After two hours of debate and presentations Thursday night (July 5), the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) said no to divestment as part of its position on peace in the Middle East.
The path to the final vote came through the Assembly’s adoption of a minority report presented by members of the Committee on Middle East and Peacemaking Issues.
“The action today doesn’t subtract or diminish in any way PC(USA)’s involvement in the Middle East,” said GA Moderator Neal D. Presa at the press conference following the Assembly’s vote. Presa had closed the evening by commending commissioners for the level of civility in the very difficult debate.
Committee moderator, the Rev. Jack Baca, said that the resolution, which passed by a vote of 369-290-8, “recognized the tragedy of the situation in Israel and calls for engagement at all levels of society for a solution (to the Israel-Palestine conflict).”
The committee’s plan for a “both/and” solution of proposing divestment and positive engagement was derailed when the minority report replaced the main motion by only two votes, 333-331-2. The original motion to be considered was to support the recommendation of the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) to divest the holdings in Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard because eight years of engagement with those companies ceased to be productive, according to the Rev. Brian Ellison, chair of MRTI.
Emotional speeches on the floor of the Assembly echoed the words from members of the Middle East and Peacemaking Issues Committee throughout more than two days of deliberation. They heard 26 overture advocates and nearly 90 speakers during open hearings on their business, according to Baca.
On the divestment issue, comments on the floor ranged from a lifelong Caterpillar employee who choked up while defending his company, to another commissioner decrying the thought of “positive investments” as a feasible step in helping Palestinians.
“How can you write a check when a family may wake up to find an eviction notice on their door saying a [bulldozer] will come to tear it down later in the day?” asked Time Simpson (St. Augustine Presbytery).
Before affirming the text of Item 15-10 as the main motion, commissioners added the following to the document: “The 220th General Assembly instructs the GAMC (General Assembly Mission Council) to create a process to raise funds to invest in the West Bank, and the program will be inaugurated no later than the meeting of the 221st General Assembly.”
Linda Valentine, executive director of the General Assembly Mission Council, said there would be some cost to create such a process and that “there are some funds available for investment.”
With a vote of 572-127, the Assembly approved a recommendation on the peaceful engagement of Iran regarding the potential of nuclear weapons.
The Assembly’s work continues on Middle East issues on Friday. The committee’s recommendations to boycott all products that are made in occupied Palestinian territory and sold by Israeli companies and to not use the word “apartheid” to describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are two of the items that will be considered.