Close Presbyterian Vote on Selective Divestment Shows Likudniks Losing Middle America

Thursday night, by what the Christian Science Monitor called the "thinnest of margins" the General Assembly of the 1.9 million member Presbyterian Church USA failed to approve a resolution requiring the church to divest its $20 million investments in Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett-Packard over the ties of these companies to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.

The vote at the PCUSA's General Assembly in Pittsburgh was 333-to-331. In percentage terms, 49.85% were in favor of selective divestment from the Israeli occupation and 50.15% were opposed.

No doubt many among what Peter Beinart calls "the American Jewish establishment" celebrated the result. They had pulled out the stops to block the Presbyterians' selective divestment move. 1300 rabbis and 22,000 other Jews wrote to the Presbyterians, falsely seeking to characterize the proposed move as "the use of economic leverages against the Jewish state."

Yet as The Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the PCUSA General Assembly, explained in the Washington Post, the resolution was opposed to specific actions of particular companies linked to the occupation, leaving investments in many other companies doing business in Israel untouched. And therefore, claims that the Presbyterians were contemplating "divesting from Israel" or "boycotting Israel" were disinformation; disinformation that, in the short-run, may have proved successful.

But as the Sergeant said to the Pirate King,

 

"To gain a brief advantage you've contrived/But your proud triumph will not be long-lived."

 

The fact that the "American Jewish establishment" could only muster a two-vote majority at the PCUSA General Assembly shows what the future holds for the Likudniks if they do not change their policies towards the Palestinians.

Just this past month, the massive TIAA-CREF pension fund divested its $72 Million holdings of Caterpillar stock from the investment funds it markets as socially responsible, following the decision by its "social screen vendor," MSCI, to remove Caterpillar from its socially responsible indexes, citing "an ongoing controversy associated with use of the company's equipment in the occupied Palestinian territories."

What Caterpillar bulldozers do in the West Bank is destroy Palestinian homes and other Palestinian private property and infrastructure. Melinda Thompson of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship writes:

 

Caterpillar equipment is used to demolish Palestinian homes, water cisterns, orchards and olive groves. An Israeli military commander has referred to CAT bulldozers as "the key weapon" in the military occupation of Palestinian land.

 

Mitchell Plitnick, former director of the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem's US office, notes that Caterpillar, if it wished, could easily make a different choice about its relationship to the occupation:

 

CAT provides Israel with the bulldozers, specially designed for weaponization. It need not do so. CAT sells plenty of heavy duty industrial equipment to many countries, including Israel. There would be only a microscopic loss of revenue if they decided to cease this odious practice. It's one specific type of bulldozer Israel buys for the express purpose of fitting it with weaponry to operate in occupied territory.

 

Jewish Voice for Peace notes that the Presbyterians, like the Methodists, have voted overwhelmingly to boycott goods produced in Israeli settlements in the West Bank (like Ahava Cosmetics and Hadiklaim dates), and that the next PCUSA General Assembly in 2014 will consider a modified selective divestment resolution.

The writing is on the wall. As with attitudes towards gay rights, there is a huge generation gap in how American Jews and non-Jews view the Israeli occupation; and therefore, as leadership passes to the younger generation, defenders of the status quo will be more and more isolated. If the status quo of occupation continues, the clear trend is that more and more institutions will seek means for effective pressure to bring down the occupation. Let the American Jewish establishment take heed, and turn away from the path of defending injustice.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

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