TAMPA, Fla. (UMNS) – Delegates to The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking assembly approved petitions dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but they did not approve a measure to divest from specific companies.
Delegates instead approved a report calling on the United Methodist Board of Pension and Health Benefits to explore “serious peace-making strategies in Israel and Palestine, including positive economic and financial investment in Palestine.”
The Israeli-Palestinian issue dominated the May 2 afternoon plenary at General Conference.
The petition originally called for divestment from Motorola Solutions, Hewlett-Packard and Caterpillar, which provide products that are used by the Israeli military in the occupation of Palestinian lands. The Finance and Administration Committee instead substituted language urging “positive, rather than punitive options,” according to Jessica Vargo, East Ohio delegate and committee chairperson.
The petition also asked United Methodist general agencies and boards to ask companies to adopt United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and to consider economic sanctions with companies that refuse.
Vargo noted this petition did not mean that divestment from companies would not be considered. Rather, the petition placed the decision to divest into the hands of the United Methodist General Board of Pension and Health Benefits, as has been historically done, not General Conference.
Indiana Conference delegates received an e-mail letter by the Jewish rabbis of Indiana asking them not to vote for divestment in companies doing business with Israel. In a letter sent by Dr. Marcia Goldstone, executive director of the Indianapolis Jewish Community Council and signed by rabbis from across the state, stated, “We understand and respect your calling to invest in a morally responsible manner. A policy of divestment to pressure Israel runs counter to these goals. Such a one-sided approach damages the relationship between Jews and Christians that has been nurtured for decades…”
A minority report urging divestment and calling on United Methodist boards, agencies, annual conferences and local churches to take into consideration a company’s involvement in Israeli occupation when making investment decisions was rejected.
Those opposed to the committee’s recommendation said it did not go far enough in helping end the struggles of the Palestinian people and past efforts encouraging companies to change their behavior had not worked.
Those opposed to the minority report said targeting specific companies blames the companies for making the products, rather than citing the people who use the products, and it might set a precedent for divestment from other companies related to a myriad of social issues.
Delegates also approved a petition calling for opposition to Israeli settlements on Palestinian land through nonviolent responses, but the petition did not specify what those responses would be.