Moral Low Ground


In Protest Against Israel, Presbyterian Church Votes to Sell Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Stock

Israeli forces using a Caterpillar bulldozer to demolish a Palestinian home. (Photo: Sliman Khader/APA Images)

Israeli forces using a Caterpillar bulldozer to demolish a Palestinian home. (Photo: Sliman Khader/APA Images)

The Presbyterian Church has become the most prominent US religious group to endorse divestment from companies that aid in Israel’s illegal occupation and settler colonization of Palestine.

The church’s General Assembly voted 310-303 in Detroit on Friday to sell shares of Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions totaling some $21 million, NPR reports.

Caterpillar was chosen for divestment because its bulldozers are used to destroy Palestinian homes. A Caterpillar bulldozer also killed American peace activist Rachel Corrie in 2003.

Hewlett-Packard was selected because Israel’s military used its products to coordinate the crippling blockade of Gaza, and because its biometric scanners are used to control the movement of Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints.

Motorola Solutions was picked because it supplies Israeli forces with communication technology.

Presbyterian leaders stressed that the church is not divesting from Israel, just the three companies. The measure also affirmed Israel’s right to exist.

“In no way is this a reflection of our lack of love for our Jewish brothers and sisters,” said Heath Rada, moderator of the Detroit meeting where the vote was held.

But the American Jewish Committee, a New York-based advocacy group, claimed the vote was “driven by hatred of Israel.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu slammed the vote as “disgraceful.”

The Israeli Embassy in Washington condemned the move.

“The resolution of the Presbyterian Church this evening in Detroit is shameful,” the embassy wrote on its Facebook page. “It removes its ability to be a constructive partner to promote peace in the Middle East…. We would have hoped that [the church] would have joined us in promoting peace and denouncing terrorism.”

Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, hailed the Presbyterian vote as “a sweet victory for human rights.”

Barghouti told NPR that supporters of BDS have given Palestinians suffering under nearly half a century of Israeli occupation “real hope in the face of the relentless and intensifying cruelty of Israel’s regime of occupation, settler colonialism and apartheid.”

Israel’s occupation, as well as the settler colonies being built and expanded in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law. Some critics accuse Israel of ethnically cleansing Palestinian territories to make way for Jewish settlers. Opponents also claim Israel is guilty of apartheid for its treatment of the Palestinians.

With 1.8 million members, the Presbyterian church is the largest US religious sect to join the BDS movement. Presbyterians join the Quakers and Mennonites in voting to divest, while last week the New York Times reported that the pension board of the United Methodist Church voted to sell shares of G4S, a company that provides security equipment to Israel.

US Christians have a complicated relationship with Israel. While many harbor negative views of Jews, who they blame for killing Jesus Christ, many also believe that Israel must control the Holy Land as a prerequisite for the ‘return’ of Jesus, after which time almost all Jews will perish, according to the Bible. US evangelical Christians are particularly fervent in their support for Israel, although that support has been waning somewhat in recent years.

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