06 July 2012
By a margin of 333 to 331, with two abstentions, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, has rejected a motion to divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and other companies which provide technology used in Israeli West Bank settlements. The three companies allegedly refused the church's entreaties to change their policies in regard to providing services to Israel. Prior to the vote many Jewish groups had come out against the move, arguing that divestment of the church’s pension fund from these companies would do nothing to enhance peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
The assembly, the church’s highest decision-making body which meets once a year, instead passed a minority motion, by 369 to 290 votes, which calls for a positive course of action with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and proposes to invest in companies that “promote peace.”
The Presbyterian Church has some two million members across the United States and is the largest Presbyterian congregation in the country.
The General Assembly vote on divestment followed a heated debate. A Palestinian told the assembly that his house had been demolished in 1968 by a Caterpillar bulldozer and added that the Israeli "occupation is the worst form of terror." A Caterpillar employee complained that commissioners were only being presented one side of the story. "I've been an employee of Caterpillar for 37 years. You are being shown the very narrow side of CAT. CAT is the first responder around the world," he was quoted by ‘Haaretz’ as saying, noting the company's work at the Twin Towers after the 9/11 attacks. "I am proud to wear this Caterpillar shirt, no matter what happens at this GA," he said.
Recently pension funds in Norway and Sweden divested themselves of holdings in some firms involved in building settlements or helping to erect the West Bank separation barrier. European activists have stepped up pressure on companies by exposing their West Bank ties and picketing stores that sell goods produced in Israeli settlements.
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