Questions to Consider on Divestment

What is Israel-targeted divestment?

Israel-targeted Divestment is a form of economic boycott, utilizing the sale of stock, intended to pressure the company whose stock is sold to cease doing business with the government of Israel. It is one part of a three part boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) strategy promoted by an international movement generally referred to as BDS.

What is the goal or purpose of divestment targeted at companies doing business with Israel?

According to BDS activists, divestment from targeted companies doing business with Israel is intended to pressure the Government of Israel to unilaterally withdraw Israeli security forces from the area known as the “West Bank”, also referred to as “Occupied Territories”, “Disputed Territories”, or “Judea and Samaria” depending on the viewpoint of the activist. Israel unilaterally withdrew all security forces and Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip in 2005. “End the Occupation” is a popular slogan used by divestment advocates.

If the PCUSA is asked to divest from Caterpillar, for example, is this a protest of similar usages of military equipment manufactured by Caterpillar for the U.S. military?

No, as proposed by MRTI, divesting from a company such as Caterpillar has no implications for any of its other business practices. It is free to sell the same equipment to the U.S., China, Syria or any other country. Divestment is aimed solely at Caterpillar’s business with Israel. Those opposed to the divestment proposals say this action would create a clear double standard: one for Israel (don’t sell) and another standard (feel free to sell) for every other country in the world.

Can divestment advance the peace process?

This is perhaps the single most important question to consider in arriving at a decision to support or reject divestment. We urge commissioners to gather information on this question from different viewpoints and weigh all of the facts. 

Divestment advocates strongly believe that divestment will advance the cause of peace. BDS proponents have stated: “if there were no occupation, there would be no resistance”, with “resistance” being the term used by some Palestinians for the violence directed toward Israel, including the intentional killing of Israeli civilians by armed groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. This reasoning asserts that Palestinian violence directed at Israel would end after unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank.

Divestment opponents, ourselves included, point to the fact that, over the course of the last ten years, Israel attempted to unilaterally implement the “two-state solution” with a policy called Disengagement, just as divestment advocates are proposing now. Israel withdrew all security forces and Israeli residents from the Gaza Strip in 2005 as the first phase of disengagement, with a plan to unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank. 

Following a democratic election in 2006, the Islamist group Hamas quickly and forcibly took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, leaving the Palestinian Authority governing only Palestinians in the West Bank. Hamas is openly committed to the destruction of Israel and rejects the “two-state solution”, seeking instead a Palestinian state that encompasses both the Palestinian Territories and all of what is now the State of Israel. Thousands of rockets have been fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip in the recent years of Hamas control. These events caused the government of Israel to abandon unilateral disengagement and focus instead on a negotiated peace with the Palestinian Authority.

Under the leadership of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the West Bank Palestinians have been relatively peaceful and security has improved. What Israelis fear, however, is that unilateral removal of Israeli security forces could lead to a takeover of the West Bank by Palestinian factions committed to Israel’s destruction, most notably Hamas. There are minority Israeli factions opposed to establishment of a Palestinian state on purely ideological and religious grounds. Polling shows that security, however, is the dominant concern of the vast majority of Israelis and the principal reason a large majority of Israelis oppose withdrawal of Israeli security forces from the West Bank at this time.

Where does the international community stand on the peace process, and what are the differences with BDS?

The international community overwhelmingly supports a “two-state solution”, with Palestine the homeland of the Palestinian people and Israel the homeland of the Jewish people, based on what are called “Quartet principles”. The “Quartet” is the United Nations, the European Union, Russia and the United States. The essence of the Quartet principles is the right of Palestinians to self-determination and the right of Israelis to peace and security.

Proposals from BDS advocates, in contrast, almost universally fail to address the legitimacy of Israel’s security concerns and the threats posed by groups committed to Israel’s annihilation, such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and the government of Iran. If Israel’s security is addressed at all, it is argued that unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank by Israel will end all violence directed toward Israel. We see nothing in recent history (Gaza’s takeover) or words of Hamas and Hezbollah leaders to suggest the violence will end.

Where does the American Jewish community stand on the two-state solution and divestment?

Jewish Americans embrace a wide range of viewpoints on the Palestinian/Israeli conflict and the best path forward. It is fairly safe to say, however, that the survival of Israel and the physical safety of the Israeli people are paramount concerns to a substantial majority of American Jews. Progressive U.S. Jewish groups such as J Street and Americans for Peace Now are highly critical of Israel’s policies but absolutely opposed to the BDS strategy. Any proposal or policy, therefore, that fails to adequately recognize the threats that Israel faces from violent groups seeking Israel’s annihilation will be poorly received and opposed by a large majority in the Jewish community along with other friends of Israel.

At the same time, there is broad and well documented support from many in the American Jewish community, as in Israel, for a peaceful two-state solution that ensures Israel’s security. It is simply a myth that American Jews are unquestioning supporters of the government of Israel and Israel’s policies and actions. One can go online to the Jerusalem Post or the newspaper Haaretz and will find the same wide diversity of opinion and viewpoint one would find in American newspapers. 

What have previous General Assemblies done regarding divestment?

The 2004 General Assembly voted to initiate a process, the end of which could be phased, selective divestment from several companies doing business with Israel. The General Assemblies in 2006, 2008, and 2010 rejected efforts by some commissioners to proceed with the divestment. Instead, they urged MRTI to continue its discussions with the companies.

What are other denominations doing about divestment?

The U.S. Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist and UCC churches as well as numerous churches in Europe have all refused to heed calls from pro-Palestinian activists to divest from companies doing business with Israel.

What can the PCUSA do about creating peace between Israel and the Palestinians?

First, we need to confess the limitations of our power and influence. Second, we need to continue to be strong advocates for leaders in both nations to negotiate immediately, follow the well-worn path to a two state solution, and urge the U.S. government to use its influence with both parties to restart negotiations. Third, we need to invest in communities of peacemakers in the West Bank as well as programs that create dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians.

We invite you to our website to listen to the voices of Palestinian and Israeli youth discuss their dialogue about a peaceful future. From the voices of the young comes hope that doesn’t include strategies such as boycotts, divestments and sanctions.