By a knife-edge vote of 333-331, commissioners to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) rejected a motion to divest in three companies whose products have been accused of complicity in the oppression of Palestinians.
Instead they passed a minority report that avoided divestment but encouraged the church to raise money to invest in businesses that operate in Palestine. That vote was 369-290.
While support for divestment was strong, its opponents included heavy-hitters from the church's left, as well as its right.
The Rev. Susan Andrews, a former moderator of the General Assembly and influential liberal in the church, opposed divestment, saying that the church must remember both the current suffering of Palestinians and the centuries of Christian persecution of Jews. Jewish leaders, including a rabbi who had brought interfaith greetings to that assembly that morning, had argued that any support for the divestment movement would seriously harm relations between Jews and Presbyterians.
The Rev. Brian Ellison, chairman of a denominational committee that researches and monitors socially responsible investing, had argued that the effort to divest in three companies did not mean broad divestment from Israel. The church continues to invest its pension funds in many companies that work in Israel, he said. But these three had been accused of egregious actions, such as Caterpillar's supply of militarized bulldozers used to demolish Palestinians homes, and had failed to respond to eight years of dialogue.
With Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola "we have reached the end of the line," he said. "The dialogue will produce no results."
Some speakers appealed on behalf of the companies.
Nicholas Nott, an elder from Illinois, said he was a 37-year employee of Caterpillar, and that the bulldozers were militarized in Israel after they had left Caterpillar's control. "Caterpillar is the first responder around the world when disaster hits," he said, citing 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake.
Opponents of the investment-only policy said it was inadequate to address the injustice of people who have their homes and orchards destroyed without reason or due process.
Moufid Khoury, an elder from Lehigh Presbytery in Allentown, Pa., said he was a Palestinian whose own home was destroyed by a Caterpillar bulldozer in 1968. Such actions are "the fuel that inspired the terroris of 9/11." He said. "Has Israel forgotten its history? Has Israel forgotten its bondage? Why are they now doing this to the Palestinians?"