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Denomination eyes ‘occupation’ profits

Jason Cato

The Presbyterian Church (USA) on Thursday could become the first major U.S. Christian denomination to divest funds from U.S. companies accused of illegally profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, much to the chagrin of the local Jewish federation.

The 220th General Assembly meeting in Pittsburgh will consider a recommendation that it drop investments in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions — companies that produce products that the church’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee said are being used to help Israeli forces in an illegal occupation.

The General Assembly also will consider a recommendation to boycott certain products made by Israeli companies located on occupied land.

“This would highlight the fact that the church doesn’t want to be complicit in criminal acts,” said Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut and editor-at-large for The Daily Star, an English-language newspaper in Beirut.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh hopes the assembly shoots down the proposals, said spokesman Jeff Cohan.

“This issue has galvanized the American-Jewish community in a way that hasn’t been seen in 20 years,” he said.

Separate letters urging Presbyterians to reject divestment resolutions were signed by more than 1,500 rabbis and 22,000 Jews. Cohan said that shows how steadfast Jews in the United States are in opposing it.

Khouri spoke on Wednesday at the Westin Hotel, Downtown, about the Arab Spring and the Israel-Palestine conflict during an event sponsored by the Israel Palestine Mission Network, a pro-divestment group of the Presbyterian Church.

Presbyterian Church (USA), based in Louisville, is the country’s largest Presbyterian group with 1.95 million members.

A U.S.-born, Palestinian-Greek-Orthodox Christian, Khouri said Presbyterians this week have agonized over appearing anti-Israel. He said he hopes the assembly passes the divestment and boycott measures but states its support for Israel’s right to be a nation.

Cohan said he recognizes the Presbyterians’ long-standing ties to Christians in the Middle East and their desire to support them.

“But to do it in such an irresponsible fashion and with such disregard to what actually is going on is astounding,” he said.

Neither Motorola nor Hewlett-Packard has addressed the calls for divestment. Caterpillar denies providing armored tractors or selling to Israel, instead saying equipment is traded to the U.S. government and resold to Israel.

A vote to divest would have little financial impact on the three companies, Cohan and Khouri agreed, but said it would send a message, though they differed on the meaning.

For Cohan, the message would be anti-Israel. For Khouri, it would be anything but.

“They are not talking about Israel; they’re talking about the occupation,” Khouri said. “This isn’t anti-Semitic or against Israel.”

Jason Cato is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7936 or [email protected].


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