After a similar recommendation was not approved by the 220th General Assembly (2012), the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board is recommending that this summer’s 221st Assembly vote to divest from three companies until “they have ceased profiting from non-peaceful pursuits in Israel-Palestine.”
MRTI has been engaged with these companies since 2004, following General Assembly directives that year. This engagement has taken the form of proxy voting, dialogue with companies, shareholder resolutions and public appeals. Divestment is the final step in the process if companies don’t modify their behavior to comply with General Assembly policy.
“We have regretfully concluded that further dialogue … will not be fruitful and we are therefore regretfully recommending divestment from these three companies,” said Elizabeth Terry Dunning, chairwoman of MRTI. “We have attempted … to be faithful to the assignment that the General Assembly gave the committee in 2004 and has updated at every successive Assembly.
“What we all want is shalom—peace,” she said, acknowledging that the long process has been painful for both those who oppose divestment and those who had hoped it would happen sooner.
Caterpillar sells heavy equipment used by the Israeli military and contractors to destroy Palestinian homes and farmland and to construct segregated roads and the Separation Barrier, MRTI states in its report.
In addition to profiting from biometric scanners used at checkpoints, Hewlett-Packard sells hardware to the Israeli Navy and manages its information technology, including that related to the ongoing naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Motorola Solutions provided an integrated communications system to the Israeli government, which uses it for military communications. It also provided ruggedized cell phones to the Israeli Defense Forces to use in occupied territories and sold wide-area surveillance systems to be used in the Israeli settlements.
During the board’s discussion Feb. 6, Roger Gench, vice chairman of the Justice Committee, praised MRTI’s work but expressed concern about what divestment would do for interfaith relationships between Presbyterians and Jews.
Raafat Zaki, corresponding member, questioned what failing to act would do for ecumenical relationships with Christians in Israel/Palestine and interfaith relationships between Presbyterians and Muslims. He also said that he is bothered by protests against divestment from Presbyterians employed by the three companies, questioning what role self-interest plays when talking about human rights violations.
“Translate that to every situation in which human rights are in question,” he said.
Board member Clark Cowden asked the General Assembly to consider whether it is holding the right position. If he, like MRTI, had been working on a project for 10 years without accomplishing his goal, he would be forced to ask himself, “Was I doing the wrong thing?”