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[PCUSANEWS] Criteria set for Israeli divestment targets
PCUSA NEWS <PCUSA.NEWS@ECUNET.ORG>
Thu, 11 Nov 2004 07:28:46 -0600
Note #8566 from PCUSA NEWS to PRESBYNEWS:
November 9, 2004
Criteria set for Israeli divestment targets
Specific companies should be identified by spring 2005
by Alexa Smith
NEW YORK CITY - The Presbyterian Church (USA)'s committee on socially
responsible investment set six criteria here Nov. 4-6 to guide the process of
"phased selective divestment" from corporations that profit from Israel's
occupation of the West Bank and Gaza unless their business practices change.
The divestment process - which could culminate in the sale of stock
no earlier than June 2006 - was set in motion by the PC(USA)'s 216th General
Assembly last summer.
Four of the six criteria target the Israeli occupation - including
the construction of Jewish settlements that further entrenches it. A fifth
aims to identify multinational corporations that enable violence by either
Palestinians or Israelis.
The final criterion addresses the Israeli government's ongoing
construction of a separation barrier, which the Assembly condemned in another
action in June.
It was a tense and not always polite meeting of the Committee on Mission
Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI), which includes two representatives
from each of the denomination's two investing agencies - the Board of
Pensions (BOP) and the Presbyterian Church (USA) Foundation (PCF) - and five
BOP and PCF representatives and their investment officers, who were also
present, were antsy about outrage provoked by the Assembly's decision -
particularly among Jewish groups. They said the nuances of the divestment
process are lost on many critics, including some of their own pensioners and
Major Jewish organizations vilified the Assembly's action and
launched a campaign to pressure the 2006 Assembly to rescind the divestment
decision. Panicked by parallels to the successful campaign to disinvest in
South Africa in the 1980s in order to bring down that country's apartheid
system, at least nine Jewish groups are working to preempt Israel divestment
decisions by other churches.
The 80 million-member worldwide Anglican communion, for instance, has
already put divestment recommendations on its meeting dockets, and other
mainline Protestant bodies in the United States are studying the possibility
Indeed, the PC(USA) decision seems to have galvanized the worldwide
Christian community around human rights violations committed against ordinary
Palestinian civilians living in the Occupied Territories, including minority
Christian population in cities like Bethlehem. That is a subject that
Christians often dodge because it creates tension in Jewish-Christian
Palestinian Christians argue that there is no security for Israel or
Palestine as long as the occupation continues. The suffering imposed by the
Israeli military on civilians in the West Bank and Gaza, they argue, simply
evokes more hatred and worsens the conflict.
That was also the stance taken by PC(USA) General Assembly Stated Clerk
Clifton Kirkpatrick when he met with Jewish leaders here on Sept. 28.
The establishment of criteria enables MRTI to focus its research so that it
may begin identifying which companies - from the PC(USA)'s perspective -
further conflict instead of peace and ought to be engaged in dialogue with
Since the church cannot engage every perceived offender, MRTI also determined
other factors that it will weigh in choosing which companies to engage: the
corporations' history in Israel and Palestine, the magnitude or strategic
importance of their involvement, whether they have assisted any victims of
the occupation, and whether they have supported development of a viable
economy for an independent Palestinian state.
No companies will be named until MRTI's research is completed,
hopefully, committee members said, in the spring of 2005.
"It's a set of criteria to organize the work," said the Rev. Bill
Somplatsky-Jarman, who is MRTI's longtime head and the denomination's primary
liaison with the New York-based Interfaith Committee on Corporate
Responsibility, a broad-based organization of Christians and Jewish groups
with which MRTI works closely.
"There are hundreds of companies involved [in the occupation] and
hundreds [that operate in Israel] who are not involved. ... It's better to
focus on criteria that are focused on General Assembly policy on Israel and
The four criteria that target the occupation seek to identify multinational
provide services to or for use by the Israeli police or military to
support and maintain the occupation;
provide products, services or technology of particular strategic
importance to the support and maintenance of the occupation;
have established facilities or operations on occupied land; and
provide products and services, including financial services, for the
establishment, expansion or maintenance of Israeli settlements on occupied
For decades PC(USA) policy has called for an end to the occupation,
home demolitions, and uprooting of Palestinian vineyards and orchards. It has
long opposed Israel's settlement expansion - a tactic irrevocably linked to
the occupation. To build the settlements the Israeli government confiscates
land in violation of international law and then escalates its military
presence for security.
The fifth criterion targets multinational corporations that provide
products, services or financial backing to Israeli or Palestinian groups that
commit violence against innocent civilians.
While the Assembly's action calls for divestment of companies "operating
in Israel," it also reaffirms earlier denominational statements that condemn
attacks by suicide bombers or by the Israeli military as "abhorrent and
inexcusable by all measures and a dead-end alternative to a negotiated
settlement of the conflict."
According to Somplatsky-Jarman, addressing Palestinian violence is
within the mandate of MRTI, even if it is not explicitly stated in the
divestment legislation. "Human rights violations are human rights violations.
And we want to be sure our work covers all the human rights violations in an
"It's what we've done in other countries and it seems appropriate
here," he said, adding that the denomination's goal is peace in the region
that creates security for two states, Israeli and Palestinian.
The sixth criterion targets corporations that finance or assist in
the construction of Israel's enormous separation barrier. Alleged to divide
Israelis and Palestinians, the barrier in some places separates Palestinians
from each other and from their schools, fields and houses.
The controversial barrier has significantly reduced the number of
suicide bombings in Israeli towns. Portions of the barrier are built of
25-foot-high slabs of concrete. Others sections are electrified fence, topped
with razor wire and patrolled by soldiers.
Although the barrier was proposed as a security measure, the route of
the wall has subsequently been condemned by many of its proponents, according
to Rabbis for Human Rights in Jerusalem, because it juts deep into West Bank
territory that has not yet been negotiated politically.
The Israeli High Court ordered that a segment of the wall be re-routed
because it causes undue hardship to Palestinian civilians living in its path.
And many in the international human rights community are demanding that the
whole wall be torn down.
"This is not about the Jewish people," Somplatsky-Jarman told MRTI as
he ticked off years of Assembly policy that urges Israel to end settlement
construction and the enlargement of existing settlements, both of which are
ongoing. It also has demanded a halt to house demolitions, extra-judicial
assassinations by the Israeli army, and collective punishment of the
Palestinian people, which frequently includes putting entire communities
under curfew or virtual house arrest.
The PC(USA), Somplatsky-Jarman said, has "consistently expressed"
abhorrence about violence on both sides.
Because decades of statements have done little to effect change,
phased selective divestment applies another kind of pressure, even if it is
"only symbolic," Somplatsky-Jarman said.
The term "phased selective divestment" was coined by the General
Assembly in 1984 as a means of "Christian witness" by applying economic
pressure to reform societies when other means of negotiation have failed.
It was first used by the PC(USA) in South Africa, where the church
finally divested itself of a handful of companies in order to bring down
MRTI chair Carol Hylkema of Dearborn, MI, stressed that divestment
occurs only if other forms of engagement with companies fails. "Let's be
clear," she said. "Divestment is a last resort. There are other steps prior
to that. ...
"Divestment is a long way from this point in time."
Once companies have been selected, MRTI members meet with their
leaders to try to persuade them to change corporate behavior. A further step
is the filing of shareholder resolutions, a public step to force discussion
and decision on the floor of annual meetings. Authorization to file
shareholder resolutions can be given by the General Assembly Council.
Throughout the process MRTI publishes its findings and results so
that congregations, presbyteries, colleges and other agencies may use the
data in making their own investment decisions.
Actual divestment is the last resort, sought only if and when MRTI is
persuaded that a company chooses to further fuel the conflict rather than
work for peace in the region. Only the General Assembly can place a
corporation on the church's divestment/proscription list and urge the
Foundation and the Board of Pensions to comply. (See attached document to
review MRTI's step-by-step process.)
Among other objections, BOP and PCF representatives argued to take
the word divestment out of the title of the MRTI document since, they said,
the goal is corporate engagement and change, not divestment.
The Rev. Joanna Adams of Atlanta, GA, a Foundation representative,
pushed to do so in the hope, she said, of dispelling more polarization in the
church on a number of issues. BOP representative Andrew Browne of Aurora, CO,
said if divestment isn't the object, don't "put it on the marquee."
The BOP representatives suggested terms like "transforming
involvement" or "progressive engagement," but no one seemed to think that
language added any clarity in describing the MRTI process.
Bernice McIntyre of Washington, DC, an MRTI member and a corporate
lawyer, said that the explicit threat of divestment is necessary to bring
some corporations to the table.
The Rev. Vernon Broyles, the PC(USA)'s associate for social justice,
repeatedly told the group that phased, selective divestment is a specific
General Assembly policy term and that it cannot be altered.
The task now, he said, is clearly interpreting the divestment policy
and the General Assembly's action.
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