General Assembly backgrounder: the Middle East

Divestment from U.S. companies pursuing ‘non-peaceful pursuits’ again on agenda

May 28, 2014


The 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) ― June 14-21 in Detroit ― will again debate whether to divest from some companies engaged in “non-peaceful pursuits” in Israel/Palestine.

Four of the nine overtures before the Assembly Committee on Middle East Issues recommend divesting from some combination of Caterpillar, Inc.; Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions. Three of these overtures come from the presbyteries of New Brunswick and San Francisco and the Synod of the Covenant. The Presbyterian Mission Agency recommends that the Assembly approve a resolution from the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) calling for divestment from the three companies.

An overture from Mackinac Presbytery calls for PC(USA) to affirm investments in the West Bank that contribute to the welfare of Palestinian people and to encourage investments that “do not benefit financially from the work of occupation.” That overture also calls for the continued use of the PC(USA)’s corporate engagement process, which uses divestment as a final step.

Two overtures — from New Covenant and San Francisco presbyteries — focus on the General Assembly policy supporting a two-state solution in Israel/Palestine. The overture from New Covenant urges the Assembly to declare its commitment to a two-state solution and calls for the rejection of divestment or economic sanctions in Israel. The overture from San Francisco calls for the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ASCWP) to provide a history of GA policy supporting a two-state solution and to compose a report and study guide for the 222nd Assembly (2016) outlining the current status of the conflict and evaluating previous GA statements.

Two overtures focus on human rights for Israelis and Palestinians. ACSWP calls for the “establishment and protection of equal human rights for all inhabitants” of Israel and Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza as well as “free and fair elections” within the Palestinian territories. An overture from Grace Presbytery calls the Assembly to stand against racism and oppression, oppose anti-Semitism, recognize Israel’s noncompliance with international law, call on the United States to treat Israelis and Palestinians equally and direct Presbyterians to engage in nonviolent actions to bring about reconciliation.

Matters related to the Middle East will be considered by Assembly Committee 4 — Middle East Issues. Bethany Daily of Presbyterian News Service will cover Assembly Committee 4 for the General Assembly Communication Center.

  1. As a church going member of a Presbyterian church I am deeply disturbed that the General Assembly has decided to pick a side in the Jewish/Palestinian debate and it's the Palestinian side. The church should stay out of this century plus old struggle and confine itself to humanitarian efforts in region. Political statements like the one just passed are inappropriate, short sighted and guaranteed to breed nothing but more strife and disillusionment in our denomination. On a personal note, I'm going to stop telling people I'm Presbyterian because now a lot of people are going to read that as antisemetic. Maybe they would be right to think that.

    by Lisa Nozari

    June 23, 2014

  2. It's not a coincidence that the BDS agenda item was also accompanied by an item seeking to clarify that the name "Israel," as mentioned in many hymns and official church documents, can either mean the Biblical Israel or the modern state of Israel - and there is a difference. Though this item did not pass the GA, the distinction is important, since it allows Presbyterians (and others) to think they are able to distinguish between their adoration of G0d vis-a-vis His covenant with Biblical Israel, and their sharp criticism of the modern State of Israel - supposedly a completely different entity. But what of the verse in Romans 11:29, "For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable?" Even in the most liberal interpretation, it avers that Biblical Israel is a continuing entity, embodied in a definitive body of people. In fact the rest of that chapter shows that those who proclaim allegiance to the Jewish Messiah ought not to "be haughty," but that they should understand the meaning of their grafting into that covenant with Biblical Israel. All of the international documents and legal justifications are available to show that the current State of Israel rightly belongs to the Jewish people, with authority to govern as a sovereign state. If you question this, please review "The Case for Israel," by Alan Dershowitz. In any case, it's not such a clear line between Biblical Israel and the modern State of Israel - except that the modern State is perhaps the most rightful inheritor of that covenant. For more on this, see M.L. King Jr., "This I Believe: Selections from the Writings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr." (New York, 1971), pp. 234-235.) The Presbyterian Church USA, and any other body claiming to be a partaker of the covenant of Messiah, King of the Jews, ought to take heed to the earlier verse in Romans 11:22, "Therefore, consider the goodness and severity of G0d: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off."

    by Scott Moore

    June 23, 2014

  3. Baruch atta Adonai Elohenu! Blessed are You, O YHWH, Ruler of the universe! The committee has just voted to recommend that the G.A. in plenary vote in favor of divesting NOT from companies within the pre-1967 boundaries of the modern, secular State of Israel, but from U.S. companies that enable the present government of Israel persecute Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza! Thank God for the presence and influence at the G.A. of Jewish Voice for Peace, who stand within the finest tradition of the Hebrew prophets-- a great example for those who stand within the Reformed Christian tradition, with its realistic view of the blindness and idolatry of human nature, apart from God's awakening.

    by Dwyn Mounger

    June 17, 2014

  4. There is an elephant in the living room here that some seem oblivious to: B.D.S.-ers do not support a two-state solution at all and are in favor of a one-state solution instead -- when they allow themselves to be pinned down on this question at all. Too many Presbyterians seem unaware of that. Most importantly, too few of us who look at B.D.S. at all bother to unwrap the "under-the-table" version of "a one-state solution" coming from most B.D.S.-ers. Those that really do their homework -- like J Street, a progressive organization that is occasionally at odds with AIPAC -- are now troubled that the "one-state solution" most B.D.S.-ers aim for provides no attempt at protecting a minority from being abused by a majority. In fact, many B.D.S. leaders strenuously avoid addressing the matter of two-state/one-state altogether, stressing only "this occupation" again and again. That evasion is deeply troubling, in my view, and since B.D.S. is not even intended as an effort at two states at all, but an effort primarily aimed at "the occupation" and settlements, one has to wonder just how it envisages the future at all, post-occupation. To say that B.D.S.-ers mostly oppose a two-state solution is not to indulge in some abstruse extrapolation. One can Google "B.D.S./two-state/one-state", and their opposition to a two-state resolution is out there, everywhere you look; and for many of them, since any real solution has nothing to do with targeting the occupation right now, they ignore the onus for even considering a long-term solution at all! Is that living in the real world? Thank goodness those supporting the two-state solution are at least humane enough to realize that only in two separate states can oppression of one demographic by another be prevented -- mostly. But the single state implicitly supported by B.D.S.-ers means bringing everything right back to the '20s and following, when one demographic, like the Arabs during that period, can indulge in pogroms at will against the minority, as happened against the Jews in '20, '21, '29, etc. This is just supplanting one injustice with another. What's the point of that? Why roll the clock back? Maybe those subscribing to this are not necessarily anti-Semitic, but they are certainly idiots and ignoramuses when it comes to understanding history. Seriously, Geoffrey Riggs P.S.: Regrettably, this text only appears in Italic in my browser, and even stripping it of all formatting in a word processor doesn't seem to fix that -- not clear why.

    by Geoffrey Riggs

    June 13, 2014

  5. I agree with bruce woods, the boycott would hurt American jobs. And I am sure our church body can find other social justice causes to make more of a difference in.

    by cici andre

    June 9, 2014

  6. From the New York Times, June 6, 2014, page A7: “Israel said it is going ahead with the planning and construction of hundreds of settlements… By presenting the new building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a punishment … of the Palestinians … Israel set itself further apart from international consensus… Israel’s housing minister, Uri Ariel … call(ed) them ‘an appropriate Zionist response to the establishment of the Palestinian terror government.”

    by andrew fincke

    June 6, 2014

  7. I have tremendous respect for your Church, which is why I'm concerned about its frequent consideration of this kind of divestment approach, and its recent questioning of a two state peace plan. I understand that fostering dialogue and building bridges between warring parties is difficult, but if the goal is a livable solution for everyone, what other alternative is there? Divestment and other strategies are a form of despair, and I pray that your great Church will not despair in these fraught times.

    by Adam Glantz

    June 4, 2014

  8. May I remind those who call for the boycott of Caterpillar, H-P & Motorola Solutions that the products and services they offer are for sale worldwide? They are not in business of screening customers. Even if Israel was a terrorist regime or dictatorship, it could easily obtain what those three companies provide through secondary channels. I would also remind all that these companies provide American jobs, good paying jobs and pay taxes to support all levels of government. Should the boycott somehow make these companies forego business with Israel, I'm pretty sure Israel could obtain substitutes from Chinese companies that offer poor labor conditions, low wages and do not contribute to the US economy in any way. Have we not more important things to attend to and focus on as a church body?

    by Bruce Woods

    June 2, 2014