The Minnesota Conference of the United Church of Christ voted overwhelmingly to approve a resolution aimed at creating a just peace in Palestine and Israel, divesting funds from companies that either profit from Israel's 50-year-long occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, or are complicit in human rights violations in those disputed territories.
The move marks the first vote by a UCC conference to divest since the denomination's General Synod passed a resolution in 2015 that called for, in part, divestment from companies profiting from the occupation.
The vote, taken June 10 at the conference's 55th Annual Meeting in St. Joseph, Minn., coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Israeli military's seizure of the land West of the Jordan River and the Gaza Strip, near Egypt.
For the Rev. Shari Prestemon, the decision is one that makes certain the actions of the Minnesota Conference align with its values.
The adoption of the resolution was a "bold decision for the cause of justice and peace in such a troubled region," said Prestemon, Minnesota Conference minister. "We stand with our Christian, Muslim, and Jewish partners in Palestine and Israel who have long struggled for a new day of ultimate peace for all."
The resolution calls the conference to regularly screen current and future investments to determine whether those companies profit from "the industries of occupation and illegal settlements in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, and will, to the best of its ability, divest from those companies and funds." The American Friends Service Committee maintains an updated list — an investment screening tool — of companies, grades their complicity with human rights violations, and recommends divestment or boycott action.
The conference has about $8 million in investments, according to Prestemon, and there are currently five companies on AFSC's continually-updated list — from which companies are added and removed regularly — from which they will need to divest funds.
To prepare for this resolution, the Minnesota Conference has spent the last two years engaged in additional study and education of the occupation. "We have a Palestine-Israel working group that made some educational materials available and I led a delegation in January where we met with global partners, learning how these actions make a difference," Prestemon said. "That enlarged the circle and impassioned the 12 people on the trip."
The resolution was co-sponsored by the Minnesota Conference Global Partnerships Team and the Finance Committee. Those two groups have worked through some of the logistical and practical aspects to determine how quickly the conference could divest its shares.
"We could literally be divested by the end of this week or the next," Prestemon said.
The Rev. Emily Goldthwaite Fries, chair of a sub-group of the Global Partnerships Team that has focuses on Palestine and Israel, said, “Our vote was a proclamation of hope in the future of Palestine and Israel, and I am sure that those who opposed divestment also believe in that future."
"Nobody is excited and happy to pass a resolution like this," she said. "It's a solemn moment, a moment of repentance, but there was a sense of unity around how serious this issue is, and the church has a responsibility to act. And among a range of ideas around the room, I was impressed we could arrive at near consensus to move money out of these corporations."
The Minnesota Conference was one of 10 conferences that sponsored the 2015 General Synod resolution that asked the settings of the UCC to divest from companies that are complicit in, or profit from, human rights violations related to the occupation, and for a boycott of products produced in Israeli settlements located in the West Bank (the territory that is west of the Jordan River). Based on International law, those settlements are considered illegal.
"It's my hope that other conferences are implementing those actions [called for by the resolution]," Prestemon said. "It's one thing to signify support for a movement, and another to embody that in your practices."
"We've had resolutions pass all over the country on divesting from fossil fuels and on Israel-Palestine," Goldthwaite Fries said. "This was do-able for the Minnesota Conference. We've completely followed through on divestment resolutions and we are better for it."