The U.S. Presbyterian Church has voted to divest its financial holdings from three American companies doing business in parts of Israel considered by Palestinians to be occupied territory.
The governing General Assembly voted Friday 310-303 to remove holdings in Caterpillar Inc., Hewlett-Packard and Motorola from the church’s portfolio of investments, according to a statement posted on its Web site
Though largely symbolic, the decision comes amid building pressure on other churches, companies, organizations, universities and others by the “Boycott, Divest and Sanctions” movement, known as BDS.
The statement said the Assembly members included a preface to its resolution saying the church was committed “to peace in Israel and Palestine."
“We recognize the complexity of the issues, the decades-long struggle, the pain suffered and inflicted by policies and practices of both the Israeli government and Palestinian entities. We further acknowledge and confess our own complicity in both the historic and current suffering of Israeli and Palestinian yearning for justice and reconciliation,” the resolution stated.
The resolution explicitly noted that the vote “does not mean an alignment with the overall strategy of the global BDS movement.”
That movement, started by Palestinian groups almost a decade ago, seeks to put financial pressure on Israel to reach accommodation with Palestinians on the status of refugees, territories in the West Bank and a comprehensive peace deal.
The church, which reportedly holds about $21 million in investments in the three companies, held a similar vote two years ago that failed. In addition to supporters of the divestment, this year’s vote had attracted intense lobbying from Jewish groups.
In a statement posted Friday night on its Facebook page, the Israeli Embassy in Washington called the resolution "shameful."
"Voting for symbolic measures marginalizes and removes its ability to be a constructive partner to promote peace in the Middle East," the statement said. “We would have hoped that (the Presbyterian church) would have joined us in promoting peace and denouncing terrorism."
The companies targeted have contracts to sell earth-moving equipment, surveillance technology and other goods that activists say are used by Israel to build settlements and violate rights of Palestinians.
The Presbyterians, which have around 1.8 million members in the United States, are not the first American church to have divested from investments connected to Israel. But it is the most prominent U.S. religious group to endorse divestment as a protest against Israeli policies toward Palestinians.
The Mennonite church and the Quakers had taken similar steps in recent years, according to The Associated Press, and last week a panel of the United Methodist Church said it had sold holdings in a company that has contracts with Israel’s prison system.