Washington, July 6 – U.S. Presbyterians have narrowly voted down a resolution to disinvest from three U.S. corporations on the grounds that they “profited from Palestinian suffering.” The decision follows a similar vote by Methodists who rejected disinvestment in May.
The proposal before the Presbyterian Church (USA) offended many Jewish group who said it singled out Israel for special criticism and was both unbalanced and historically insensitive. Even the left-wing Americans for Peace Now opposed the resolution.
“Divestment campaigns such as this therefore raise very real and understandable worries about global anti-Semitism and the perception that the campaigns are not truly (or only) about Israeli policies but rather reflect a deep-seated hatred for and rejection of Israel,” the group said in a statement ahead of the vote.
The three companies in the spotlight were Caterpillar Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Motorola. The final vote taken late Thursday was 333-331 with two abstentions. Supporters of the resolution said they might bring it for a re-vote on Friday before the assembly ended.
Anti-Israel Presbyterians, backed by the Palestinians, have been trying for years to persuade the denomination to divest. On the other side, many argued such a move would not help advance peace and even set it back.
The Rev. Walt Davis, of the Israel Palestine Mission Network, a pro-Palestinian Presbyterian group, argued the denomination had come under pressure from “the Israel lobby.”
“They said first that it’s anti-Semitic, then that it’s anti-Israel, then that it delegitimizes Israel,” Davis said.
During an impassioned and occasionally angry debate, one Caterpillar employee from Illinois complained that his company was being unfairly penalized. “You are being shown the very narrow side of CAT. CAT is the first responder around the world,” he said.
Another delegate, Matthew Miller from Iowa said, “I believe an unintended consequence of the divestment will alienate our interfaith Jewish partners in this country. Taking one side over another will privilege Palestinian suffering, not Israelis that are terrorized by their neighbors that seek to eliminate them. This course of action will not have its intended effect; it will achieve nothing but alienation.”
In a subsequent vote of 369-290 the assembly supported a resolution that called for a positive course of action with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and proposed investment in companies that promote peace.