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US Presbyterians vote to divest from firms to pressure Israel

June 21, 2014 9:57 P.M. (Updated: June 22, 2014 9:53 P.M.)
WASHINGTON (AFP) -- The nearly 1.9 million member Presbyterian Church USA voted Friday after a contentious debate to divest from three companies that provide supplies to Israeli forces and settlers in the occupied West Bank.

The 310 to 303 vote at the influential Protestant denomination's meeting in Detroit, Michigan, means the group will pull any financial investments out of Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, according to the church's official news service.

Assembly moderator Heath Rada emphasized the decision "in no way reflects anything but love for both the Jewish and Palestinian people," the news service said.

The measure also included a reaffirmation of Israel's right to exist, an endorsement of a two-state solution and encouraged interfaith dialogue, The New York Times reported.

It also included a provision to encourage "positive investment" to improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians, the Times said.

The close vote came after a week of intense lobbying and "most contentious debate of this assembly," the church's news service said, noting that divestment has historically been seen as a "last resort" after "other engagement tools have failed."

In a statement ahead of the vote, Presbyterian Church USA said it was considering divestment in Caterpillar because its responsible investing committee found the company provides the bulldozers "used in the destruction of Palestinian homes, clearing land of structures and fruit and olive tree groves, and in preparation for the construction of the barrier wall."

Hewlett-Packard, it said, "provides electronic systems at checkpoints, logistics and communications systems to support the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, and has business relationships with illegal settlements in the West Bank."

And Motorola Solutions "provides military communications and surveillance systems in the illegal Israeli settlements," the Church added.

HP spokeswoman Kelli Schlegel insisted, however, that "respecting human rights is a core value at HP and is embedded in the way we do business."

The HP systems used at checkpoints help expedite "passage in a secure environment, enabling people to get to their place of work or to carry out their business in a faster and safer way," Schlegel added.

Motorola Solutions emphasized in a statement the "company has a long record of working with customers" throughout the Middle East and "supports all efforts in the region to find a peaceful resolution" to conflict.

The company added it has "a comprehensive set of policies and procedures that addresses human rights, which is designed to ensure that our operations worldwide are conducted using the highest standards of integrity and ethical business conduct applied uniformly and consistently."

Caterpillar did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

At the 2012 General Assembly, Presbyterian USA voted to boycott products made in the Israeli settlements and to "begin positive investments in Palestinian businesses."
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