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Presbyterian Church USA votes to divest from Israeli occupation

In a historic step, the Presbyterian Church USA voted Friday to divest its holdings from three companies with links to the Israeli military and illegal West Bank settlements.

Commissioners representing the 1.9 million member denomination voted 310-303 at the annual General Assembly in Detroit, Michigan, to pull investments out of Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions.

Before the vote, the Church said Caterpillar provides bulldozers “used in the destruction of Palestinian homes”, Hewlett-Packard “provides electronic systems at checkpoints, logistics and communications systems to support the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip”, and Motorola Solutions “provides military communications and surveillance systems in the illegal Israeli settlements”.

According to The New York Times, “large American Jewish organizations lobbied the Presbyterians furiously to defeat a divestment vote” in what was “their most determined campaign yet in the 10 years the Presbyterians have considered such a step”.

Yet alongside human rights campaigners within the church, as well as Christian Palestinians, one of the strongest pro-divest voices came from Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), who sent members to Detroit for the gathering. Reacting to the vote Friday, JVP welcomed the decision as “a major development”, and said divestment sends “a strong signal of [the Church’s] commitment to universal human rights”.

The vote was also celebrated by the Presbyterians’ Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN), who noted that divestment followed “a decade of corporate engagement” which failed to produce a change in the companies’ policies. The group quoted Rev. Dr. Walt Davis, Professor Emeritus at San Francisco Theological Seminary, who called it “a historic vote and the culmination of a long and deliberate internal process within the church”.

Friday’s vote came a week after the pension fund of the United Methodist Church divested from security firm G4S, in part motivated by the company’s contract with the Israel Prison Service. The Presbyterians’ support for divestment will be seen as indicative of growing support for tactics like boycott and divestment, as the Palestinian-led BDS campaign gains ground as a means of pressuring Israel to end its systematic human rights abuses.

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