Press Release for 220th General Assembly of PC(USA)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 28, 2012
Presbyterian Church (USA) to Vote Next Week on Divestment from Companies that Profit from Israeli Abuses of Palestinian Rights
As Presbyterians from around the United States gather in Pittsburgh this week for the 220th General Assembly (June 30-July 7) of the Presbyterian Church (USA), they will consider a motion to divest church holdings from three companies (Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions) that profit from Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands and abuses of Palestinian human rights. The vote will be the culmination of a long process within the church and years of outreach to the companies involved, with divestment a last resort.
The Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) strongly supports the divestment motion and notes that a vote in favor of divestment would be in line with the findings and recommendations of the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) of the Presbyterian Church, which for years has attempted to engage these three companies in a constructive dialogue. The MRTI Committee seeks to ensure that the church invests in companies "engaged in peaceful pursuits," rather than the expansion of settlements that undermine the prospects of a two-state solution. MRTI's recommendations are also faithful to the voice of our Palestinian Christian partners, who join in calling for peaceful economic pressure to end the occupation.
As Presbyterians who support divestment as an effective, nonviolent tool to safeguard the rights of Palestinians in the absence of action on the part of our government and the international community, IPMN is encouraged by last week's announcement that pension giant TIAA-CREF has dropped $72 million in Caterpillar shares from its Social Choice fund, a move prompted by the downgrading of Caterpillar by influential ethical investment rating agency MSCI. Earlier this week MSCI issued a statement saying that one of the "key factors" in their decision was "on-going controversy associated with use of the company’s equipment in the occupied Palestinian territories." Earlier this year, the Quakers' Friends Fiduciary group divested $900,000 of their Caterpillar securities as well.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has a long history of divestment and boycott to affect change with major human rights abusers, including South Africa during the Apartheid era. We hope that church commissioners will continue this admirable legacy of ethical investment by divesting church holdings from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions, thereby completing a process of investigation and attempts at constructive corporate engagement that began at the 216th General Assembly in 2004.
Rev. Dr. Jeffrey DeYoe,
IPMN Advocacy Chair
BACKGROUND OF PRESBYTERIAN DIVESTMENT RELATED TO ISRAEL/PALESTINE
2004 - The 216th General Assembly, meeting in Richmond, Virginia, votes to begin the process of engaging in selective divestment from US corporations that provide support, technology, and military equipment to the government of Israel to sustain the occupation of the Palestinian territories. Caterpillar is among the five corporations named.
2006 - The 217th GA meeting in Birmingham, Alabama, reaffirms corporate engagement on the basis of a report from the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) that talks with the named corporations are continuing. In light of this report, a specific overture seeking immediate divestment from Caterpillar doesn’t pass.
2008 – The 218th GA hears a report from MRTI that one corporation has been dropped from the potential divestment list (Citibank, that unknowingly through subsidiaries had been laundering terrorist money, and fixed the problem) and talks are continuing with the other corporations. It’s reported that discussions with Caterpillar are not as successful as had been hoped, but still continuing. Again, the GA chooses to approve the MRTI recommendation to continue corporate engagement even though another divestment overture comes before the plenary.
2009 - In November, with talks with Caterpillar failing, MRTI meets and votes to recommend to the 219th GA a statement denouncing Caterpillar’s business practices in the occupied Palestinian territories.
2010 – In July, the Middle East Study Committee (MESC), appointed by the 218th GA, issues a number of recommendations to the 219th GA, including one calling on the church to denounce Caterpillar’s business practices concerning Israel and the occupied territories. The GA approves MESC's recommendations, including the one on Caterpillar. The move is regarded as one last attempt to revive talks with the company. As a result, the GA votes to reject a divestment overture in lieu of this final attempt at corporate engagement.
2011 - MRTI meets in September and votes to recommend divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions, stating that the committee had done everything in its power to bring change through dialogue with these companies to no avail. Although talks with Caterpillar throughout the years were in the public eye due to outside concern and overtures to previous General Assemblies, talks with the other two companies were also ongoing but remained mostly private. MRTI records indicate, however, similar patterns of behavior among all three corporations when it comes to attempts at constructive engagement.
2012 – In February, the highest governing council of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in non-Assembly years, the General Assembly Mission Council, approves sending MRTI's recommendation on divestment to the 220th GA convening in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on June 29th.
2012 – In April, MRTI officials meet with representatives of Caterpillar, the first such meeting Caterpillar has agreed to since 2009. The MRTI delegation reiterates their concerns, in particular over Israel’s use of Caterpillar products for the demolition of Palestinian civilian homes, the destruction of agricultural lands, the building of settlements, Israel-only roads, and the West Bank wall, in violation of international law. Afterward, MRTI chair Pastor Brian Ellison says that the meeting did nothing to change the committee’s recommendation to the 220th GA that the church divest from Caterpillar, observing that it “made clear that the church and the company have two different perspectives, and that no amount of dialogue is going to change the company’s business decision to continue selling products whose use the General Assembly has deemed a roadblock to peace in Israel/Palestine.”