Northern Illinois Conference (NIC) leaders supporting divestment from companies which provide products used by Israeli military in the occupation of Palestinian lands are disappointed with the May 2 vote at General Conference. While The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking assembly approved petitions dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, they voted against a measure to divest from Motorola Solutions, Hewlett-Packard and Caterpillar.
“The general conference made an important statement calling for all to boycott products made by Israeli companies operating in occupied Palestinian territories. That is a big step forward, but divestment from three companies profiting from the occupation seemed a step too far,” said Lonnie Chafin, Northern Illinois delegate and conference treasurer.
Despite the vote against divestment, proponents are celebrating a small victory and believe they’ve been successful in raising the consciousness of United Methodists around the issue. “I feel the General Church had a long, overdue debate about our opposition to Israeli settlements in Palestinian land and with the church’s official stance on not investing in companies that directly or indirectly support violation of human rights,” said Rev. Dr. Tracy Smith Malone, Northern Illinois chair delegate and chair of Church and Society Committee A. “I was disappointed with the church’s unwillingness to boldly act on what we proclaim unjust.”
The NIC is one of four conferences to pull out their own investments. At the 2010 Northern Illinois Annual Conference, legislation passed to direct the NIC Foundation to divest investments from Caterpillar, General Electric and Terex, as well as other companies that benefit from the occupation of the Palestinian territories. In 2011, NIC submitted petition 21071 to General Conference calling on The United Methodist Church to end its financial involvement in Israel’s occupation by divesting from companies that sustain the occupation. “The NIC petition inspired a lot of engagement with the companies. We can take credit for raising the urgency of the conversation,” said Chafin.
NIC Peace and Justice Coordinator Connie Baker said the vote does not represent what the United Methodist Church is about. “We were terribly disappointed that United Methodists would turn to less than honest intimidation while the world watched,” she said. “Each day that we decide to not put our words into non-violent moral action, we are complicit with the oppressors. I am thankful that other Annual Conferences along with Northern Illinois decided it would not profit from the occupation.”
United Methodist Kairos Response (UMKR) issued this response:Despite this disappointment, our efforts to inform and educate United Methodists and others about the plight of the Palestinians, and the ways in which church investments further their suffering, will continue, as will the global struggle for peace and justice for all the peoples of the Holy Land.
Rev. Chris Pierson, NIC Director of Connectional Ministries added, “The movement will continue to grow in the US and globally as a nonviolent means to encourage peace in the region. There is no doubt that this movement will press forward.”