Forward Thinking

Why Presbyterians Voted Against Divestment

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images
Children in Gaza marking the death of activist Rachel Corrie, killed when she was run over by a Caterpillar tractor in 2003.

The failed attempt to divest Presbyterian church funds from three corporations selling equipment to the Israeli military came about because of bias among some church members, said the head of the group that led the Jewish push against the resolution.

“I think there’s a huge part of the Presbyterian Church that really is not capable of a nuanced look at the Middle East, and I think that’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed within the Church,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “But I think it’s important to note…that the majority voted not to support the resolution.”

The resolution, which the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) rejected by a razor-thin margin, would have divested church funds from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola.

In the wake of the final vote rejecting the divestment measure, Gutow issued a release praising the move as a “victory for peace.”

“This was not just a major defeat for the divestment movement,” Gutow said in a statement. “It was a victory for peace.”

Gutow said in an interview with the Forward that he was referring to a substitute resolution passed by the Presbyterians that encourages investment in Palestinian infrastructure.

What won’t be addressed are concerns cited in the rejected resolution about Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and particularly Israel’s policy of demolishing Palestinian homes.

Caterpillar has been the target of divestment efforts since 2004 over concerns that modified versions of its bulldozers are used in Israel’s controversial home demolition policy.

The home demolitions, which take place in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, have been broadly criticized by human rights experts, the United Nations, and the U.S. State Department. NPR aired a lengthy story today on a U.N. report citing increasing rates of home demolitions by the Israeli government. The NPR reported noted that many demolished Palestinian homes lack permits, but that permits are nearly impossible for the Palestinians to procure.

According to Gutow, the JCPA has no position on home demolitions.

“We have not looked into that specifically,” Gutow said. Though Gutow believed that the practice of home demolition didn’t play a major role in the Presbyterian debate, it was cited by both supporters and opponents of the resolution.

In a statement, the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Presbyterian group that had been pushing the divestment motion, said they believed their effort had failed because of concerns over how Jews would react to divestment.

“It appears that church commissioners were swayed by a fear that divestment would cause irreparable harm to Jewish-Christian relations,” Rev. Katherine Cunningham, vice-moderator of the IPMN, said in the statement.

Gutow said that passage of the resolution likely would have caused a problem between the Jewish and Presbyterian communities. “I think it would have,” Gutow said. “It would have been very troubling, and it would have troubled me.”

Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Caterpiller, Home Demolition, Presbyterian Church

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight":
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here:
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.