The Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA) is holding its biennial national General Assembly this week in Detroit, Michigan (June 14-21).
A number of overtures (resolutions) will be debated and voted on during the Assembly by 654 commissioners (elected representatives).
One overture before the Assembly will offer Presbyterian General Assembly commissioners the opportunity to have the denomination divest from three major corporations–Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola–that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
As of December 31, 2013, the PCUSA Board of Pensions’ total investment assets were $9.2 billion. The PCUSA has a membership of over 1,800,000 members related to 10,262 congregations.
The overture on pension funds and the Palestinian occupation has been presented to the General Assembly by the PCUSA’s “socially responsible investment committee”. It is a hard-hitting overture that follows ten years of failed discussions with representatives from the three targeted companies.
Church holdings in those companies will not have a major impact on profit and loss statements, but a divestment decision would be a major blow to the public image of the corporations, that all-important public face which leads big corporations to spend considerable money, time and energy, to protect and polish.
A vote for divestment would also further tarnish Israel’s international reputation, that precious commodity which Israel’s hasbara (propaganda) programs also labor mightily to protect and polish.
Previous religious divestment actions have come nationally in the Mennonite Church, and within the Quaker retirement fund. Other divestment victories have been won in regional bodies of the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ.
Most recently, the Pension Board of the national United Methodist Church joined the Bill Gates Foundation in divesting from G4S, a British-based corporation which runs services for cash transportation and prison management in more than 125 countries.
Israel’s prison system in Palestine uses the services of G4S, a moral concern that played a part in the United Methodist Pension Board’s decision to withdraw portfolio funds from G4S.
Liz Ingenthron, writing in her pro-divestmenet Jewish Voices for Peace blog, emphasizes a point often misstated or ignored in pro-Israel media outlets: The divestment resolution does not call for divestment from Israel, from Israeli companies, or from Jewish-owned companies.
Rather, it mandates that the church’s pension board specifically divest from three multinational corporations doing business in Occupied Palestine.
Presbyterian layman Robert Ross is an Assistant Professor of Global Cultural Studies at Point Park University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His research and teaching focus on the political-economic geographies of Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and the United States.
In his most recent posting for Mondoweiss, Ross provides background for the divestment vote:
The [PCUSA] does not invest in any companies that sell weapons, regardless of where, how, and by whom they might be used.
The three companies on the divestment docket this year—Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett Packard—are in clear violation of this policy.
According to extensive research conducted by the Church’s Mission Responsibility through Investment (MRTI) committee,
Caterpillar provides weaponized bulldozers to the Israeli military, which are used to demolish farmland in Gaza and Palestinian homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem;
Motorola Solutions manufactures fuses for Israeli bombs, the communications system for Israel’s military, and surveillance equipment for illegal Israeli settlements;
and Hewlett Packard furnishes the computer hardware for the Israeli Navy and the biometric scanners for checkpoints, through which all Palestinians (but no Israelis) in the occupied West Bank must pass. . . .
The overture to divest is thus in line with Church policy and stands as a clear reaffirmation of the denomination’s commitment to the Christian ideals of peace, justice, and human rights.
In short, there is no reason the Presbyterian Church (USA) should vote against divestment.
MJ Rosenberg, a Jewish progressive journalist who once worked for AIPAC, succinctly describes the occupation work of the three corporations targeted in the GA overture:
Caterpillar manufactures the bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes to make way for settlements.
Hewlett-Packard supplies Israel with the hardware to maintain the blockade of Gaza and the software to enable Israel to segregate and separate Palestinians at West Bank checkpoints.
Motorola provides the surveillance equipment used to monitor Palestinian civilians throughout the West Bank.
These three are to the occupation what Dow Chemical was to the U.S. war in Vietnam.
Rosenberg has sound moral advice to offer pension board members:
I don’t understand why any religious group would invest in any of these companies in the first place. All three [Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola] are members in good standing of the military industrial complex and have been involved in unsavory activities around the globe. But that argument is for another day.
Right now, the Presbyterian Church has the opportunity to say NO to the occupation in a tangible, concrete way. It has the opportunity to support Palestinians without harming Israelis.
I can hardly imagine any progressive voting NO on this resolution, choosing big corporations over the people of both Palestine and Israel.
In spite of the obvious morality of a YES divestment vote, there is still no guarantee that this year’s General Assembly will support this particular overture.
A General Assembly 2012 vote to divest investment funds from these same companies, , failed by two votes. Intense lobbying from both sides of this issue–including both Christian and Jewish activists–is expected on and around the Assembly floor.
The divestment vote is expected this week on Wednesday night or Thursday morning.
The illustration above is the official logo of this year’s 221st General Assembly.