The United Church of Christ on Tuesday voted to divest from companies that it says profit from the occupation of Palestinian lands.
The move passed 508-124 with 38 abstentions at the 1.1-million member church’s General Synod meeting in Cleveland. It instructs the church to divest from companies that have “been found to profit from the occupation of the Palestinian territories by the state of Israel” and specifically singles out Caterpillar Inc., Motorola Solutions, Hewlett-Packard Development Co., G4S and Veolia.
The companies are among a wider group that the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement has targeted, and the wide-reaching vote instructs the United Church of Christ Board, the Pension Boards United Church of Christ, United Church Funds, conferences, local churches, members and other related United Church of Christ entities to divest. While the entities' investments in the companies are considered to be substantial, a church spokesman told HuffPost Tuesday that the exact figure that will be divested is unclear.
“Things have not gotten better [in the region], they have gotten worse. We have to be clear and direct on our strategy that this is not acceptable. We should not be benefiting in any way from the occupation,” said the Rev. John R Deckenback, conference minister of the church’s Central Atlantic Conference, one of the regional bodies that proposed the measure.
Tuesday’s vote culminates a decadelong process for the church, which first began debating measures related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at its Atlanta synod in 2005. Major Jewish organizations, such as the Union for Reform Judaism, have strongly opposed divestment, while smaller groups such as Jewish Voice for Peace have praised the decision made by the UCC and others, as a number of American churches have taken the action.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Methodist Church also controversially passed divestment-related resolutions last year. At separate governing body meetings this week, the Episcopal Church and the Mennonite Church USA are also debating divestment resolutions.
Divestment “undermines Israel’s legitimacy on the world stage,” said Mark Pelavin, chief program officer of the Union for Reform Judaism. “We see this as detrimental to the cause that we share with many denominations to move forward with the peace process for a two-state solution in the Middle East… The things that isolate Israel on the world stage make it harder rather than easier to move into a peace process.”
John Dorhauer, the newly elected UCC general minister and president, expressed his mixed emotions after the vote. “I will be obligated as the officer of this denomination and by mandate of General Synod to speak publicly the action taken here. But I will do so with a deep awareness at the pain that I will cause to people who I care about deeply,” he said. “And I will do so, to be quite frank, wondering if the benefits of our divesting from those companies is equal to cost to the relationships that we have with people who are critical to our movement towards justice, not just in Palestine but in many other places.”