Frequently Asked Questions about Divestment & Israel/Palestine
Won’t boycott and divestment damage interfaith relationships?
The church has held its positions against the occupation for almost a decade. The 220th GA endorsed a settlement boycott and interfaith relationships continue. The Quakers and Mennonites have already divested from these companies and the sky has not fallen. The United Methodist pension fund just divested from British security firm G4S due its dealings with the Israeli prison system. Sometimes doing the right thing is seen as divisive -- as in historic U.S. struggles like the Civil Rights movement -- but that should not scare us.
Good interfaith relationships are founded on mutual commitment to shared values and doing God’s work for justice together. They should never hold us hostage, requiring us to commit or profit from violence. More than 10,000 Jews, Muslims, and other people of faith signed an interfaith petition supporting boycott and divestment weeks before the GA. Hundreds have come to GA to show us their support, asking us to follow our conscience and join them in righteous, interfaith action for justice.
Is divestment picking sides?
By profiting from Palestinian suffering, the church has already taken sides -- with the occupation. Divestment neutralizes our involvement so that we can be honest peacemakers. And, as followers of Christ, we should never be afraid to stand proudly on the side of justice, speaking out for the oppressed. Prophetic action requires courage, and that is what our faith asks of us.
Shouldn’t the church invest in positive things like the Palestinian economy rather than something “negative” like divestment?
The status quo is the church doing something negative -- profiting from violence. Divestment rectifies this situation, making sure our investments have a positive, not negative, impact. Divestment is positive investment. It does not make sound moral or financial sense to simultaneously invest “positively” in the Palestinian economy while investing “negatively” in companies that undermine and destroy the same infrastructure you’re trying to create. Positive investment cannot work without divestment.
Most importantly, our Palestinian brothers and sisters, including Palestinian Christians and business people, are not asking us for charity. They are asking us to stop investing in their misery. To ignore this plea is to deny Palestinians a powerful nonviolent tool in their struggle for freedom.
Does divestment from the occupation single out Israel unfairly?
The church has divested from other conflicts like those in Sudan and apartheid South Africa, and continues to consider multiple divestment resolutions this year. Far from singling Israel out, divestment ensures that the church is consistent in holding Israel to the same standard as others.
Divestment is a last resort. MRTI has engaged with the three U.S. corporations for ten years, yet they continue their transgressions. In every other case in the church’s history, MRTI’s recommendations have been supported by the General Assembly. To reject the recommendation would be to single these companies and Israel out for special treatment.
The U.S. government singles out Israel with $3 billion in military aid every year. As Americans, we have a particular responsibility to hear the calls of Palestinians crying out for us to stop doing harm.
Shouldn’t the church instead invest in dialogue and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians?
How can we be honest peacemakers when we’re profiting from the suffering of one side? Only once we have divested will we be unhindered in the pursuit of creative paths to justice. Many Israeli Jews and Palestinians are already working together in the struggle for freedom and equality for all with the knowledge that once the systems of oppression and discrimination are no longer in place, the door opens to genuine, peaceful coexistence.
Won’t divestment hurt Caterpillar employees and besmirch a good American company?
Our investment in the occupation represents a very small part of Caterpillar’s business. Divestment is not going to make or break it, but it fulfills our belief in doing no harm, it holds the company accountable for its actions, and it sends a message of faith and hope to the oppressed.
Nobody is condemning the employees of Caterpillar. Sadly, Caterpillar employees are being made to build machines used as weapons. The Church should not be in the business of profiting from this.
Don’t the companies targeted for boycott and divestment also work with the Palestinian Authority? And don’t settlements companies like SodaStream provide jobs for Palestinians?
That Palestinians occasionally use Caterpillars to try to rebuild their homes or farms doesn’t erase Caterpillar’s role in destroying them in the first place. Palestinians live in a captive economy and have very little control over what imports and exports they can use, or where they can work.
The argument that the companies displacing Palestinians are “helping” them is misguided and colonial. It is the same argument that was used against efforts to divest from companies complicit in South African apartheid. Often, Palestinians are placed in the impossible position of either working for companies that are complicit in the theft of their land or not providing for their families. They are extremely vulnerable and yet have decried the settlement industry’s attempts to speak for them, insisting as South Africans once did that they need freedom, not token jobs or a nicer cage. Our Palestinian friends, including Palestinian Christians and business people, are asking us to boycott and divest from these companies. Let us prayerfully listen to their calls.
Is Presbyterian divestment the work of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) Movement?
MRTI’s work on this is an entirely independent church initiative that began in 2004, before BDS even existed. The church has followed its own internal, intentional process of due diligence, consistent with and based upon our values and faith. We have used that process again and again with other conflicts. Claiming that this is an outside campaign is an attack on the integrity of MRTI and the church.
Those supporting Presbyterian investment in Israeli human rights abuses have tried to portray peaceful economic action as hateful and un-Presbyterian. Far from it, boycott and divestment are time-honored, nonviolent, faithful acts of love, inspired by freedom struggles throughout our history, in which Presbyterians have proudly played a positive role before.
Do boycott and divestment target Israel or Jews? Are they anti-Semitic?
The boycott and divestment overtures clearly focus on three U.S. companies doing harm. They do not target Jewish individuals or organizations in any way. To equate targeting occupation with targeting Jews is deeply troubling; occupation has nothing to do with Judaism. In fact, many Jews and Israelis of conscience support boycott and divestment. Jews are divided on this issue. The Church must follow its conscience.