A church investment committee that met Friday in Seattle accused Motorola, Caterpillar, ITT Industries and United Technologies of selling helicopters, cellphones, night vision equipment as well as other items used by Israel in its forced occupation of Palestinian territory.
The accusations of the Presbyterian Church were dismissed as an “outrage” by a spokeswoman for Citigroup, a sentiment shared by several of the other corporations.
Other mainline Protestant churches have followed in the campaign of the Presbyterian Church using corporate divestment as a tactic in the Middle East conflict.
The Episcopal Church of U.S.A., the United Church of Christ, two regions of the United Methodist Church, as well as international groups like the World Council of Churches and the Anglican Consultative Council have all urged similar economic boycotts of Israel.
The initiative by the Protestant churches and Church groups has strained relations with the Jewish community, who accuse the churches of singling out Israel for blame.
Some members of the Jewish community have reacted angrily to the call for divestment as ignoring the Palestinians’ role in perpetuating the violence. Some have even gone as far as to accuse the churches of anti-Semitism.
Clerk of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. the Rev Clifton Kirkpatrick said in an interview with the New York Times: “It’s not a campaign to divest from the state of Israel. We’re fully committed to the state of Israel. But it is a campaign to divest from particular activities that are doing damage and creating injustice and violence, whether that’s the building of the separation barrier, construction related to the occupation, or weapons and materials that lead to suicide bombings.”
Associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a Jewish watchdog group based in Los Angeles, has denounced the Protestant churches for ignoring the current “reality on the ground”, where Israel is preparing to withdraw this month from Gaza and remove settlements there.
“This is a brilliantly organised political campaign to hurt Israel, and it’s not going to help a single Palestinian,” Rabbi Cooper said. “When you look at the list of companies, this is basically a recipe for Israel to disarm.”
Rabi Cooper called the churches’ action “functionally anti-Semitic” and urged the Protestant churches to engage in investment, not divestment. He said: “There is so much humanitarian need on the ground in the Holy Land. We’re not telling them: ‘Stay out of it. It’s not your business.’ There’s a ton of work to be done.”
Carol Hylkema, head of a Church subcommittee working for divestment from companies with links to Israel, defended the move, however: “We have chosen these companies because we believe that they can make changes that will increase the possibilities for a just peace in the region.”
She said: “As shareholders of these companies, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) calls on them to act responsibly.”
A press release issued by the USPC expressed the desire to engage in dialogue and forms of public pressure on shareholders “so that these corporations might change their business practices which inflict harm on the innocent, and delay movement toward a just peace.”
Church official Bill Somplatsky-Jarman said: “If these dialogues fail, we may conclude that our investments are not being used for activities that support the broad mission of the Church.” He said, “At that point, divestment is an option that the General Assembly may consider.”