WASHINGTON — In a narrow vote, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) rejected divestment from companies doing business with Israeli security forces in the West Bank.
The 333-331 vote, with two abstentions, in Pittsburgh on July 5, was the closest that the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement has come to a win in a major arena.
The vote replaced a measure recommending investment for peace among Palestinians instead of the majority report of a Middle East committee, which had recommended divestment from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett Packard for supplying settlements and the Israeli army with security products for use in the West Bank.
A similar measure was defeated more decisively at a Methodist assembly in May, and last month MSCI-ESG, an influential adviser on investment for progressive causes, said that Caterpillar’s supply of bulldozers to Israel was a factor – although not the decisive one – in the decision to remove the company from recommended investments.
The Jewish community had been particularly active in lobbying against the Presbyterian measure.
Earlier this week, the dovish American Jewish groups, Americans for Peace Now and J Street, also called on the Presbyterian Church’s plenary to vote down the resolution.
Also, Ethan Felson, vice-president of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs and the umbrella agency’s point person on interfaith relations, was at the convention to speak with church leaders about toning down the resolution, according to a JCPA spokesperson.
In the lead up to the vote, more than 12,000 Jews had signed a letter urging delegates to the Presbyterian General Assembly to reject the resolution. The “Letter of Hope,” which followed an earlier letter signed by 1,300 rabbis sent to the PCUSA, called on Presbyterians to deepen their “understandings of the multiple narratives in the region” and “focus on positive steps including economic development, Palestinian state building, and a return to negotiations.”
However, Rabbi Alissa Wise, Jewish Voice for Peace’s director of campaigns, was also in Pittsburgh for the convention and lobbied on behalf of the resolution.
“It’s too early to know what is going to happen, but I have been moved to tears on multiple occasions as I saw authentic recognition of Palestinian experience and deep commitment to justice for all people by the Presbyterian Church,” she said after the vote. “This is a historic moment in the struggle for dignity and justice, and I commend the PCUSA for getting us this close to holding corporations accountable for profiting from the occupation.”