A leading Christian church in the United States has endorsed a policy of divestment to protest Israel’s policies towards Palestinians, deciding to sell church stock in three companies whose products Israel uses in the occupied territories.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) general assembly voted on Friday by a razor-thin margin, 310-303, to sell stocks in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions.
Carol Hylkema of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, a Presbyterian group that advocates for Palestinians and spearheaded the drive for divestment, said their action was modelled on the divestment movement to end apartheid in South Africa.
It is not anti-Israel nor is it pro-Palestinian beyond the matter of human rights.
“It was because of divestment that we were able to break the apartheid in South Africa,” Johnnie Monroe, a pro-divestment Presbyterian, told Al Jazeera. “The church has to make a moral stance for moral justice.”
A church spokeswoman estimated the value of the Presbyterian holdings in the three companies at US$21m.
Two years ago, the general assembly rejected a similar divestment proposal by two votes.
Heath Rada, moderator for the church meeting held in the US city of Detroit, said immediately after the vote that “in no way is this a reflection of our lack of love for our Jewish brothers and sisters.”
The decision is expected to reverberate well beyond the church.
“It was a vote heard halfway around the world in Israel,” Al Jazeera’s John Hendren, reporting from Detroit, said.
In a separate vote, the assembly also voted to re-examine its historic support for a two-state solution.
The vote comes amid discouragement over failed peace talks that have left activists desperate for some way to affect change and as the broader movement known as BDS, or boycott, divestment and sanctions, against Israel, has gained some momentum in the US, Israel’s closest and most important ally.
Israeli officials, along with many American Jewish groups and their supporters, have denounced the campaign as an attempt to delegitimise Israel.
The top Presbyterian legislative body has been considering divestment for a decade and the vote was the subject of intense lobbying both from within and outside the church.
Rabbis and other members of Jewish Voice for Peace, which advocates for Palestinians, lined the halls of the meeting and prayed in vigils outside the convention centre wearing T-shirts that read, “Another Jew Supporting Divestment”.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, which is the largest branch of American Judaism, addressed the delegates twice, urging them to vote against divestment.
After the vote, Jacobs said the denomination as a whole is no longer “a partner for joint work on Israel-Palestine peace issues.”
Bill Ward of the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest, based in Spokane, Washington, argued the proposal, which reaffirmed Israel’s right to exist, was not an attack on the country.
“It is motivated by stewardship integrity, not partisan political advocacy. It is not anti-Israel nor is it pro-Palestinian beyond the matter of human rights,” Ward said.