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Joel Mowbray reports: Divestment disavowed

Following up on his report of this past Sunday evening, Joel Mowbray has kindly provided us this exclusive update regarding the Israel divestment vote today at the Presbyterian Church (USA) biennial convention:

In a stunning reversal of two years ago, the Presbyterian Church’s 534 voting members this evening overwhelming disavowed their previous embrace of “phased, selective divestment” from Israel. This is a crushing defeat for proponents of the movement to brand the Jewish state the new apartheid South Africa, as this was the very same organization that kickstarted mainstream acceptance of divestment back in 2004.

Just before 6pm CST, Presbyterians from all over the country gathered in Birmingham, AL, embraced a new divestment-free policy toward the Middle East, 94-5 percent. It was a rout. A shocking one, in fact. The 2004 biennial conference decided “to initiate a process of phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel.” That resolution passed with over 80% of the vote, according to a Presbyterian church spokesman.

But within a couple weeks of the last conference, Presbyterians everywhere were shocked to learn what their leadership had done. More, they were subject to intense criticism from Jews and other Christians for an action of which they weren’t even aware. To the average Presbyterian, it stung. Local and national leadership alike got an earful, and today’s vote owes more to Presbyterian outcry than anything else.

While many Jewish groups had sent representatives to Birmingham–and had worked to educate Presbyterians about the Middle East, many of whom had known surprisingly little two years ago–it cannot be stressed enough that this result was the product of Presbyterian dissatisfaction. A handful of Presbyterians made a key difference in swinging the pendulum, but ultimately, the conference as a whole did the right thing.

The fight within the Presbyterian church is far from over. “Corporate engagement” is the current catchphrase, and the new resolution is awfully ambivalent in calling for investment “in only peaceful pursuits.” More troubling, ignorance of the Middle East is still sadly abundant among Presbyterian higher-ups, as demonstrated by repeated references to “the wall.” Had they actually looked at the security barrier, they would’ve noticed that just 4% of it is a “wall”–ironically, the same as the percentage of Presbyterians unwilling to ditch divestment.

At Solomonia, Sol has also been following events today. A message from Larry Rued together with the language of the resolution appears in the extended entry below.

Larry Rued writes:

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA approved the committee motion by a vote of 483 to 28.

I wish to extend my appreciation to those who have helped us in the Presbyterian Church USA replace the Israel divestment resolution approved in 2004 with a much more even handed resolution regarding affairs in the Middle East.

Larry Rued
Presbyterian Church USA

Mr. Rued provides the wording of the approved motion as follows:

After careful consideration of the overtures brought before the Assembly Committee on Peacemaking and International Issues of the 217th General Assembly (2006), we offer the following recommendations.

1. We acknowledge that the actions of the 216th General Assembly (2004) caused hurt and misunderstanding among many members of the Jewish community and within our Presbyterian communion. We are grieved by the pain that this has caused, accept responsibility for the flaws in our process, and ask for a new season of mutual understanding and dialogue.

To these ends, we replace the instructions expressed in Item 12-01 (Minutes, 2004 Part I, pp. 64–66) Recommendation 7, which reads

“7. Refers to Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) with instructions to initiate a process of phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel, in accordance to General Assembly policy on social investing, and to make appropriate recommendations to the General Assembly Council for action.”

with the following:

“7. To urge that financial investments of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as they pertain to Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, be invested in only peaceful pursuits, and affirm that the customary corporate engagement process of the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investments of our denomination is the proper vehicle for achieving this goal.”

2. Direct Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) to ensure that its strategies for engaging corporations with regard to Israeli and Palestinian territories

a. Reflect the application of fundamental principles of justice and peace common to Christianity, Islam, and Judaism that are appropriate to the practical realities of Israeli and Palestinian societies.

b. Reflect commitment to positive outcomes.

c. Reflect awareness of potential impact upon the stability, future viability, and prosperity of both the Israeli and Palestinian economies.

d. Identify affirmative investment opportunities as they pertain to Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank.

3. We call upon the church:

a. To work through peaceful means with American and Israeli Jewish, American and Palestinian Muslim, and Palestinian Christian communities and their affiliated organizations for an end to all violence and terror against Palestinian and Israeli civilians.

b. To work through peaceful means with American and Israeli Jewish, American and Palestinian Muslim, and Palestinian Christian communities and their affiliated organizations to end the occupation.

c. To work through peaceful means with American and Israeli Jewish, American and Palestinian Muslim, and Palestinian Christian communities and their affiliated organizations towards the creation of a socially, economically, geographically, and politically viable and secure Palestinian state, alongside an equally viable and secure Israeli state, both of which have a right to exist.

d. To encourage and celebrate efforts by individual Presbyterians, congregations, and judicatories of our church to communicate directly and regularly with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities, sponsor programs likely to improve relations among Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and engage in peacemaking in the Middle East.

4. The 217th General Assembly (2006) does not believe that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) should tell a sovereign nation whether it can protect its borders or handle matters of national defense. The problem with the security wall, in 2004 and presently, is its location. The 217th General Assembly (2006) supports fair criticism of the security wall insofar as it illegally encroaches into the Palestinian territory and fails to follow the legally recognized borders of Israel since 1967 demarcated by the Green Line. To the extent that the security barrier violates Palestinian land that was not part of Israel prior to the 1967 war, the barrier should be dismantled and relocated.

5. Recognizing that the situation on the ground in the Israel-Palestine area is rapidly changing, the General Assembly Council (GAC) is directed to carefully monitor ongoing developments of the situation in the Middle East and to examine the polices of the PC(USA) related to the Middle East, in order to make a comprehensive report to the 218th General Assembly (2008).

6. Instructs the Stated Clerk to communicate Recommendations 1. through 5. above to the United States’ president, vice president, secretary of state, and members of Congress; to Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the Middle East; to the membership of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); to leadership of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim faith bodies and denominations in the United States and the Middle East with whom we are in communication.

Comment: The Assembly received twenty-six overtures pertaining to the Middle East. The recommendation is the result of the General Assembly’s honest and sincere effort to address the issues and concerns that appeared in the overtures in a comprehensive and concise document.

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