MRTI recommends divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions

LOUISVILLE – The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board voted Feb. 6 to send to the 2014 General Assembly a controversial recommendation that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) divest in three companies doing business in Israel-Palestine.

The denomination’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee is recommending that the 2014 General Assembly divest in three companies that MRTI has determined are engaged in non-peaceful pursuits in the region: Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions.

Elizabeth Terry Dunning, chair of the MRTI committee, acknowledged during a presentation to the board’s Justice Committee that continuing to recommend divestment has been a “difficult and painful process” for the PC(USA).

The 2012 General Assembly debated the issue fiercely, ultimately voting 333-331 not to divest, but to pursue “creative engagement” and positive investment in Israeli-occupied Palestine instead. Now MRTI is bringing another divestment recommendation, stating that it has followed the General Assembly’s directive that it use the corporate engagement process to make sure the PC(USA) invests only in companies engaged in peaceful pursuits in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

MRTI writes in its report that it has sought dialogue with Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard for years and has not succeeded in convincing the firms to change their practices. “We have come to the conclusion regretfully that after a decade of engagement, there has been no change, and we have been told explicitly in some instances that there will be no change in the future,” Dunning said.

MRTI contends that the Israeli Defense Forces have used Caterpillar-made equipment to destroy Palestinian homes, tear down olive trees and build a separation barrier that prevents Palestinians from entering Israeli-occupied territory. MRTI says the Israeli Defense Forces have used Hewlett-Packard technology in a naval blockade of Gaza and Motorola Solutions technology to conduct surveillance around Palestinian communities.

Matt Schramm, a pastor from Michigan and chair of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board, asked the board members to consider whether they thought MRTI had done the work the General Assembly had instructed it to do – not whether board members necessarily agree with the recommendation. “Our question is, ‘Has MRTI done its work?’ ” Schramm said.

Roger Gench, a pastor from Washington D.C. and a former chair of the Justice Committee, said “I believe MRTI has done its job,” but he worries about the potential impact of divestment on Presbyterian-Jewish relations. “MRTI has done good work, and I cannot help but affirm this work,” Gench said. “What I regret is something larger, much larger. It seems to me that our interfaith initiative as Presbyterians has moved from something robust 20 years ago to something much, much diminished today. Whether we can sustain our relations with the Jewish community out of a vote like this is a good question.”

Raafat Zaki, co-chair of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, responded that “the Jewish community is not homogenous and it is not of one mind” – and some Jews would support the MRTI recommendations.

Board member and mid-council executive Clark Cowden of California asked whether the PC(USA) might be taking the wrong approach – having tried and failed for 10 years to convince the three firms to change their approaches. If he’d worked on a project unsuccessfully for a decade, “I’d have to ask myself if I was wrong,” Cowden said.

Chad Herring, a board member and pastor from Kansas City, said he was trained as an ethicist. The PC(USA)’s ethical policy is that the denomination will not profit from non-peaceful pursuits. “For me, the question is ‘Why should there be an exception in this case?’ ” Herring said. “Ought there to be an exemption to our ethics?”

Having served as a commissioner to the 2012 General Assembly, Herring said he understands the difficulty and sensitivity of the issue. With the recommendation going forward, “I pray for the assembly” as it prepares to consider the controversial divestment recommendation.

 

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Comments

  1. Awun Hwang says

    It’s a crying shame that we, at the 2012 General Assembly, voted against divestment from corporations involved in non-peaceful pursuits in Israel-Palestine. Perhaps the decision points to a troubling trend: preference for political expediency over robust public witness. Like a shrewd politician, we’ve adopted the tried-and-true strategy of replacing a robust public witness (divestment) with a diplomatic language (“creative engagement’). In short, Palestinians’ desperate cry for help suffered a rebuff.

    In January 1919, inspired by Woodrow Wilson’s earlier speech that affirmed the sovereignty of all nations, the Korean Provisional Government (KPG) dispatched envoys, including Syngman Rhee — a friend of Wilson from Princeton University, who, months later, became the first president of the KPG — to Paris Peace Conference constituted under major Western powers. Their mission was to expose Japan’s savagery against Koreans (1910-1945), and to garner support for the independence movement. They were rebuffed.

    Considering Korea’s misfortune at the time, the envoys, and the Korean public, would have welcomed any sign of support, including divestment from corporations that profited as a result of doing business with the oppressive Japanese government — if such an option had been available — just as politically and economically debilitated Palestinians living in desperate conditions would undoubtedly welcome the idea of divesting funds from corporations that contribute to Israel’s oppressive policy, and thus have some bearing on their plight.

    The outcome of the 2012 referendum, seen from the calculus of politics, may seem justifiable: mitigate the growing rift between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Jewish community; avoid yet another turbulent path that could jolt denominational unity. Had the vote gone the other way, it would have been too costly. But, as the Book of Order reminds us, “even at the risk of losing its life,” the church ought to operate out of faith” — not political expediency — to point “to the good news of God’s transforming grace in Christ Jesus its Lord” (F-1.0301).

    So we do what we can to pave the way for the good news of God’s transforming grace. We, for example, certainly would not advocate selling tobacco products or alcoholic beverages to minors; and we’d try to uncover shady gun shop owners who sell firearms indiscriminately. But, at times, despite our best efforts, they end up in the wrong hands. Money talks. And that appears to be the case with Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, who have rebuffed our repeated calls for social responsibility, and with belligerence indicated that “there will be no change in the future.”

    This June, at the urging of Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI), the General Assembly will revisit the thorny issue of divestment. It would be helpful for us to remember that our faith — or our conscience at least — should dictate all our actions, including business practices; after all, the Bible repeatedly instructs on economic matters.

    Today, there’s a growing consensus that we should raise ethical standards for corporations. For example, recently, Maryland lawmakers have been pressing French railway company to pay reparations for transporting Jews to Nazi death camps if it wants to secure a contract in Maryland. As Christians, we ought to at least follow suit.

    Awun Sam Hwang
    Williamsport, PA

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