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Presbyterians Consider Divesting From Select Companies In Israel

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A Palestinian boy waves his national flag in front of Jewish settlers waving the Israeli flag on September 16, 2011 at a house in east Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood
A Palestinian boy waves his national flag in front of Jewish settlers waving the Israeli flag on September 16, 2011 at a house in east Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood

A major body within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted Friday to recommend that the church vote to stop investing in three companies "until they have ceased profiting from non-peaceful activities in Israel-Palestine.”

The vote proposed by the General Assembly Mission Council on whether to continue investing in the corporations -- Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard -- will happen at the church's General Assembly, a national meeting of church leaders that will take place in late June and early July in Pittsburgh. The assembly meets every two years.

“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 pastor from Kansas City who is chair of the national church's Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee. “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.” Ellison said the denomination has "significant" investments in the corporations.

He said his committee is targeting Caterpillar because their bulldozers have been used in the demolition of Palestinian homes and in the building of the Israeli West Bank barrier. The group wants divestment from Motorola Solutions because it says the company's communication technologies are used by Israeli forces, while it recommends divestment from Hewlett-Packard because it says the company's products have been used by the Israeli Navy to coordinate its blockage of the Gaza Strip. Ellison said HP also provides biometric scanners used at checkpoints.

The committee's job is to implement the two million-member church's policies on socially responsible giving. A document on the church's website indicates the denomination currently has rules against investing in dozens of companies that are involved in military-related products, tobacco or human rights violations.

Caterpillar representatives have said previously that its bulldozers are given to Israel in accordance with U.S. government policy through the federal Foreign Military Sales program.

Tama McWhinney, a spokeswoman for Motorola Solutions, would not directly address the allegations against the company, but told The Huffington Post that it has "a comprehensive set of policies and procedures that address human rights" to "ensure that our operations worldwide are conducted using the highest standards of integrity and ethical business conduct."

A Hewlett-Packard representative did not reply to a request for comment.

The move by the Presbyterian committee has attracted strong criticism from Jewish groups, such as the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Israel Action Network, an effort of the The Jewish Federations of North America.

“We are profoundly disappointed by the General Assembly Mission Council’s decision to recommend this report,” Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said in a statement. “Neither peace nor the long friendship between our two communities is served by this action. It is tragic that national Presbyterian leaders are making the delegitimization of Israel a public witness of their church. Once again, we turn to our friends who will gather in the church’s General Assembly this summer to find a path towards peace rather than dissension. The proposed resolution drives a wedge between our two communities, frustrates interfaith cooperation and undermines our joint efforts to pursue social justice.”

The United Methodist Church will also vote at its General Conference, which happens in late April and early May in Tampa, on divesting for similar reasons from the three corporations. The move by Presbyterians and Methodists follow discussions in other Protestant denominations, including the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Church of Christ and the Episcopal Church, regarding investments in businesses they believe profit from the occupation of Palestinian territories.

This article has been updated to reflect updated data about the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s amount of investments and its position regarding Israeli divestment campaigns.

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Presbyterian Church moves closer to divestment from Israel-related companies