Presbyterians reject divestment, endorse ‘positive investment’ by 369-290 vote; settlement product boycott vote tomorrow

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BREAKING: By two votes, 333 to 331, the Presbyterian Church of the USA voted tonight not to adopt a motion to divest from 3 companies doing business in the Israeli occupation.

The church’s General Assembly voted instead to adopt a minority report that calls for investment in the occupied Palestinian territories. This proposal was approved by a 369-290 vote.

The are other overtures regarding Israel/Palestine that will be considered tomorrow, including a call to boycott Israeli settlement goods.

The Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) issued the following statement:

The Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is disappointed to announce that today the plenary session of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) failed to support a motion to divest church holdings from three companies (Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions) that profit from non-peaceful pursuits in the occupied Palestinian territories.

“It appears that church commissioners were swayed by a fear that divestment would cause irreparable harm to Jewish-Christian relations,” said Rev. Katherine Cunningham, IPMN Vice-Moderator. “In reality, the divestment motion was supported by a broad alliance of Jews, Christians, and others who believe that nonviolent means such as divestment are an effective way to pressure the Israeli government into abiding by international law and respecting Palestinian human rights.”

In failing to pass the motion, church commissioners disregarded many years of diligent work by the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI), which recommended divestment after making repeated, fruitless attempts at constructive engagement with the companies in question, as well as an overwhelming vote in support of divestment earlier this week by the General Assembly’s Committee on Middle East and Peacemaking Issues.

Despite today’s outcome, the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) will continue its efforts to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians and to help bring peace and justice to Israelis and Palestinians alike.

This afternoon promises a defining moment in Pittsburgh, when the US Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly votes on whether to divest from three companies that do business in the Israeli occupation. Here are updates via Twitter and we’re liveblogging the assembly, keeping you updated on developments.

 

(8:30 PM EST) Ellison says dialogue has hit roadblocks: Brian Ellison, the Executive Director-elect of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, just wrapped up his remarks to the general assembly. A theme that ran through them: all three companies–HP, Caterpillar and Motorola–have not engaged in substantive dialogue with the church. Ellison was also quite clear on how the three companies’ products are used destructively by the Israeli army.

(7:47 PM EST) Committee on Middle East Peacemaking plenary resumes. Divestment will be voted on in this session. Moderator Joe Baca opens the discussion, “What we offer to this general assembly… is that relationships will not be broken, but that nations will be healed.”

(5:20 PM EST) Anti-Defamation League calls JVP involvement in divestment resolution ‘disturbing’: Jewish Voice for Peace is doing something right. The ADL attacks the organization in a blog post today, calling it “disturbing” that JVP has “aggressively lobbied” for divestment. An excerpt:

It is clear that JVP believes it has a very critical role to play in the domestic anti-Israel agenda: JVP promotes itself as representing the views of American Jews and can be seen as trying to provide cover against claims that the Presbyterian divestment initiatives are anti-Semitic. Nobody should be fooled. JVP is a fringe organization with its own anti-Israel agenda.

(4:25 PM EST) Divestment bashing bands together pro-Israel groups Earlier this week the Jewish Chronicle reported pro-Israel mainstream institutions thanked the Presbyterian Church for their anti-divestment united front, including the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and their BDS bashing project, the Israel Action Network:

‘Our shared goal is furthering peace, and we believe that the divestment initiative does not further peace because it is a judgment, an oversimplification, against one side in the conflict,’ Rabbi Noam Marans, director of interreligious and intergroup relations at the American Jewish Committee, told the committee. ‘That is how most American Jews understand this initiative and they hope the church will join with the many in the American Jewish community who believe that the only path to peace is a return to negotiations without preconditions, so the conflict can be resolved mutually by the parties to the conflict. That will happen not by outside judgments, such as divestment, but rather by a renewed commitment to peace by Israelis and Palestinians, and, indeed, through the historic interfaith connection and dialogue between Presbyterians and Jews which I — we all — cherish.’

Read more: A letter signed by 1,500 rabbis, representing a range of political and denominational affiliations, urging the church to reject the divestment resolutions, was sent to the PC (USA) prior to the General Assembly. Likewise, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Israel Action Network amassed signatures of over 22,000 Jews to a ‘Letter of Hope,’ also urging the church to reject divestment.

Rabbi Alvin K. Berkun, a past president of the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly, and rabbi emeritus of Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Congregation, also addressed the committee, pointing out the significance in having the Jewish community so united on any given issue.

‘I want to thank you,’ he told the Presbyterian committee members. ‘Every two years, you bring the Jewish community together.’

(3:40 PM EST) Anti-divestment rabbi upsets delegates: A rabbi advocating against the measure to divest at the Presbyterian church upset some delegates at an interfaith “greeting” this morning. While a small group of people applauded the rabbi’s remarks, a divestment activist told me that people were upset about an interfaith service being used to push an agenda. Brian Ellison, Executive Director-elect of the Covenant Network of Presbyterians, tweeted earlier today:

 

(3:15 PM EST) Plitnick on Americans for Peace Now: ‘Wrong’ on Divestment Mitchell Plitnick, former Director of the US Office of B’Tselem, has a strong post on why the liberal Zionist group Americans for Peace Now’s opposition to divestment is wrong. An excerpt:

The most important point that APN gets wrong here is their characterization of PC(USA)’s initiative. It specifically distinguishes between Israel and the West Bank and clearly targets corporations for doing business which helps sustain Israel’s “objectionable” policies, not for doing business with Israel. The published rationale for the resolution, which can be seen here, explains precisely why Hewlett-Packard, Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar have been chosen for divestment, and those rationales are all isolated to the occupation.

(3:10 PM EST) More from WAPO: Israel lobby keeps the church invested in occupation In addition to Rev. Gradye Parsons’ op-ed, today the Washington Post also hinted at the strong-arm rhetoric of the pro-Israel lobby in this AP wire article:

The Rev. Walt Davis, of the Israel Palestine Mission Network, a pro-Palestinian Presbyterian group, argued the denomination would have divested years ago from the companies under church’s own socially responsible investment guidelines ‘were it not for the Israel lobby.’

‘They said first that it’s anti-Semitic, then that it’s anti-Israel, then that it delegitimizes Israel. It’s none of those,’ Davis said. ‘It’’s us being true to our values.’

(2:50 PM EST) There are other relevant overtures being considered at the Presbyterian General Assembly today as well. In addition to voting on whether to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard, the Presbyterians will also be voting on whether to boycott settlement goods. Anna Baltzer sent a report from the Committee 15 proceedings on Tuesday:

When an overture on boycotting Ahava and Hadiklaim (two settlement products) came to the floor, the committee immediately amended it to be even stronger — to boycott *all* Israeli products coming from settlements! Then, they replaced language condemning the production and sale of settlement products to “Call[ing] upon all nations to prohibit the import of products made by enterprises in Israeli settlements on Palestinian land” and promptly passed it!

You can see the amended overture here.

(2:15 PM EST) Just alerted that the divestment discussion has been pushed back from 3:00 PM to 4:00 PM. This can push the vote to 6:30, or later after the dinner break.

(1:43 PM EST) On Tuesday The Rev. Gradye Parsons, the stated clerk of the Presbyterian General Assembly, explained the church’s divestment process, and thinking, in a guest blog post for the Washington Post:

This week, the denomination is holding its 220th General Assembly in Pittsburgh. The General Assembly will vote on a recommendation by its committee for socially responsible investment (MRTI) to divest of its stock in three companies “until they have ceased profiting from non-peaceful activities in Israel-Palestine.”

In 2006, the 217th General Assembly approved a statement urging the “…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.” The assembly has identified specific practices that it deems to be roadblocks to a just peace in Israel-Palestine.

Companies are asked to “refrain from allowing their products or services to support:” violent acts by Israelis or Palestinians; construction and maintenance of settlements or Israeli-only roads in occupied Palestinian territory; the military occupation of Palestinian territory by Israel; and construction of the Separation Barrier beyond the 1967 “Green Line” to include Palestinian land.

After initially identifying five corporations involved in the above practices and six years of corporate engagement and dialogue, the MRTI has recommended divesting from three of the companies that we believe profit from non-peaceful activities – Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s investing agencies hold stock in companies that do business in Israel and Palestine, including for example Intel, Oracle, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, IBM, Microsoft, McDonald’s and American Express. The MRTI’s dialogue has been focused, as the General Assembly has repeatedly directed, on companies it feels are engaged, in particular, in roadblocks to peace, profiting from non-peaceful pursuits in Israel-Palestine. Therefore, the General Assembly is not, nor has it ever been, asked to divest from all companies doing business in Israel and/or Palestine.

The recommendation to divest comes out of a strong faithfulness to the principles of socially responsible investing and a deep commitment to peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians alike.

(1:30 PM EST) Retweet from Rae Abileah of Rabbi David Mivasair on the staunch position of liberal Zionists against any divestment from companies profiting from the occupation:

 

(12:03 PM EST), Israeli feminist organization comes out in support: Jewish Voice for Peace, which has been hard at work organizing around the Presbyterian divestment vote, posts this message of support from the Israeli organization Coalition of Women for Peace:

We at the Coalition of Women for Peace, Israeli citizens who are Muslim, Christian and Jewish grassroots activists, would like to thank you for considering your investments in companies that are part of the Israeli occupation industry. We express our support for the recommendation of the committee for socially responsible investment (MRTI) to divest from three companies and hope that this recommendation will be adopted by the Presbyterian Church General Assembly.

CWP began researching the economy of the occupation in an effort to uncover less known economic mechanisms and interests that sustain it. Our findings confirm the involvement of companies and investors in illegal policies, including violations of international law and specifically human rights violations.

The vote today will send a strong message against investment in the settlement industry, the security apparatus and the exploitation of labor and natural resources in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. CWP and other Israeli organizations are determined to continue our work despite tremendous pressure from the government and the right wing to stop our activities. Your vote for divestment today is an important contribution to our struggle, and to the cause of peace and a just resolution of the conflict.

JVP also has an important petition supporting divestment and encouraging Presbyterians to “vote your conscience on divestment from corporations profiting from the Occupation.”

The schedule for today, from Sydney Levy of Jewish Voice for Peace:

The report of the Middle East Peacemaking Committee–including overtures on divestment, boycotts, Iran, and Syria–will start at 3 pm EDT.
The main items will be:
15-11 (https://pc-biz.org/IOBView.aspx?m=ro&id=4021) (divestment, which passed committee 36 yes, 11 no, 1 abstain)
15-10 (https://pc-biz.org/IOBView.aspx?m=ro&id=4145) (engagement, which passed committee 36 yes, 8 no, 1 abstain)
15-02 (https://pc-biz.org/IOBView.aspx?m=ro&id=3775) (boycott settlement goods, which passed committee 36 yes, 6 no, 1 abstain)
Note that 15-11 comes also with a ‘minority report’ (against divestment, signed by 6 of the 8 Commissioners who voted no on 15-11). Commissioners will have to choose between the majority report (for divestment) and the minority report (against divestment).
Note that 15-10 was originally an anti-divestment overture which called for investment in Palestine instead of divestment. The overture is no longer against divestment (because the Committee voted to divest AND engage rather than engage BUT NOT divest), but the non-binding rationale for the overture remains as originally written (against divestment). For that reason, the overture comes with amended text at the top explaining that the will of the Committee is to be for divestment.

‘Misguided by Palestinian Christians’ Excellent coverage in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of the strains in the committee discussion Tuesday that voted to send the resolution to the general assembly. Note the warnings from Jewish orgs of rupturing relations. Also, note the rabbi’s claim that “Palestinian Christians” are misguiding the Presybterians…

To fellow committee members, Simone Adams of Atlanta recounted crying at the foot of a cross during a visit to Terezin Concentration Camp in the Czech Republic last year. She said the visit made her question what cruelty had allowed the Holocaust to pass and how Jews could now inflict suffering on their Palestinian neighbors.

“How could someone who has been through something like that in any way or form try even in the slightest way to put somebody else through that?” she asked.

Opponents of divestment said that such a step would rupture close relations with American Jews and asked that the church continue to engage with the companies in question.

“For Jewish people, for hundreds of years economic leverage has been used against them,” said Kenneth Page of Grand Canyon Presbytery. “If we do this it will break relations.”

Rabbi Alvin Berkun, rabbi emeritus of Tree of Life Congregation in Squirrel Hill, expressed dismay that the committee had ignored outreach from Jewish congregations largely united against divestment.

“They’ve allowed themselves to be misguided by Palestinian Christians,” he said.

Rae Abileah of Jewish Voice for Peace voiced concern that pressure from Jewish leaders would convince Presbyterians not to follow their conscience in the plenary session vote, but said she was heartened that the church was taking steps to bring its investments into line with its values.

“It aligned the words of the church which opposes illegal occupation with the actions of the church,” she said.

‘Momentous stand’ A good piece at a Presbyterian publication, “Long simmering divestment issue may come to a boil at 220th GA:”

For eight years, while some other denominations have brought divestment to an up-or-down vote, the PC(USA) has pondered it and prodded companies to prevent non-peaceful uses of their wares.

Now those charged with shaping proposals on the issue are asking the 220th General Assembly to take a momentous stand — one likely to elicit passionate responses within the church, in the Middle East and among the Jewish and Palestinian communities in the United States….

Brian Ellison, a pastor from Kansas City, Mo., who chairs the MRTI, has stressed the limited nature of the divestment proposal.

We are not recommending a boycott of Israel” or any divestment step that goes beyond the three targeted companies, Ellison said in February.

Some Christian leaders have called for aggressive use of divestment against Israel. Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said divestment had a big impact on apartheid South Africa and could have a similar decisive effect in Israel-Palestine.

So far, the PC(USA)’s approach to divestment has remained cautious and incremental.

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