LAWRENCE, Mass, (UMNS) - After two years of research, a United Methodist task force in the New England Annual (regional) Conference is urging its members, churches and investment managers to divest from 20 companies identified as supporting Israel's occupation of Palestinian land.
The companies range from Lockheed Martin, identified as the single biggest overseas supplier for the Israeli armaments industry, to movie rental chain Blockbuster Inc., which the task force says operates kiosks in illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land, contributing to the appeal and growth of Israeli settlements.
The conference, which includes all or part of five states in New England, created the study panel after passing a resolution in 2005 to divest from companies that are significantly supporting the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
That resolution said the church "should not profit from the illegal Israeli occupation of Palestinian land or the destruction of Palestinian homes, orchards and lives." It was approved by the regional conference after the 2004 General Conference, the denomination's top lawmaking body, passed a resolution calling for an end to the Israeli occupation.
A number of U.S. and Israeli Jewish peace groups and religious leaders have called for selective divestment from Israel as a means of ending settlement expansion and illegal occupation.
"Selective divestment is consistent with the United Methodist commitment to a just and sustainable peace for all the people of the Middle East," said William P. Aldrich, chairman of the New England Conference task force. "Resolution 204 and the work of the Divestment Task Force in New England support the General Conference resolution and offer a tangible way of working toward this goal."
Research and dialogue
Since 2005, the task force has researched and examined many companies related to Israeli occupation. Each identified company was contacted in writing with the concerns of the task force and given 60 days to respond. Nine of the companies answered in writing, and their correspondence are included in the report.
For instance, Jerry R Kircher III, vice president of investor relations for Lockheed Martin, directed the task force to its primary customer, the U.S. government, "as they are the decision makers on product distribution and national policy matters."
Blockbuster responded that its operation in Israel is limited to one franchisee that is not violating local laws, according to company spokeswoman Karen J. Raskopf.
Besides Lockheed Martin and Blockbuster, other companies on the list are Alliant Tech Systems (NYSE:ATK); Boeing (NYSE:BA); Caterpillar (NYSE:CAT); Cement Roadstone Holdings (NYSE:CRH); General Dynamics (NYSE:GD); General Electric (NYSE:GE); Globecomm Systems Inc. (NASDAQ:GCOM); ITT Corp. (NYSE:ITT); Magal Security Systems (NASDAQ:MAGS); Motorola (NYSE:MOT); Northrop Grumman (NYSE:NOC); Oshkosh Truck Corp. (NYSE:OSK); Raytheon (NYSE:RTN); Silicon Graphics (NASDAQ:SGIC); TEREX (NYSE:TEX); United Technologies (NYSE:UTX); Veolia Environnement (NYSE:VE); and Volvo (NASDAQ:VOLV).
Aldrich does not expect United Methodist divestment activity to significantly affect Israel's economy or the bottom line of the companies listed. "This is not the goal," he said. "The goal is to make all United Methodists and other Americans aware of their relationship to companies that benefit from the Israeli occupation, and to give them an opportunity to withdraw from such relationships so they are not participants in human rights violations that go against Christian principles and international law."
Bishop Peter D. Weaver of the New England area said ending the Israeli occupation is a stated goal of the entire denomination. "This report provides concrete information that can be used by New England Methodists in working toward that goal," he said.
The complete report, including details on each company identified and the reasons for the divestment recommendation, can be found at www.neumc.org/divest.
The New England Conference, based in Lawrence, Mass., has approximately 93,000 members in 550 United Methodist and federated congregations in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, eastern Connecticut and Vermont.
*Wood is communications director of the New England Annual Conference.
News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.