United Methodist Church Discusses Caterpillar Divestment
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United Methodist Church Discusses Caterpillar Divestment

On January 25th, the United Methodist Church held a panel titled “Divestment, the Middle East and Sudan”. This panel was held during the Pre-General Conference, a prelude to the General Conference. The General Conference, which occurs every four years, functions as the highest legislative body in the Methodist Church.

Those in the panel arguing in favor of divestment pointed out a 2004 church resolution that opposed illegal Occupation settlements. An argument for selective divestment from companies that actively support the Occupation (20 have been identified as such) was also put forward. Caterpillar was the focus since the church, whose portfolio totals 17 billion dollars, holds $5 million in Caterpillar shares.

Caterpillar supplies the Occupation with heavy equipment used both to raze Palestinian homes and construct the Apartheid Wall as well as West Bank settlements, both of which are illegal under international law. A wide array of activists have targeted Caterpillar, holding protests in front of company offices, disrupting shareholder meetings and spreading general awareness about Caterpillar’s complicity in Occupation crimes.

Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go. The Methodist Church is far from united on the issue of divestment, with some voices calling for “dialogue” with Caterpillar. Others are concerned with taking a stance that “favors” the Palestinians, arguing that it would damage their relationship with the Jewish community and possibly be construed as anti-Semitic.

The idea of creating some sort of dialogue with Caterpillar will not only lead to long and drawn-out talks, but misses the point entirely. The point of divestment is to stop financing criminal practices of the Occupation and to reduce profits companies gain from complicity with the Occupation. The argument for so-called balance is equally frivolous; the Occupation has received unparalleled economic, military and political support and divestment from Caterpillar would be a far cry from creating any sort of unbalance. The third sticking point, that of alleged anti-Semitism, is a rhetorical device long used by Zionist groups to intimidate would-be supporters of Palestinian rights. The move for divestment, however, is ultimately a rejection of racism and apartheid, wherever it occurs. Ultimately it will be up to the Methodist Church to decide whether to be cowed into non-action or maintain its stated commitment to equality and human rights.

In 2004, the Presbyterian Church faced similar attacks when they made the initial steps toward companies that were involved directly with the Occupation. In 2006, the Church retracted the stronger points of its position, although divestment is said to still be moving forward. It is important for the Methodist Church, if they truly care about justice in Palestine, to join the larger BDS movement and cut their financial ties with the Occupation.