The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, on the recommendation of the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee, is recommending to the 221st General Assembly meeting this summer in Detroit that the denomination purge its investment portfolios of Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions stocks.
Presbyterians speaking with voices on all sides of all issues were raised during the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board meeting in Louisville, Ky. Eventually the board voted to recommend the companies be added to the denomination’s divestment list until they no longer profit from non-peaceful pursuits in Israel-Palestine.
Elizabeth “Terry” Dunning, chair of MRTI, acknowledged that corporate engagement for a just peace in Israel and Palestine “is a difficult and painful topic. This is a decades long effort, and the committee has tried hard to listen to all the voices in the church.” She added that “we are not demonizing companies nor the people who work for those companies.”
MRTI’s recommendation to divest became the Justice Committee’s recommendation and has now become the recommendation of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board to the full Assembly.
During the discussion, a board member asked for clarification about the categories of companies that listed on the PCUSA’s proscribed list, which includes military supply companies. Dunning responded that “not everyone who makes military equipment is on the proscribed list. The threshold is 50 percent of profits or non-peaceful pursuits.” She added that “this move for divestment is not who but how the equipment is used. It would not be a problem for HP to provide these same products for peaceful pursuits.”
Bill Somplatsky-Jarman, who serves on MRTI, added, “We do have military guidelines from 1982 that prohibits us from investing in the top five military companies and the top 100 whose profits are 50 percent or greater in war making.”
One PMAB member responded that made it seem like “we’re talking about a percentage of sinfulness which is an unsatisfying theological standard.”
Chad Herring, another PMAB board member and commissioner to the 220th GA, offered that “we have said, ‘We will not profit from non-peaceful pursuits.’ For me the question is, ‘Why should there be an exemption from our ethics?’ I would submit that there many reasons why we might, but I’m not convinced personally that we should. I think it says more when we apply our ethics consistently.”
Possible concerns on interfaith partnerships
Others raised concerns about the impact the decision to recommend divestment would have on interfaith partners in local communities, nationally and globally.
PMAB member, Roger Gench said, “It seems to me that our interfaith initiative as Presbyterians has moved from something robust 20 years ago to something very much diminished today. Whether or not we can maintain our relationship with the Jewish community in light of this is a real question. I feel pain on all sides of these issues. I believe this will have ramifications for interfaith partners. On the ground in Washington D.C. we are in interfaith relationships, in mission and every other way, my hope is it won’t affect those relationships. It won’t help.”
Having said all that, Gench affirmed that “MRTI has followed the process so this merits consideration by the Assembly.”
Raafat Zaki, co chair of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, said he tired of the 10 years of constant engagement which has ended in deadlock. He asked, “Where do you go from there? I think the committee is commended on the time and effort it took. When we talk about interfaith partners we only talk about Jewish relations. What about the Christians in Palestine? Shouldn’t we consider them and the Muslims?” He added that he knew of “many partners within the Jewish community who are supportive and would be supportive of MRTI’s position.”
Zaki then called into question the motives of those Presbyterians who are employees of the three companies who have stood against divestment. “They are arguments of self-interest,” Zaki said, “and they should be held up to the light of human rights.”
PMAB member Clark Cowden raised another concern related to self-interest. He said, “It seems a little self-serving to say that we worked with companies for 10 years and they didn’t change so they’re wrong. Maybe we need to take a look at ourselves and ask if we might be wrong too.”
Caterpillar, HP and Motorola Solutions
“We are not talking about beloved diggers of our children and grandchildren. We are talking about equipment that has been modified for destruction by the Israeli military. The D-9 bulldozer has been armored, modified and weaponized,” Dunning said.
She described Hewlett-Packard as a “diversified company supplying the Israeli military with computer hardware and communications equipment.” Of particular concern are the “biometric scanners HP supplies for illegal checkpoints in Occupied Palestinian Terrorists,” Dunning said.
Dialogue between MRTI and HP began in 2009, and Dunning said that “a last dialogue was held in 2013. Each dialogue has been deeply disappointing. The HP representatives on the calls are unprepared and unwilling to discuss the matters that are clearly on the agenda.”
Sharing personally, Dunning said, “I was on the last call with HP. We told them we wanted to talk about a brochure put out by one of its subsidiaries describing itself as doing business in Ariel, ‘the heart of Israel.’ What’s missing from the brochure is the green line that shows Ariel as in the Occupied West Bank, not in Israel at all.” Dunning then pointed to a map on the large screen at the front of the room to punctuate her point.
Dunning continued, “The woman in charge of HP’s human rights efforts, said, ‘There are two sides to every issue.’ To which I responded, ‘Not really when it comes to international borders; they actually exist.’
“I still get aggravated when I think about this phone call. If people worked for me and were as unprepared for a meeting as the HP staff people, I would fire them all.”
“Our conclusion is that HP is not going to change its course,” Dunning concluded.
Finally, she addressed the sins of Motorola Solutions, saying, “In December 2013, they signed a $100 million 15-year contract with IDF to provide next generation of smart phones for military operations by Israeli soldiers. Half of that cost will be funded through the United States aid to Israel.”
Dunning concluded that “the signing of that contract was the loudest possible statement about the possibility of dialogue.”
The General Assembly meets in Detroit, Mich., June 14-21.