UUA will vote on divestment to protest Israel’s practices

UUA will vote on divestment to protest Israel’s practices

UUA and its Common Endowment Fund are already adding a new human rights screen for investments.

Elaine McArdle
General Assembly delegates vote.

File photo: UUA General Assembly delegates vote. (© Nancy Pierce)

© Nancy Pierce


Delegates to the 2016 General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio, will vote on a business resolution[PDF] calling upon the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) to divest from and refrain from purchasing stock in five corporations that profit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The resolution, proposed by Unitarian Universalists for Justice in the Middle East (UUJME), asserts that the corporations—Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, HP Inc., Hewlett Packard Enterprise, and G4S—“directly profit from or support the occupation and its abuses of Palestinian human rights,” thus violating the Principles of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

The UUA and its Common Endowment Fund are already divesting from the companies listed in the UUJME resolution, along with others that fail to meet standards of a new human rights screen adopted earlier in March by the UUA’s Committee on Socially Responsible Investing (CSRI).

David Stewart, chair of the committee, said the UUA held shares in Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett Packard Enterprise, but will finish disposing of those shares this month.

Tim Brennan, UUA treasurer and chief financial officer, said the adoption of the human rights screen was unrelated to the UUJME resolution. Stewart said the CSRI began studying the issues surrounding investments in Israel/Palestine in the fall of 2014, but developed its own screen in 2015 after deciding it could not endorse the investor resolutions proposed by Holy Land Principles.

Even though the UUA does not own stock in the companies targeted by its resolution anymore, UUJME President Larry Cooper said it is still important for the resolution to go to a GA vote. “We still want to be on record that the UUA is not to buy shares as long as these companies are complicit in the occupation,” he said. The business resolution is an opportunity to educate UUs about the situation in Palestine, said Cooper, who is a member of First UU Congregation of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and an associate member of the UU Fellowship of Marion County in Summerfield, Florida.

The proposed business resolution received 1,700 signatures from UUs in 100 congregations, Cooper said. A proposed business resolution needs 250 signatures, with no more than 10 from any single congregation, to make it onto the General Assembly agenda.

“I think it is an issue that many UUs would like to discuss, and having the resolution on the agenda will make it possible to have a national discussion,” said Dana Ashrawi, a UUJME board member who is a member of First UU Church of Houston, Texas.

The General Assembly has passed two resolutions criticizing the occupation of Palestine, in 1982 and in 2002. Other denominations have divested from some or all of the targeted corporations, including the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Church of Christ, according to the proposed resolution.

GA 2016 will meet June 22–26 in Columbus, Ohio. In order to educate delegates before they vote on the UUJME resolution, the June 24 general session will include a panel discussion, which will include among its speakers Rabbi Brant Rosen, a co-founder of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council. UUJME will host a workshop on the resolution later that day. A mini-assembly will allow delegates to propose amendments to the resolution before it goes to the general session for a vote.

The panel discussion is not planned as a debate, said UUA Moderator Jim Key, but “a discussion of what’s at stake, how it links to our values and our theology, and to demonstrate it’s a complex issue.” The goal is to help delegates understand the issues more fully, he said, in hopes that the debate on the floor of GA before the vote will “be more collegial and respectful, that we’ll be talking about the issues and how they link to our values and not at all directed to the people who support or oppose it.”

Key said he supports the idea of more opportunities like this during GAs for delegates to discuss and discern business resolutions, Actions of Immediate Witness, and other proposals before they go to a vote. “I believe that we make better decisions as a faith movement when we have time to evaluate the issues and, more importantly, discern how all this works with our values,” he said.

Delegates at GA 2016 will vote on a second business resolution (PDF), proposed by the Ballou Channing District, which represents congregations in southeastern Massachusetts and Rhode Island, related to the upcoming 400th anniversary in 2020 of the Mayflower landing in New England. Among other things, the resolution encourages all UUs to “enter a time of education, careful reflection, and healing” in the years leading up to the anniversary, “with special attention . . . to the suffering, indignity, and loss that native peoples have suffered since the early 1600s.”