From the moment the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted by a seven-vote margin to divest from three United States companies doing business in Israel, denominational leaders and others began working to make sure it was placed in the proper context and not misunderstood.
“To our media friends in the room, please don’t report that this action is anything other than an expression of love for both our Jewish and Palestinian brothers and sisters,” Moderator Heath Rada told a hushed auditorium after the Assembly’s 310-303 vote to divest from Caterpillar Inc., Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, companies it concluded are pursuing non-peaceful pursuits in Israel-Palestine.
More than any issue in recent memory, the question of whether divestment is an effective or appropriate tactic in the PC(USA)’s search for peace in the Middle East has cut across the theological and political spectrum in unpredictable ways.
Teaching Elder Commissioner Frank Allen of the Presbytery of Central Florida told the Assembly, “We’ve been arguing about divestment for 10 years. It has pitted friends who are committed to peace against each other.”
Two former General Assembly moderators who are known to agree on most issues ― Ruling Elder Rick Ufford-Chase and Teaching Elder Susan Andrews, spoke on opposite sides of the divestment debate.
“Divestment is not the end, it’s the beginning,” Ufford-Chase said, “of non-violent means to fight the oppression of our Palestinian brothers and sisters.”
Andrews said an offer made earlier in the Assembly by Rabbi Rick Jacobs , president of the Union of Reform Judaism, to set up a meeting next week between PC(USA) leaders and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “would be a game changer.”
But The New York Times reported that Jacobs’ offer “appears to have backfired, with some saying afterward that it felt both manipulative and ineffectual, given what they perceive as Mr. Netanyahu’s approval of more settlements in disputed areas and lack of enthusiasm for peace negotiations.”
Those who supported the divestment decision rejected the charge that the PC(USA)’s actions are anti-Semitic and/or anti-Israel. An amendment to the divestment resolution stated: “This action on divestment is not be construed or represented by any organization of the PC(USA) as divestment from the State of Israel or as alignment with or endorsement of the global BDS (boycott/divestment/sanctions) movement.”