The international BDS against Israel can now add the American Presbyterian Church to its list of supporters.
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The boycott, divest and sanction movement against Israel has just added another group to its list of supporters. The American Presbyterian Church’s general assembly voted on Friday 310-303 to divest itself of companies that have business interests with Israel. The Church will now sell its investments in firms like Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions.
While the Church will not boycott the products sold by these companies, it feels that they in some way aid Israel’s political policies which they oppose by selling to the country. For example, Israeli farmers in West Bank settlements use Caterpillar tractors. For its part, the company says that it does not directly sell to Israel. Its products are transferred to it by intermediaries.
Motorola said in a statement that it obeys all laws.
Hewlett-Packard was targeted because it provides security systems used by the Israeli military at border check points with the Palestinian areas. The company said that its systems help the Palestinians gain easier access to Israel stating, “In a secure environment, enabling people to get to their place of work or to carry out their business in a faster and safer way.”
The Church’s shares in these companies have an estimated total worth of $21 million.
With 1.76 million members the American Presbyterians are now the largest religious group to officially support the BDS. The Presbyterians rejected such a move just two years ago in an equally close vote.
America’s Episcopal and Evangelical Lutheran Churches have both, in contrast, officially rejected the divestment movement. Two small American Christian sects, the Quakers and the Mennonites have, however, already supported it.
In a statement Reverend Gradye Parsons said, “We as a church cannot profit from the destruction of homes and lives. We continue to invest in many businesses involved in peaceful pursuits in Israel.”
Heath Rada, the church assembly’s moderator, said after the vote that, “In no way is this a reflection of our lack of love for our Jewish brothers and sisters.”
But Jewish leaders see it differently.
Rabbi David Sandmel, the Anti Defamation League’s director of interfaith affairs said, “We are greatly disappointed by the vote in favor of divesting from companies doing business with Israel, a move that is out of step with the views of the majority of Presbyterians in the pews at the community level. The claim by the PC(USA) that it does not support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is simply not reflected in this resolution and the overall tone of the discussions.”
Sandmel actually attended the conference and was there for its deliberations.
The leader of America’s largest Jewish stream the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, twice addressed the delegates speaking against divestment and even offered to arrange a meeting between the Church’s leaders and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu should they vote against it. After the vote he said that the Presbyterians are no longer “a partner for joint work on Israel-Palestine peace issues.”
The president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Rabbi Steve Gutow said, “This decision will undoubtedly have a devastating impact on relations between mainstream Jewish groups and the national Presbyterian Church.”
The BDS is an international movement which attempts to put political pressure on Israel by encouraging boycott’s in Universities of Israeli academics and boycotts on Israeli exports. It also pushes organization sand individuals to divest themselves of stock in companies that do business with Israel