followed weeks of lobbying and days of impassioned testimony by American Jews, Palestinian Christians and Presbyterians. In proceedings that are being watched around the world, Presbyterians voted to replace the divestment proposal with a separate one calling for positive investment in businesses in the West Bank.

The vote represented a surprising reversal after a smaller committee voted by a 3-to-1 margin earlier this week to support divestment.

Jewish American groups and Palestinian Christians arrived in droves this week to offer personal testimony and lobby voters. Supporters of divestment said withdrawing church funds from offending companies would bring the church's actions into line with Christian values. Opponents warned that divestment would rupture relations with American Jews and galvanize a global "boycott, divestment, sanctions" movement organized by Palestinian civil society that does not explicitly recognize Israel's right to exist.

The vote brings PCUSA into line with other mainline U.S. Protestant denominations that have rejected divestment. The United Methodist Church voted in May not to divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, the same three companies targeted by PCUSA. The Evangelical Lutheran Church rejected divestment in 2007 and 2011.

According to Brian Ellison, chairman of the Presbyterian Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee, Hewlett-Packard sells hardware used by Israel in its naval blockade of Gaza; Motorola Solutions supplies surveillance technology to Israeli settlements; and Israel uses militarized Caterpillar bulldozers to raze Palestinian homes.

He argued that the church should not make profits off investments in companies that contribute to the oppression of Palestinians.

He said divestment represents the customary conclusion to an unsuccessful eight-year corporate engagement process and was not meant to condemn Israel.

But by the narrowest of margins, the church body disagreed. The Rev. Matthew Miller from Iowa said before the body that divestment would "privilege Palestinian suffering over the suffering of Israelis" and jeopardize close collaboration with American Jews.

"No one cares about our symbolic action," he said. "It will achieve nothing other than alienation."

The Rev. Susan Andrews, a former moderator of the General Assembly and an influential liberal in the church, said she had been to the West Bank but opposed divestment.

She explained that the church's twin moral imperatives to "stand in solidarity against the pain and oppression" of Palestinians and to "stand in solidarity with our historic Jewish partners in Israel and the U. …

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