DETROIT—“We don’t have a choice,” declared Elizabeth (Terry) Dunning, chair of the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) of the Presbyterian Church (US.). “We have to make a faithful accounting … It is an issue of conscience.” Dunning was defending her committee’s recommendation that the denomination divest its holdings in three companies that sell non-lethal equipment to the Israeli military.
Speaking at a forum just before the June 14 opening of the PCUSA General Assembly, the MRTI chair recounted a decade-long effort to induce Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions to break their relationships with the Israeli military. “We have spent a great deal of time engaged with the three companies,” Dunning said. “We have done research, we’ve submitted written questions, we’ve had in-person meetings, we’ve had telephone conferences, we have submitted shareholder resolutions, we’ve been involved in public campaigns…. And in spite of all that, these three companies remain deeply involved in non-peaceful pursuits.”
“Caterpillar’s products continue to be used in all the non-peaceful pursuits identified by the General Assembly,” Dunning charged. She lamented how the company’s construction equipment had been used “for the demolition of Palestinian homes,” “to uproot and destroy generations-old olive groves,” “to build Israeli-only roads, to build illegal settlements, and to build the separation barrier where it stretches far across the Green Line and into Palestinian territory.” While Dunning spoke, photos were projected showing menacing Caterpillar equipment ostensibly engaged in these tasks.
Hewlett-Packard “profits from the checkpoints that make ordinary, day to day life for Palestinians a misery,” according to the MRTI chair. She disputed Hewlett-Packard’s claim that its biometric scanners “help people get on their way quickly and safely” through the Israeli checkpoints. As she spoke, a photo showed Palestinian men crowded into a cattle chute-style entrance to a checkpoint.
Dunning found proof of Motorola Solutions’ incorrigibility in the following piece of corporate news: “On December 31, 2013, it [Motorola Solutions] signed a 15-year contract to develop and provide the next generation of ruggedized smart phones for the Israeli military.” The MRTI chair concluded that the company “is locked into continuing non-peaceful pursuits for at least the next 15 years.” Meanwhile, a projected photo showed a machine-gun-toting Israeli soldier holding a Palestinian youth in a headlock. There were no similar photos displayed to depict Israeli suffering at the hands of Palestinians.
When a questioner inquired about a possible political backlash against MRTI’s divestment recommendation, Dunning replied: “MRTI is not called to be political. We are called to advise the church on these questions of stewardship [of its investments].” She asserted, “This is not about divesting from Israel.” The MRTI chair noted that the PCUSA retained its stock in other companies, such as Coca Cola, that sell their products to Israeli civilians.
Dunning stressed that MRTI was guided by the 2006 General Assembly instruction to invest only in “peaceful pursuits” in Israel/Palestine. She did not address companies that sell to Middle Eastern militaries other than Israel’s.
Besides Dunning’s presentation on divestment, the June 14 forum put forward another aspect of PCUSA involvement in Israel/Palestine. When the 2012 General Assembly turned aside MRTI’s earlier proposal to divest from the same three companies, the assembly called instead for “active investment” in projects to build up the Palestinian economy. The Presbyterian Foundation reported the progress of that initiative by means of a video.
The foundation’s “positive investment” strategy has three prongs, according to the video. Microfinance loans help Palestinian entrepreneurs start small businesses. Renewable energy projects enable Palestinian enterprises to be less dependent upon the Israeli power grid. Support for educational institutions provides Palestinian young people with skills for a better future.
The video showed Palestinians who have benefited from the PCUSA’s “positive investment” initiative. A divorced mother of four told how a Presbyterian loan had helped her open a dress shop in Ramallah in the West Bank. “These loans are helping us to be somebody, not to be lost in the midst of concern about the intifada [Palestinian uprising] and [Israeli] occupation,” she exclaimed. An enthusiastic student at PCUSA-supported Dar al-Kalima College in Bethlehem declared that she “wouldn’t choose any other place” to get a start in life.
Foundation executive Tom Taylor said that “positive investment” funds were “already making a difference. They are providing jobs, they are creating stability, and they are developing relationships between Muslims and Christians and Jews in the region.” But he added that this initiative was “only one piece of the puzzle” in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There was still a need to address the larger “justice issues” that separate Israelis and Palestinians.