Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 2012, Page 62

Waging Peace

Presbyterian Church Votes to Boycott Ahava, Settlement Dates

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of the United States tackled a number of issues related to the Israeli occupation of Palestine during its July meeting in Pittsburgh, PA. After a heated debate about whether the Church should divest from companies whose products are used to continue Israel's military occupation—namely Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard—the Assembly narrowly, by a vote of 333-331 with two abstentions, failed to pass the motion to divest from these companies.

The divestment motion was supported by Christians, Jews and others who believe that "nonviolent means such as divestment are an effective way to pressure the Israeli government into abiding by international law and respecting Palestinian human rights," said the Rev. Katherine Cunningham, vice-moderator of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network.

However, despite the narrow loss in the divestment motion, the General Assembly voted 457-189 on July 6 to boycott two Israeli products: Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories beauty products and dates grown in the Hadiklaim settlement in the occupied Jordan Valley.

The BDS movement dealt multiple major blows to Ahava this year, after Canadian retailer The Bay, Norwegian retailer VITA, and Japanese distributor DaitoCrea dropped the company in early 2012. In May, South Africa's Department of Trade and Industry mandated that Ahava remove all "Made in Israel" labels if it wished to sell its products in that country.

The Presbyterian Church's overwhelming vote against Ahava only adds to the momentum of holding the company accountable for its illegal activities, including the excavation of Dead Sea mud from occupied areas in the West Bank. According to a Who Profits study on the company, "Ahava's involvement in the occupation of the Palestinian territories includes the exploitation of the Palestinian people's natural resources." For more information visit <www.whoprofits.org/>.

The vote to boycott Hadiklaim Dates passed for similar reasons. Operating from settlements, these two companies epitomized the Presbyterian Church's issues with the settlement movement. According to Marilyn Daniel, an elder from Kentucky, the boycott was "a narrow and focused action which clearly states we are opposed to Israeli settlement on the West Bank. It is not a broad and general condemnation of Israel."

This would explain why the Assembly voted 463-175 against labeling Israeli occupation of the territories as "apartheid." However, despite narrowly voting against divestment from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard, the Presbyterian Church maintains the goal for "significant progress" through its boycotting techniques. Rev. Jack Baca, moderator of the committee on Middle East Peacemaking, called the boycott "an attempt to communicate our hope for signs of progress and that the proposed boycott would be temporary." With close to two million members in the United States, perhaps the Presbyterian Church can help bring that hope to fruition.

   —Meher Ahmad

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