Disinvestment from Israel

Disinvestment from Israel is a campaign conducted by religious and political entities which aims to use disinvestment to pressure the Government of Israel to put "an end to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories captured during the 1967 military campaign." The campaign was initiated in 2002 and endorsed by Rev. Desmond Tutu.

Anti-Defamation League has argued that singling out Israel for economic punishment is "outrageous and biased.. Rabbi Paul Menitoff, the executive vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis has called efforts to disinvest "lop-sided" and "unbalanced" . The Anti-Defamation League also denounced a Canadian labor union's decision to "'support the international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions' against Israel" as "deplorable and offensive.

Initial call to action

Divestment campaigns targeting Israel first received media attention in 2002, thanks largely to a high-profile divestment petition at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology early that year. This was followed later that same year by calls from South African anti-Apartheid activist Desmond Tutu for the international community to treat Israel as it treated South Africa under Apartheid:
"If apartheid ended, so can this occupation, but the moral force and international pressure will have to be just as determined. The current divestment effort is the first, though certainly not the only, necessary move in that direction."

The origin of the Israeli divestment campaigns can be traced back to the early 1990s just after similar programs targeting Apartheid South Africa proved successful in (1) rallying political activists and (2) contributing to pressures that – along with other economic and political factors - led to an end to white minority rule in that country.

Targets for Disinvestment

Disinvestment campaigns have been focused on high-profile organizations with large financial holdings such as heavily endowed universities or churches and municipalities managing large portfolios of retirement fund investments. Such high-profile institutions, like Harvard University or the multi-million member Presbyterian and Methodist Churches, provided divestment proponents a platform from which to spotlight their political activity. In addition, the wide financial holdings of these institutions generally provided divestment campaigns a list of stocks upon which to base their calls for divestment.

Disinvestment efforts

Disinvestment activity has come mainly from English-speaking countries. Efforts have ranged from general boycotts to targeting specific companies.

United States

Presbyterian Church (USA) In July 2004, the 2.4-million-member Presbyterian Church (USA), voted 431 to 62 in July to "initiate a process of phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel.". The Church manages a set of investment funds totaling approximately $7 billion USD.

According to the Church's highest elected official, Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, there is no plan for a "blanket divestment" from Israeli companies, but instead the Church will "target businesses that it believes bear particular responsibility for the suffering of Palestinians and will give them a chance to change their behavior before selling their shares." Church officials, according to the Washington Post, mentioned Caterpillar Inc. as a possible target of the selective divestment campaign because the company "manufactures bulldozers used by Israel to demolish Palestinian homes that are built without permits or belong to families of suicide bombers."

There was significant opposition in the American Jewish community to the Church's decision. The Washington Post reported in September 2004 that "Jewish-Presbyterian relations have been in turmoil" and that "the heads of several major U.S. Jewish organizations condemned the Presbyterian Church's decision to begin selective divestiture in companies operating in Israel." The executive vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Rabbi Paul Menitoff, said the resolution was "lopsided" and that it unfairly blamed only one side in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

In response to the criticism, Church official Kirkpatrick said that the Church would also "pull its money out of any companies that are complicit in supporting terrorism."

On June 29, 2006, the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly by a vote of 483-28 adopted a balanced resolution that replaced language adopted in 2004 mandating a process of divestment focused on Israel and endorsed instead a corporate engagement process. Instead of using the word "divestment", the resolution calls for the Church to invest only in companies who are involved in "peaceful pursuits" in Israel and Palestinian territories.World Council of Churches In February 2005, the Geneva-based World Council of Churches followed suit. The resolution passed by WCC's 150-member Central Committee commended the selective divestment resolution passed by the Presbyterian Church (USA) saying that the previous resolution "in both method and manner, uses criteria rooted in faith and calls members to do the things that make for peace." The WCC planned to focus "on companies that assist Israel in demolishing Palestinian homes, constructing settlements, and erecting a controversial 'dividing wall' within the Palestinian territories."

"The unexpected resolution", according to a BeliefNet report, "caught many American Jewish groups off guard and confirmed fears among some that the Presbyterians opened a Pandora's box last summer that now has the tacit approval of global Protestant and Orthodox leaders. Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, interfaith director for the Anti-Defamation League, dismissed the WCC as 'irrelevant' but was nonetheless concerned that the divestment campaign has taken on a life of its own."United Church of Christ The United Church of Christ also followed suit , endorsing a range of economic leverages that included divestment, but church leaders did not commit their pension or foundation assets to a divestment plan.New England Conference of the United Methodist Church The New England Conference of the United Methodist Church, at its Annual Conference session held June 8-11, 2005, voted to urge the divesting of funds from companies that support the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories. The resolution stated:

  • "Whereas the United Methodist Church should not profit from the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land or the destruction of Palestinian homes, orchards, and lives,"
  • "Whereas we are committed to ensuring that our denomination’s money is used in a manner consistent with our beliefs, with international law, and with Christ’s teaching."Others

Other mainline churches have debated the subject of divestment. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America rejected a pro-divestment resolution during the summer of 2005. The Episcopal Church USA ruled out the possibility of an Israel divestment later that year, and the United Methodist Church has also avoided divestment.

United Kingdom

The Church of England synod has voted for disinvestment from Israel, which was criticised by George Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury as "inappropriate, offensive and highly damaging".

Britain's National Union of Journalists called for boycott April 14, 2007. By a 66-54 vote, the annual delegate's meeting of Britain's largest trade union for journalists called for "a boycott of Israeli goods similar to those boycotts in the struggles against apartheid South Africa led by trade unions, and [for] the [Trades Union Congress] to demand sanctions be imposed on Israel by the British government.


At its biennial delegate conference held in May 2008, IMPACT (the Irish Municipal, Public and Civil Trade Union), Ireland's largest public sector and services trade union, passed two resolutions criticising Israeli suppression of the Palestinians and endorsing a boycott of Israeli goods and services. The motions also supported divestment from those corporations engaged in or profiting from the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.


The Toronto assembly of the United Church of Canada supports CUPE's boycott. In 2003, the Toronto assembly voted to boycott goods produced by Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

On May 27 2006, the Ontario section of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (which represents more than 200,000 workers) approved a resolution to "support the international campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel until that state recognizes the Palestinian right to self-determination" and to protest the Israeli West Bank barrier.

Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League labelled CUPE's action as "deplorable and offensive. The Ontario regional director of the Canadian Jewish Congress, Steven Schulman, characterized the vote as "outrageous." "For a respected labour union to engage in such a vote, which is completely one-sided and based on mistruths, is shocking," he said.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions published a letter expressing their support for the CUPE boycott of Israel.

Palestinian territories

On July 9, 2005, 171 Palestinian non-governmental organizations put out a call for an international economic campaign against Israel which has come to be referred to as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) after the resolution's call "… for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel Until it Complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights." The three stated goals of the campaign are:

  1. An end to Israel's "occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall;"
  2. Israeli recognition of the "fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality;" and,
  3. Israeli respect, protection, and promotion of "the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194."

Attempts to create a similar movement focusing on divestment from Israel, such as the Palestine Solidarity Committee’s “Don’t Pay for Occupation” campaign, failed to raise similar support, largely because (1) divestment was only one part of these program agendas which also focused on US foreign aid to Israel (as one activist put it “Although the campaign achieved many political aims, it failed to present a strategy of how one should not pay for occupation.”); and (2) the notion that Israel was the natural successor to Apartheid South Africa as the next target for divestment was rejected not just by most American Jews and Jewish organizations, but also by human rights groups who had played a major role in the fight against Apartheid.


Critics of the proposals argue that making unilateral demands on Israel will not promote negotiation and a just peace.

The Economist contends that "the boycotts [which include disinvestment, academic boycotts and product boycotts] look flimsy. Most of the motions passed have been non-binding recommendations, or instructions to investigate the practicalities of BDS. Activists' votes at conferences may be slapped down by the membership, as with the NUJ's boycott, which was reversed after furious complaints from members. After pressure from Jewish groups, American Presbyterians, who voted in 2004 to look into divesting from up to five American firms, backed off last year without having removed a dollar. The two British teaching unions merged and voted anew to consider suspending links with Israeli institutions only to provoke a huge counter-attack by American college presidents."

The Economist continues:

"Even fans of BDS do not fully agree on the best way forward. While some call for broad boycotts, others think 'smart sanctions', such as banning goods produced from settlements in the occupied territories, or from specific firms, will have more effect and sidestep claims of anti-Semitism. Israel's economy, they say, is more vulnerable to pressure than South Africa's—smaller, more globally connected and with fewer natural resources. 'I don't think the boycotts will be as widespread as with South Africa,' says Mr Hever, “but a small and specific economic impact can change many people's minds.' Perhaps. But blaming Israel alone for the impasse in the occupied territories will continue to strike many outsiders as unfair."

Historic antecedents

The Arab League boycott of Israel, which started in 1921 and was formalized in 1945, has included a call for Arab nations to divest from Israel.


See also

External links

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