Once again, the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee is recommending that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) divest in three companies which it contends continue to engage in non-peaceful pursuits in Israel-Palestine.
The proposal comes less than two years after the 2012 General Assembly voted by an extremely close margin (333 to 331, with two abstentions) to pursue “creative engagement” and positive investment in Israeli-occupied Palestine, rather than a phased disinvestment in three companies – the same three that MRTI has now once again accused of permitting non-peaceful uses of their products.
The divestment issue drew intense interest at the 2012 General Assembly, with both passionate supporters and opponents lining the hallways and packing the committee room for discussions.
Had the PC(USA) voted to withdraw what was then more than $17 million in Presbyterian Board of Pensions and Presbyterian Foundation investments in those three firms, it would have been the first mainline Protestant denomination to divest from companies for their involvement in the conflict in Israel-Palestine. The denomination has however used divestment as a socially responsible investing strategy in other areas, including the campaign against apartheid in South Africa.
MRTI is once again recommending that the General Assembly vote to divest its holdings in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions. The recommendation states that attempts to engage in discussion with the three firms have “produced no substantive change,” and asks that the 2014 General Assembly place the three companies on the divestment list “until such time as they have ceased profiting from non-peaceful pursuits in Israel-Palestine, as defined by prior General Assembly actions.”
According to MRTI, the Israeli Defense Forces have used Caterpillar-made equipment to destroy Palestinian homes, tear down olive trees and build a separation barrier keeping 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.
The MRTI report states that General Assemblies, beginning in 2004, have given “clear directives” that Presbyterian investment should be limited to companies involved in peaceful pursuits in Israel and the Palestinian territories. After years of corporate engagement including correspondence and dialogue, proxy voting and the filing of shareholder resolutions, Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions “remain entrenched in their involvement in non-peaceful pursuits, and regrettably show no inclination to change their behavior. In fact, if anything, these three corporations have deepened their non-peaceful involvement.”
As a result, the three firms “are not in compliance with GA policy,” the report states, recommending that the assembly add the companies to its divestment list “until such time as their corporate activities are confined solely to peaceful pursuits.”
The PC(USA) established its policy on socially responsible investing in the early 1970s, and later adopted its roadmap for corporate engagement – including dialogue and correspondence with companies, proxy voting, shareholder resolutions, and – ultimately, if none of those approaches works – divestment. The denomination also refrains from investing in companies whose primary focus is military activity and from firms centered around gambling, alcohol or tobacco.
In 2004, the General Assembly instructed MRTI to start a process of phased, selective divestment in Israel-Palestine. Since then, MRTI has interacted with a handful of companies – but has repeatedly reported it has failed to make progress with Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions.
PC(USA) General Assemblies repeatedly have advocated for a just peace in the Middle East and a two-state solution in Israel Palestine.
The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board is expected to vote on the MRTI recommendation at its Feb. 5-7 meeting. The board must approve the MRTI recommendation in order for the divestment proposal to advance for consideration by the 2014 General Assembly.