NEW YORK - A Presbyterian committee accused five U.S. companies of contributing to ''ongoing violence that plagues Israel and Palestine" and pledged to use the church's multimillion-dollar stock holdings in the businesses to pressure them to stop.
The move follows a vote last year by leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to put economic pressure on companies that profit from Israeli policy in the West Bank and Gaza.
The vote had outraged Jewish groups, which said the strategy was biased. Presbyterian leaders said divestment would be only a last resort, if corporate and stockholder discussions failed.
''We are initiating a slow, deliberate process," said Bill Somplatsky-Jarman, who works with the Presbyterian Mission Responsibility through Investment Committee.
The targeted companies are Caterpillar Inc., Citigroup, ITT Industries Inc., Motorola Inc., and United Technologies Corp.
The Presbyterians accused all except Citigroup of selling products such as night vision equipment and helicopters to the Israeli military. They accused Citigroup of being part of a conduit for funds used to support Mideast terrorist groups.
Caterpillar: not involved in wrongdoing
A Citigroup spokeswoman called the claim ''an outrage" and said the company worked closely with the U.S. government to help stop financing of terrorism. United Technologies said it was ''ethical and responsible" and fully complied with regulations.
Caterpillar said it was in no way linked to wrongdoing in the Mideast. ITT had no immediate comment.
Other mainstream Christian and liberal church groups have taken similar actions in recent months, including United Methodist Church,
presbyterian group director the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick told "The New York Times" in an interview: "It's not a campaign to divest from the state of Israel. We're fully committed to the state of Israel. But it is a campaign to divest from particular activities that are doing damage and creating injustice and violence, whether that's the building of the separation barrier, construction related to the occupation, or weapons and materials that lead to suicide bombings."
However, Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles told the Times: "This is a brilliantly organized political campaign to hurt Israel, and it's not going to help a single Palestinian. When you look at the list of companies, this is basically a recipe for Israel to disarm.
Cooper told the Times that the churches are ignoring Israel's plan to withdraw from Gaza
He told the Times the churches' actions are "functionally anti-Semitic."