If not now, when?

If not now, When?

IPMN supports MRTI’s recommendation to divest from occupation

Jan 24, 2014 - The Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) welcomes and supports the report of the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) with its recommendation to the Presbyterian Church to stop profiting from Israel’s military occupation of Palestine. MRTI has once again called upon the PC(USA) and its 221st General Assembly, meeting in June 2014, to divest all its holdings from Caterpillar Inc., Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, declaring that these companies are profiting from non-peaceful pursuits in Palestine.  The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board will need to approve MRTI’s report when it meets February 5th and forward the recommendation to the General Assembly (GA) in Detroit.

In the 2012 debate on divestment, we learned in committee and on the floor of plenary that the three companies named by MRTI have ceased to cooperate in the corporate engagement process called for by all our General Assemblies since 2004. The new MRTI report points out that this cooperation has not improved with any of the companies and that continued corporate engagement with them is not resulting in any change. 

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has a standing policy of not to invest in any company whose profits from the military sector exceed 50 percent of their revenue. This policy is not considered controversial and is readily accepted as a sensible church policy. MRTI who was on the cutting edge of establishing socially responsible investment in the 1970s with divestment from apartheid in South Africa, is now in its 42nd year of service to the Church. After ten years of careful and deliberate witness, they are again telling us that we need to not invest in companies who profit from pursuits the church deems unbefitting and unacceptable.

The 220th General Assembly (2012) in Pittsburgh struggled mightily with the same recommendation from MRTI. The GA committee assigned to deliberate on Middle East issues (Cmt 15) voted by a three-to-one margin to call for divestment after hearing extensive testimony from both sides of the issue. The will of the committee that year was to put forward both divestment and “positive investment” in Palestine, hand-in-hand in a “both/and” approach, crafting a delicate compromise. 

Despite the committee's intent to hold divestment and positive investment as a single motion, the report came to the plenary with the two actions divided into separate motions. By two votes, the GA plenary missed approving the “both divestment and investment” will of the committee through a parliamentary maneuver.  They voted for a minority report instead, calling only for investment and designed to replace MRTI’s recommendation, which was never even discussed in plenary.

Interestingly, once divestment was off the table, to every one’s surprise, the plenary voted overwhelmingly to instruct the Board of Pensions to create a “relief of conscience” plan for any of its members wishing to not have their pension funds invested in companies profiting from human rights abuses in Palestine.  This unexpected vote made it clear that the assembly wanted this outcome, but was afraid to vote to divest. Sadly, that relief of conscience plan was declared out of order on a technicality, but the will of the assembly was clearly made known, and the body demonstrated no patience in regard to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine when the next morning, they voted by 71% for a blanket boycott of all products from Israeli settlements in occupied Palestine.   

This Presbyterian boycott includes the carbonated beverage machines made by SodaStream, marketed heavily in the United States, especially during Superbowl weekend.  By virtue of the General Assembly’s overwhelming approval of this boycott, our Presbyterian network has been actively involved in both ecumenical and interfaith efforts to shine a light on SodaStream’s intransigence and its manufacturing plant which is not located in Israel, but on occupied territory, in the illegal settlement of Ma’ale Adumim. IPMN has partnered with the interfaith coalition on the Sodastream boycott since our Assembly called for the boycott.

It has been a long-standing PC(USA) policy that our denomination will not invest in companies engaged in non-peaceful pursuits.  Were this debate about any other part of the world, it would not be controversial and the decision to divest would be hailed as upstanding and ethical. The pro-Israel lobby has been strong and ever-present at our General Assemblies for years, however, and in 2012, the interfaith greeting from Rabbi Gil Rosenthal, executive director of the National Council of Synagogues, became a scolding session about divestment just hours before the plenary was scheduled to vote on divestment. 

Rosenthal threatened the end of Jewish/Presbyterian relations if the Assembly voted to divest and told commissioners that the Jewish community was united on this front. Rosenthal’s “greeting” was offensive to many commissioners and observers, including Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) whose members were there advocating for divestment. The Jewish community is more and more fractious now on supporting Israel’s policies unconditionally, (latest example here) and in fact JVP has been a co-filer with the PC(USA) on shareholder resolutions at Caterpillar annual meetings. Rabbi Rosenthal's threats were intended to intimidate the commissioners and advisory delegates and repeatedly delivered allegations not based on facts. (See here for complete history from 2004-2012).

On CAT, HP and Motorola Solutions, we offer this for a more informed outlook:
  • On January 1, 2014, Globes of Israel carried a story about Motorola Solutions contracting with Israel’s Ministry of Defense to provide the Israeli military with its next generation “ruggedized battlefield smartphone,” making PC(USA) investments in that company even more problematic.
  • IPMN commends to you this video of poet and writer Susan Abulhawa, reading her poem Wala (meaning “boy” in Arabic). In 4 minutes, the poet takes us through a daily ordeal in Bethlehem. At the end of the line of waiting Palestinians she brings to life is an Israeli military checkpoint, equipped with a Hewlett-Packard biometric scanner.
  • If you have never seen a D9 Caterpillar bulldozer in action, these enormous destruction machines are shown 25 seconds into the trailer of the film Where Should the Birds Fly.     photo: weaponized CAT D-9 bulldozer
On the upcoming decisions, we ask all Presbyterians, the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, and the 221st General Assembly, to reflect on the following questions as our General Assembly approaches: 
  1. If we really are against the illegal occupation of Palestine, when will we (after a full decade of debate) finally take a firm and consistent stand against it in both word and deed?  
  2. If we truly seek to stand in solidarity with our besieged Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine, when will we demonstrate that we hear their voice by responding to their repeated cries for justice? 
  3. Why is it easier to call for boycott, which is an act of individual conscience, rather than divestment, which is an act of collective conscience, even when we know that the injustices in Palestine are the concern of both the individual believer and the collective body of Jesus Christ?
  4. If not now, when?