WASHINGTON – Archbishop Desmond Tutu urged the United Methodist Church to divest from Israel Tuesday ahead of a church conference vote on the policy.

The quadrennial General Conference of the United Methodist Church, being held in Tampa, Florida, is considering divesting from three companies doing business with Israel. The vote is scheduled for this week and could have come as early as Tuesday depending how much debate occurs on different measures.

Tutu wrote in the Tampa Bay Times that the “harsh reality endured by millions of Palestinians requires people and organizations of conscience to divest from those companies – in this instance, from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett Packard – profiting from the occupation and subjugation of Palestinians.”

The South African Nobel Peace Prize winner continued, “Such action made an enormous difference in apartheid South Africa. It can make an enormous difference in creating a future of justice and equality for Palestinians and Jews in the Holy Land.”

A similar motion was defeated at the Methodist general conference held in 2008, and other motions at this year’s 11- day gathering call on the conference to reject divestment.

Jewish groups, who worked to counter the move four years ago, have expressed similar concern this year about the divestment effort.

More than 1,200 North American rabbis wrote to conference delegates in April to ask them to oppose divestment, which would only affect companies doing business with Israel.

“A one-sided approach damages the relationship between Jews and Christians that has been nurtured for decades,” the letter states. “It promotes a lopsided assessment of the causes of and solutions to the conflict, disregarding the complex history and geopolitics. Furthermore, it shamefully paints Israel as a pariah nation, solely responsible for frustrating peace.”

The rabbis’ letter, which was circulated before the publication of Tutu’s opinion piece, also took issue with the comparison between Israel’s policies and those of the former South African government.

“Divestment, and the specious apartheid terminology that frequently accompanies it, polarizes people and communities so that the policy of divestment, and not peace, becomes the central issue,” it argues.

Tutu acknowledged in his column that his stance might alienate some Jews.

“I am enormously concerned that raising this issue will cause heartache to some in the Jewish community with whom I have worked closely and successfully for decades,” he wrote. “But I cannot ignore the Palestinian suffering I have witnessed, nor the voices of those courageous Jews troubled by Israel’s discriminatory course.”

United Methodist Church officials did not respond to requests for comment before press time.

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