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Presbyterians reject call to divest over Israel's West Bank occupation

By a two-vote margin, the Presbyterian Chuch (U.S.A.) declined Thursday to divest funds from three firms whose products help Israel enforce occupation of the Palestinian West Bank. Pro-Israel Jewish groups had warned against such a step.

By G. Jeffrey MacDonaldCorrespondent / July 6, 2012

People listen to a session of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) on Thursday, July 5, in Pittsburgh. By a two-vote margin the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) declined on Thursday to divest from companies with operations in Israel.

Keith Srakocic/AP


By the thinnest of margins, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Thursday joined other mainline Protestant denominations in rejecting a call for divestment from companies whose products help enforce Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian West Bank.

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The 333-to-331 vote at the PCUSA’s General Assembly in Pittsburgh averted a showdown with Jewish groups, who had warned divestment could have had a chilling effect on interfaith dialogue. It also aligned the 1.9 million-member PCUSA with the United Methodist Church and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which have rejected divestment efforts in their respective denominations. Each has opted instead to pursue “positive investment” in Palestinian enterprises.

Proponents of divestment wanted the PCUSA to drop the church’s $20 million combined stake in Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard. The vote capped eight years of talks with the companies, which activists say were unsuccessful.

“We’re disappointed for Palestinians who continue to struggle against the occupation,” says Jeffrey DeYoe, a Fort Myers, Fla., pastor who helped lead calls for divestment. “We continue to commit ourselves to their struggle.”

Thursday’s vote came as pressure mounted from pro-Israel Jewish groups. Efforts to boycott, divest, and sanction constitute “a genuine threat to conflict resolution” in the region, according to a July 5 letter from Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the pro-Israel group J Street.

“We’re definitely pleased about the vote,” says Rachel Lerner, vice president of J Street’s education fund and an advocate at the PCUSA’s General Assembly. “It says they want to engage, but to do so in a positive manner.”


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