FAQ - Presbyterian General Assembly 2014
What is happening?
The Presbyterian Church (USA) or PC(USA) will hold its biennial meeting in Detroit June 14-21. Among a number of overtures promoting justice and peace, the church will vote on whether it should divest from three companies that profit from the Israeli occupation. The vote will be cast by 654 commissioners and with the advice of 219 delegates.
The recommendation to divest is coming from the church’s socially responsible investment committee, following ten years of failed corporate engagement with these companies.
Why is this divestment vote important?
With over 1,800,000 members and over 10,262 congregations, the PC(USA) would be the largest church in the US to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation. As of December 31, 2013, the PC(USA) Board of Pensions’ total investment assets were $9.2 billion. The Presbyterian Foundation reported over $1.1 billion in assets as of March 31, 2013.
Previous divestment decisions have taken place nationally in the Mennonite Church and within the Quaker retirement fund as well as in regional bodies of the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ.
The church divestment follows a string of divestment votes at student senate on campuses across the country, from UCLA to the University of Michigan.
Which companies are being targeted for divestment?
The resolution does not call for divestment from Israel, from Israeli companies, or from Jewish-owned companies. Rather the resolution calls for divestment from three multinationals connected to human rights abuses.
Caterpillar (CAT) sells heavy equipment used by the Israeli government in military and police actions to demolish Palestinian homes and agricultural lands. It also sells heavy equipment used in the Occupied Palestinian Territories for the construction of illegal Israeli settlements, roads solely used by illegal Israeli seIlers, and the construction of the Separation Wall extending across the 1967 “Green Line” into East Jerusalem and the West Bank. The number of outstanding demolition orders in East Jerusalem alone has been estimated at up to 20,000.
Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) provides biometric ID equipment to monitor and segregate Palestinians. The 2.4 million West Bank Palestinians are required to submit to lengthy waits as well as the mandatory biometric scanning, while Israelis and other passport holders transit without scanning or comparable delays. The biometric ID is also used to regulate residency rights of non-Jews in Jerusalem. Since 1967, Israel has revoked more than 14,000 Jerusalem residency cards, with 4,557 being revoked in 2008 alone. HPQ sells hardware to the Israeli Navy that enables it to maintain the ongoing naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. This blockade has included interdicting humanitarian supplies and attacking Palestinian fishermen.
Motorola Solutions (MSI) sells surveillance equipment used to protect illegal Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank. The company also provided an integrated communications system, known as “Mountain Rose,” to the Israeli government which uses it for military communications. It also provided ruggedized cell phones to the Israeli army utilized in the http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4515821,00.html)" target="_blank">Occupied Palestinian Territories.
What previous actions has the PC(USA) taken in favor of a peaceful solution in Israel and Palestine?
Since 2004, the PC(USA) has been urging corporations doing business in Israel and the Palestinian Territories (East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank) to confine their business activities solely to peaceful pursuits. In other words, not profiting involvement in any of the obstacles to a just peace. The PC(USA) defines these obstacles as the ongoing violence by Israelis and Palestinians against innocent people; the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in violation of international law; the presence of Israeli settlements in the occupied territories; the construction of the separation barrier; and any obstacles for a viable Palestinian economy to enhance the possibility of a successful Palestinian state.
The PC(USA) has engaged in a decade-long process of research, correspondence, dialogue, proxy voting, and filing of shareholder resolutions with Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard. Since these efforts have failed, the church is now recommending divestment.
The PC(USA) is already on record in favor of boycotting settlement goods and has written to Congress seeking to make U.S. military aid to Israel contingent upon its government’s “compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies.
The PC(USA) Foundation, Inc. in collaboration with the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA), is also investing in West Bank owned/sponsored initiatives or companies that foster economic development, sustainable job creation, and peaceful pursuits, and that minimize or eliminate Palestinian dependence on Israel.
Has the PC(USA) divested from companies related to other issues?
The Church maintains a divestment list of some corporations due to their involvement in military-related production, tobacco, or human rights violations. Companies related to South African’s Apartheid or to Sudan’s genocide have been placed in the last in this list.
This General Assembly will also consider divesting from fossil fuel companies and divestment from for-profit prisons, jails, and/or detention centers.
Are there any other resolutions connected to Israel and Palestine on the docket at this General Assembly?
Who supports these resolutions?
The divestment resolution comes with a recommendation from the socially responsible investment committee of the church as well as 5 Presbyteries. All the other resolutions come with recommendations from at least 2 Presbyteries.
The Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the PC(USA) and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship support these resolutions as well as over 10,000 multifaith Presbyterian and allies united under the banner Interfaith Partners In Action.
Jewish Voice for Peace, the largest group of American Jews and allies committed to justice and peace for Israelis and Palestinians will also be in Detroit offering support for the divestment resolution. Its Rabbinic Council has produced a letter of support as well as a video for Presbyterian Commissioners focused on Hewlett-Packard’s wrong-doings and encouraging the church to divest.
What does Jewish tradition have to say about speaking up for justice and about corporate responsibility?
Jewish tradition is clear about the need to speak up against injustice: “All who can protest against [something wrong that] one of their family [is doing] and does not protest, is held accountable for their family.[All who can protest against something wrong that] a citizen of their city [is doing and does not protest], is held accountable for all citizens of the city.[All who can protest against something wrong that is being done] in the whole world, is accountable together with all citizens of the world. (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 54b)
The Talmud teaches, “You shall not derive profit nor benefit from products used to promote violence. You shall not buy them, nor sell them.” Maimonides used this principle to forbid the sale of weapons to people who may use them for violence or robbery (Mishnah Torah, Laws of Murder 12:12, 14). In fact, Caterpillar bulldozers are weaponized and used to violently demolish Palestinian homes. Motorola Solutions surveillance equipment is sold to protect illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, built on stolen Palestinian land.
See rabbisletter.org for additional Jewish support for divestment from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation.
What do American Jews think about Israeli settlements?
The October 2013 Pew Research Center on American Jewry reflects the deep polarization among American Jews in their relation to Israel. Forty-four percent of American Jews believe that Jewish settlements in the West Bank hurt Israel’s security, while just 17% of American Jews think the continued building of settlements in the West Bank is helpful to Israel’s security. Forty-eight percent doubted last October that the Israeli government was making a sincere effort to achieve a peace agreement with the Palestinians, compared to 38% that trusted the government’s sincerity. The doubters turned out to be right, as evidenced by a report in Israeli press interview where American negotiations analyzed the collapse of the Kerry peace negotiations, stating that “the primary sabotage came from the settlements.”
In fact, American Jews are so deeply divided on almost any issue related to Israel that some Jewish institutions have had to draw red lines in order to ensure that only certain views get aired. A number of Jewish Federations have imposed red lines on what is permissible for Jews to do or say about Israel. Hillel International has drawn its own guidelines, which have prompted young American Jews to start an Open Hillel campaign.
A 2013 JCPA report, titled “Reluctant or Repressed? Aversion to Expressing Views on Israel Among American Rabbis” finds that about 39% of the rabbis surveyed -- sometimes or often “avoid expressing their true feelings about Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians for fear of offending your listeners or those around you.” Among the doves, the proportion deemed very fearful of publicly expressing their true views reaches 43%. In contrast, the comparable number among their hawkish counterparts falls just shy of 25%.