U.S. Presbyterian Church committee votes in favor of Israel divestment resolution (HA´ARETZ NEWS) By Natasha Mozgovaya 07/04/12)
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Committee Vote at assembly in Pennsylvania could be a sign that
discourse among U.S. Christians on Israel is about to change, final
vote to be held in the coming days.
Following a lengthy and heated debate, committee 15 of the 220th
General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States
voted in favor of a motion calling for divestment from three
companies that do business with Israel.
Whether or not the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement
against Israel is gaining traction is one of the hottest questions
being asked among the most politically active members of the Jewish
community – as many people take the issue to heart.
Israel supporters claim that the numbers of participants in the
annual "Israel apartheid" week have not grown significantly, and that
the American Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, despite regularly
raising the topic of divesting from companies that "profit from
Israeli occupation," generally end up voting against it. The
discourse is shifting – and not in Israel’s favor.
In 2008, the United Methodist Church (UMC) rejected an Israel
divestment resolution. On May 2, the UMC general conference did it
again, rejecting a resolution calling for divestment from three
companies doing business with Israel (although the conference did
adopt a measure recommending a boycott of products made in Israeli
This week, the topic was raised again in Pittsburgh, at the general
assembly of the Presbyterian Church. Last time, the resolution didn´t
even pass the committee level, let alone the general vote.
This time, something different happened. Committee 15 of the 220th
General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church voted in favor of a
motion calling for divestment from Motorola, for providing
surveillance equipment for Israeli settlements, Caterpillar, for
providing bulldozers used for demolishing Palestinian houses, and
Hewlett-Packard, for selling hardware used by Israel in its naval
blockade of Gaza.
The motion also called for the church to increase investments in
companies promoting peaceful pursuits. The final vote is expected at
the general assembly later this week.
Rev. Dr. Walt Davis, Co-Chair of the Israel/Palestine Mission
Network, called the decision "an encouraging step".
"We hope plenary voters will follow the lead of Committee 15 and the
recommendations of the Mission Responsibility Through Investing
committee and support divestment from these companies that are
profiting from Israel´s violations of Palestinian human rights. It’s
been a long and thorough process and it’s finally time for the church
to stop profiting from the suffering the peoples of the Holy Land,”
But during Monday evening´s debate, there were also concerns
expressed over the possible impact of the decision on the relations
with the Jewish community - and other sectors of the American
Weeks before the general assembly opened on June 30, the proposal
drew sharp criticism and warnings from Jewish American organizations,
with the exception of those on the far left, such as the Jewish Voice
for Peace. Over 1,300 Rabbis and over 12,000 American Jews signed
letters to delegates of the biennial Presbyterian Church General
Assembly, calling them to reject the "counterproductive" resolution.
In response, the Anti-Defamation League warned of the negative effect
on the Jewish and American Christian relations. The American Jewish
Committee called the resolutions generally put to votes every two
years at the Presbyterian Church gatherings "an unfortunate
tradition" meant to vilify Israel and adopt positions of “non-
representative" Palestinian leaders.
Even Jeremy Ben-Ami, President of the leftist pro-Israeli lobby
JStreet, wrote an article titled “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions
Put Allies at Odds."
"In our view, the one-sided, extreme rhetoric that accompanies the
global BDS movement makes a mutually agreeable solution more
difficult to achieve, not less" wrote Ben-Ami, stressing that he
hopes that PCUSA "will avoid this unproductive path,"
Ben-Ami added, "even the limited divestment approach under
consideration by PCUSA falls under the rubric of larger BDS efforts
to place blame entirely on one side of the conflict. Such an approach
encourages not reconciliation, but polarization.”
Some members of the general assembly committee that discussed the
motion in Pittsburg said they do not understand why the resolution is
interpreted as a threat - they insisted it´s a moral issue, certainly
not an anti-Semitic one, to stop pouring resources “into hurting
people in another country."
"There´s violence happening here. Someone is profiting from it. And
we need to not be a part of that," said one of the Committee members.
It´s not that Israel is running short of supporters among the
American Christian community; in about two weeks, Christians United
for Israel, a large Evangelical pro-Israel organization, will run its
annual gathering in Washington DC. It´s likely that the Presbyterian
divestment motion will draw quite a bit of criticism there.
Dr. Nahida Halaby Gordon, moderator of the National Middle Eastern
Presbyterian Caucus, told "Haaretz" she feels there is a good chance
for the vote to pass.
"Sometimes the plenary votes contrary to the vote in the committee,
but the numbers in the committee vote in favor of the divestment were
high in favor of the divestment (36 members of the committee voted in
favor, 11 against NM) - almost three to one, I feel there is a big
support for this." If the vote fails, she says, she intends to come
with other activists with the same message to the next GA. She
stressed the decision "is not intended to demonize or delegitimize
either Israel or Jewish community in this country."
As for the possible result of the divestment decision - she says it´s
not the hope it will seriously hurt these companies profits, but the
message it sends.
"We are a small church, we don´t own that many stocks and the
divestment will probably occur over a year or two - it´s not that
we´ll sell tomorrow all our stocks. But it´s a moral message to these
companies that you should not profit from the occupation." (©
Copyright 2012 Ha´aretz 07/04/12)
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