photo: jewish voice for peace

The following was written by intern, Jenna Laila Bitar.        _________________
Divestment from the Israeli occupation has taken some remarkable strides ahead in the last few weeks.

After MSCI (Morgan Stanley Capital International), a leading investment tools company, removed Caterpillar from its socially responsible investment index, pension giant TIAA-CREF followed suit and divested from Caterpillar in its Social Choice account. This shows how mainstream responsible investors are acknowledging that corporate complicity in human rights violations in Palestine should be counted towards a company’s social responsibility record.

Caterpillar has been the target of investor activism for the last 8 years because of the company’s role in selling tools to the Israeli army which are specifically used in severe human rights violations and war crimes. Religious groups communicated directly with Caterpillar and the other companies regarding their concerns of human rights and the companies demonstrated no interest in halting their supplies to the occupation. After receiving no positive response from Caterpillar directly, religious institutions began to take action. The Quaker Friends Fiduciary Corporation (FFC) led the way and divested $900,000 worth of shares of the company at the end of May.

The United Methodist Church resolved to boycott products made by Israeli companies operating in occupied Palestinian territories. The Methodist church subsequently made a call for all nations to prohibit any financial support by individuals or organizations for the construction and maintenance of settlements and the import of products made in settlements.

Following years of grassroots activism in both the United Methodist Church and the Presbyterian Church, both held their general conferences in the last few weeks, and found themselves split over proposed resolutions to divest from Caterpillar, HP and Motorola Solutions over their direct involvement in human rights violations in the Israeli occupation. Powerful testimonies were made for divestment on the floor of both mainstream denominations, recognizing the call of Palestinian Christians for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions.

In both cases, there was a strong consensus against the Israeli occupation and for taking concrete actions by the church to offset the situation. Despite the strong support of Jewish-American and Israeli activists, both denominations responded to the fear of “harming relations with the Jewish community” and postponed divestment, replacing it with a call for further engagement with the companies or investment in the Palestinian economy.

The close votes (333-331 in the Presbyterian general assembly!) and heated debates show again that investment in the occupation is a crisis of conscience for the church, and the move towards divestment from these companies seems inevitable. Both churches have also voted overwhelmingly in favor of the banning and boycott of all products made in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, including Ahava cosmetics, Hadiklaim dates and SodaStream carbonization devices.

Make sure to read the official statement on divestment put out by the church Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) and the IPMN statement on the successful boycott of settlement products by the church.

Jewish activists have sent out an open letter to the Presbyterian Church responding to the historic vote, listing key companies to boycott.

News on the decision can also be found on the church GA website.

To witness the testimonies and debate from the plenary, watch videos from Thursday afternoon, evening and Friday morning.

For all of you who supported the church divestment effort this year, your support has been invaluable. We are succeeding in getting these huge institutions to go beyond their avowed commitment to justice and freedom in Palestine, and to take action. Churches around the country are beginning to wake up to their power to change injustices on the ground in Palestine, and it is our job to continue leading the way in our communities through local and even individual divestment and boycott initiatives. Let’s use our own power to change, our power as investors and consumers, our power as moral agents, students and organizers, activists and church goers. Just like in previous movements in the history, when people lead, politicians follow.

As the Presbyterian and Methodist Church has chosen to boycott settlement products, you can also support institutions to do the same. Global Exchange has many tools on our website, such as information on SodaStream which uses illegal settlement of the Mishor Edomin Industrial Zone as its main production site, exploiting Palestinian land, resources and labor. The Ahava Campaign also works to raise awareness on the beauty products from stolen Palestinian natural resources in the Occupied West Bank, and produced in the illegal settlement of Mitzpe Shalem.

Educate yourself and your community about settlement products sold in your area, check for vendors who sell SodaStream or Ahava – educate them and their costumers about the origins of this product. Check your own investments, ask your pension fund provider for an occupation-free portfolio! Organize in your church or school to stop investment in HP, Caterpillar or Motorola Solutions. If you haven’t had the chance yes to sign the We Divest petition, sign it today and ask the investment giant TIAA-CREF to take the next step, and divest fully from the crimes of occupation.

For more information, resources and toolkits from Global Exchange, follow our Economic Activism in Palestine program.