Presbyterians reject divestment from Israel

The Presbyterian Church (USA) on Thursday rejected a proposal to divest from three companies - two headquartered in Illinois - that some in the church say profit from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

By a narrow vote of 333-331 with two abstentions, the church's General Assembly chose, rather than pursuing divestment, to consider the Minority Report of the Committee on Middle-East Peacemaking, which urges positive investment in Palestinian companies. The Minority Report was adopted by a vote of 369-290.

Consideration of the divestment action still may be revived during the remaining 24 hours of the conference in Pittsburgh if a commissioner brings a motion to reconsider. Two attempts to have the divestment action reconsidered already have been rejected.

The vote synchs the Presbyterian Church with other mainline U.S. Protestant churches that also have rejected divestment proposals. Those include the United Methodist Church, which voted in May not to divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions (the same three companies targeted by the PCUSA proposal) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church, which rejected divestment in 2011.

The Israel Action Network, a partnership between the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs that is chaired by Chicago JCRC chairman David Sherman, worked with Presbyterian friends nationwide over many years on this and related Israel issues. One effort was coordinating a "Letter in Hope," signed by more than 1,500 rabbis and supported by more than 22,000 members of the community, urging the church to instead embrace engagement and positive investment to help both Palestinians and Israelis resolve the conflict and reach a two-state solution.

In Chicago, JCRC, the Chicago Board of Rabbis and other Jewish groups worked collaboratively to help bring about Thursday's action.

Following the vote, Sherman said "We welcome the decision of the Presbyterian Church to choose positive investment over divestment, as divestment is not a productive path to peace. We in Chicago also are gratified to note that the divestment path was rejected months ago by the Chicago Presbytery."

Lastly, while the church's General Assembly approved a measure to boycott all products made "on Palestinian land" that are sold by Israeli companies, it also approved a measure to avoid use of the word "apartheid" to describe Israel's laws and practices regarding Palestinians.

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