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Divestment decision immediately becomes target in and outside Cobo Center

June 21, 2014

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.”

  1. Thank you, thank you PCUSA for this courageous stand. I am old enough to have actively supported divestment in South African stocks and corporations, and know this process, as complicated as it was, became the lynchpin in successfully ending the racist regime. Modern day Israel shares shockingly much in common with that of apartheid South Africa.

    by JD Elliot

    July 5, 2014

  2. I too, say thank you to the PCUSA GA commissioners for taking this bold action! Ever since our trip to Israel and Palestine in 2006 I have been working with many Jewish, Muslim and Christian friends to see this day happen. The point that is missed in some of the previous comments is that there has been no desire to divest from the state of Israel. What has happened in this action is to divest from those American companies that have refused to listen to our investment stockholders for the last several years (at least four that I'm aware of) to make any changes in their policy. They know that Israel has used their equipment to destroy Palestinian homes and farms to build settlements and the long tall security wall (or "fence" as is called by the Israeli's). This "security fence” has now imprisoned many Palestinian homes and towns, including Bethlehem, the birthplace of our Lord. By taking this action in divesting from our American companies, it is hoped that the Occupation will soon cease, and that the Israeli's and the Palestinians will begin to learn to live together in peace. Passage for the Palestinians to go through the checkpoints in the "fence" to get to work, education, worship, or to the hospital has been near impossible! They can't even travel on the same roads as the Israeli’s. They are restricted in their use of water and electricity. Now, I'm in this for several reasons, but I recall a statement made back in 2007 by a former Israeli soldier, one of several who have organized the NGO "Breaking the Silence" said to our small group, "The International community must wake up soon before Israel loses its soul". That was seven years ago and the conditions in the Occupied Territories has gotten increasingly worse! This young man is now committed to expose the day-to-day reality of military service in the Occupied Territories. It is a nightmare! And it goes on every day! Church, we need to stand on the side of justice and peace for all people, and invest only in those American companies that promote those standards.

    by Dottie Villesvik

    June 25, 2014

  3. What of the banks who provide financing to Israel? What of the defense companies providing equipment? What of the food suppliers and businesses providing energy? Then we must also consider those doing business with other other oppressive regimes in then world. Shall sell those companies rushing to invest in China, Saudi Arabia, and others? And what of those of us who find this plan misguided at best - shall we be divested as well? There are precious few companies who will be investment vehicles. Rather than playing politics the institutions of this church should be focusing direct and personal education and teaching and healing.

    by David

    June 25, 2014

  4. It should not have been approved on such a close vote. It should be a 3/4 majority for something like this.

    by Daniel Patterson

    June 24, 2014

  5. The decision to divest is not nearly as damaging as the publication Zionism Unsettled that can be placed right along side Mein Kampf and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. This document has gone viral on the internet and will be used by every hate group imaginable, not just David Duke. The authors carefully selected historical facts going back to Constantine that support their premise that the Jews conceived Zionism for the purpose of usurping Palestinian land, conducting ethnic cleansing and establishing an illegal homeland. Revisionist history at its worst. For instance, the publication statement that the Egyptians were not prepared for the 1967 Israeli pre-emptive strike fails to acknowledge that Egypt's President Abdul Nasser amassed the Egyptian army on Israel's border in the Sinai and blockaded the Gulf Eilat which along with Syrian forces amassing in the Golan ultimately provoked the Israelis. Use of historical comparisons with apartheid and the civil rights movement undermine any effort to produce an honest learning tool. Use of an inflammatory narrative written from the point of view that the Jews are inflicting a holocaust on the Palestinians undermines the credibility of any effort to bridge differences. In PCUSA's effort to advance peace, the authors of Zionism Unsettled have taken up the sword and are swinging recklessly to everyone's detriment.

    by Rick Payes

    June 24, 2014

  6. To the PC USA: It may not be apparent to all now, but you have have the courage to take a long overdue stand with regards to companies who knowingly profit from suffering. For this you should be unequivocally commended. Churches have a long enough history to take the long view. As a South African I am infinitely grateful to the support of the World Council of Churches in providing much needed support in dismantling Apartheid. I recall the same dismayed responses from members of congregations, as I see here. Forgive them, as they may not have experienced the realities, and know not what they say.

    by Cindy Harris

    June 24, 2014

  7. I am very disappointed in this vote to divest. Our church should not be taking a political stand. We should be encouraging both parties to work harder to find the solutions for peace.

    by Milo Tedstrom

    June 23, 2014

  8. I am deeply disturbed at this futile, one-sided negative gesture. Rather than helping the Palestinians, it does nothing and will have no effect on the companies involved. In addition, it alienates the Jewish friends of our denomination (not to speak of the Jewish converts in my own congregation). Why did we not do something substantive rather than symbolic? Something demonstrating love rather than divisive? There is a serious lack of thoughtfulness behind this action.

    by David A. Fraser

    June 23, 2014

  9. I am deeply proud of the Presbyterian Church for offering a peaceful, albeit symbolic way (some $19 - $22 million in stock) of registering our support for the Palestinian people in their quest for justice and for Jewish voices both within and without Israel who earnestly desire peace. Elsie Harber

    by Elsie Harber

    June 22, 2014

  10. To PC USA, The Palestinians in the area the media calls the West Bank, have a hard enough time finding work. The Jewish people there are usually their only source of employment. I am disappointed in your stand. Mary

    by Mary Brown

    June 22, 2014

  11. The PCUSA is the Church that I love and this is one of the reasons for it. We have shown the bravery of Christ when it would be politically expedient to just "go along" and do nothing. I applaud the actions of our denomination and am so proud to be a member of this body of Christ.

    by kurt simon

    June 21, 2014

  12. If I understand the decision correctly, it is in no way meant to be anti-Semetic or anti-Israel. Jews in Israel have a right to feel secure, but as humans who act out of fear, they often overreact, denying justice and fairness to many Palestinians by bulldozing their homes or orchards or blocking them from getting to jobs or farm fields. If there is any hope of a two state solution, the settlements cannot continue to be used as a means of whittling away at the remaining land in the West Bank. It already looks like a piece of swiss cheese! May there be peace in the region!

    by Rev. Janet Wolfe

    June 21, 2014

  13. Very disappointed in the vote to divest. I'm sure we can expect another announcement of divestment in companies that contribute in any way shape or form to the random attacks on Isreal by groups striving for its destruction. Right? Yes, I'm a member of a Presbyterian church.

    by Mark Ranck

    June 21, 2014

  14. Thank you for your decision to divest. Israel must join the human race and end its discriminatory and genocidal policies towards the Palestinian people.

    by tonybinca

    June 21, 2014

  15. Thank you commissioners for your courage in supporting this non-violent effort to bring peace and justice to Palestine/Israel. Let us work TOGETHER !!! Peace/Salaam/Shalom

    by Ruth Hart

    June 21, 2014

  16. Isn't this wonderful, what happened to free enterprise? Why should we be concerned with which company the Israelis buy from? I guess its okay to knock a Palestinian house down with a bulldozer made in Europe or China, but not the USA. I wish and hope that by the next GA, reason will have returned to this body and this decision will be reversed.

    by Stewart B Beyer

    June 21, 2014

  17. Despite statements to the contrary, this action does represent abandonment of the state of Israel and alignment with and endorsement of BDS, a group whose positions stand in direct opposition to those of the PCUSA I am very angry and deeply ashamed of my church!

    by Dr. James Rimmer

    June 21, 2014

  18. Seriously, what about China where curches are demolished or Sudia Arabia where Christianity is illegal. Will the divest companies doing business in those countries? The PCUSA should spend the time defending christanity in the middle east where it is in danger of becoming extinct. Christians are being murdered on a daily basis in the middle east and Africa.

    by Robert McCall

    June 21, 2014

  19. We took action against Israel but didn't really mean it? How many Jews or Christian supporters of Israel will swallow this post-mortem addendum?

    by Bruce Woods

    June 21, 2014

  20. Just out of curiosity, have you chosen to boycott and/or divest from companies that do business in countries such as Russia, China and Iran, whose leaderships are all far more brutal than that of Israel or have you chosen to single out Israel? If you don't examine and divest from those interests as well, you shouldn't be surprised when Jews and Israelis suspect your intentions.

    by Liza Rosenberg

    June 21, 2014

  21. As a life long Presbyterian, and daughter of a now retired Presbyterian minister- I am disgusted in this divestment decision.

    by Andrea Evers

    June 21, 2014

  22. Of course it is part of the BDS movement, which Palestinian Christians asked us to support in the Kairos document. It is a non-violent means of seeking to end the occupation and violation of human rights of Palestinians in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The above quoted amendment to the divestment resolution is wrong: the divestment is not to divest from Israel, but to divest from companies making profit from tIsrael's policies of oppression and human rights violations.

    by J.Peter van der Veen

    June 21, 2014

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