Joel Mowbray has kindly sent us this exclusive dispatch from the biennial meeting of the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly meeting in Birmingham, Alabama:
The leftist/Palestinian political push for divestment from Israel–in other words, to institute the campaign waged against apartheid South Africa in the 1980’s–is on the verge of being dealt a severe body blow.
Two years ago, the 216th General Assembly jumpstarted mainstream acceptance of a movement long sought by Arab and Muslim activists to equate the Jewish state with apartheid South Africa. The 500+ plus voting members of the Presbyterian church overwhelmingly approved a measure “to initiate a process of phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel.” Jewish and Christian leaders alike heaped scorn on Presbyterians, though Muslim and Arab groups were giddy. For the past two years, pro-Palestinian organizations have used the momentum provided by the Presbyterian vote to encourage various intstitutions, such as universities, and other Christian denominations to follow suit.
Initially, divestment efforts seemed to be gaining a head of steam. But no university thus far has taken the bait, and almost all other churches persuaded to sign on have resisted. At several regional religious conferences over the past year, in fact, votes on divestment have been turning more and more against embracing the policy, resulting in a string of defeats for pro-Palestinian forces.
Just over an hour ago, the 62-member Peacemaking and International Issues Committee voted overwhelmingly to apologize for its action of two years ago and no longer officially endorse divestment. Much like the procedures of Congress, this “recommendation” must now be taken up by the 534 voting members of the full assembly, who can amend it, ratify it as is, or defeat it.
While full assembly embrace of the committee vote would be a huge defeat for pro-divestment forces, it is clear that significant animus toward Israel exists among some conference delegates. Many Presbyterian officials seemed apologetic not about the vote for divestment itself, but rather the “hurt feelings” and “misunderstandings” it caused. Still, disavowing divestment as the explicit aim of the church represents a sea change from just two years ago.
One thing is certain: the full Assembly ratifying the committee action would be devastating for the divestment forces. “The big mo” is critical for any nascent movement, thankfully including those who want widespread demonization of the Jewish state.
UPDATE: Reader Duke Winsor writes:
I am a Presbyterian. Like many others, I was quite upset when I learned what the General Assembly had done. I found two members of my church who had been at the meeting, and learned that they were unaware that any such subject had come up, much less been voted on. According to them, it was buried inside a bill which seemed to be for other purposes. It reminds me of bills in the U.S. Congress with titles like “For Apple Pie, Motherhood, and other purposes.” It’s the “other purposes” that do the dirty work.
I didn’t just complain. The Presbyterian Church recognizes both “members” and “active non-members.” I switched from the former to the latter; that means no “Per-Capita” payment goes from my church to the national offices in my name or for my appearance in their membership roster. I also sent a letter to the local Synod explaining what I had done and why I had done it. I also made copies of the letter available to other members of my church. That kind of action may be reflected in the change of attitude in the current General Assembly.