By slim margin, Assembly approves divestment from three companies doing business in Israel/Palestine

June 21, 2014

With audible gasps from those in the plenary hall, the 221st General Assembly (2014) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on Friday narrowly approved divestment from three United States companies doing business in Israel-Palestine.

By a vote of 310-303, the Assembly approved an overture calling for divestment from Caterpillar Inc., Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, companies some allege are engaged in “non-peaceful pursuits” in the region. A similar overture failed 333-331 at the 220th Assembly (2012).

Although divestment was its most debated item, the overture also affirms the PC(USA)’s commitment to interfaith and ecumenical dialogue and relationships in the region, and a preamble was added on the floor to reinforce that, saying, "The PC(USA) has a long-standing commitment to peace in Israel and Palestine. We recognize the complexity of the issues, the decades-long struggle, the pain suffered and inflicted by policies and practices of both the Israeli government and Palestinian entities. We further acknowledge and confess our own complicity in both the historic and current suffering of Israeli and Palestinian yearning for justice and reconciliation."

Immediately after the vote, Moderator Heath Rada reaffirmed that, saying, “In no way is this a reflection for our lack of love for our Jewish sisters and brothers.

The overture included amended language acknowledging the complexities of the conflict in Israel-Palestine, the PC(USA)’s longstanding commitment to peace in the region, the suffering of both Israelis and Palestinians and the church’s complicity in that suffering.

The Assembly committee on Middle East Issues, which recommended the overture for approval, feels it is a “compassionate and holistic approach to relationships in the Middle East,” said committee moderator Teaching Elder Commissioner Stephen Choi.

Many opposed to divestment cited damaged relationships with Jewish partners as a major concern.

“Divestment has the symbolic power to humiliate our Jewish friends in this country,” said Teaching Elder Commissioner Sid Batts from the Presbytery of Salem. Batts serves a church across the street from a Jewish temple and values the strong relationship between the two congregations.

But many Jews are in favor of divestment, said Ben Falter, young adult advisory delegate from the Presbytery of Geneva.

“Just as we here have differing views, so too do our Jewish brothers and sisters,” he said.

Others opposed to the overture were concerned its passage would mistakenly align the PC(USA) with the international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. The overture was amended to read: “This action on divestment does not mean an alignment with the overall strategy of the global BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement.”

“We are already losing control of our message. Divestment will not end the conflict and bring peace. Divestment will bring dissension,” said Teaching Elder Commissioner Frank Allen from the Presbytery of Central Florida. “Dialogue and relationship building will lay the groundwork for real peace.”

Allen presented a minority report opposing divestment and encouraging the Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee to continue its corporate engagement process with the three companies. MRTI has been engaged with the three companies since 2004 and recommends divestment.

Andries Coetzee, a teaching elder commissioner from the Presbytery of Muskingum Valley, referenced the PC(USA)’s divestment from companies supporting apartheid in South Africa. As a member of the oppressive white minority in South Africa, Coetzee thanked his fellow Presbyterians for divesting there and encouraged the Assembly to do the same for Israelis and Palestinians.

“You put me on the road to gaining back my humanity,” Coetzee said.

Other items of business from the Middle East committee:

  • approval of an overture instructing the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy to provide a history of General Assembly policies favoring a two-state solution in Israel-Palestine and to prepare a report to the 222nd Assembly (2016);
  • disapproval of an overture affirming the human rights of Israelis and Palestinians but calling Israel an apartheid state;
  • disapproval of an overture calling for the boycott of all Hewlett-Packard products;
  • an overture reaffirming the PC(USA)’s commitment to the human rights of all children, especially those in Israel/Palestine; and
  • an overture endorsing a paper written by the Ecumenical and Interreligious Work Group of the Presbytery of Chicago, “Perspectives on Presbyterian Church (USA) Support for a Just and Peaceful Compromise of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.” The paper was cited as a third-way solution, but many commissioners expressed concern that they didn’t receive the paper in time to read it.
  1. I am amazed at the divestment action by the GA. It is strictical political; it is one totally one-sided, not mentioning the terrorist and the criminal actions of the Palestinian Government and the Arab population in what is called "Palestine". Why did the GA not pass resolutions condeming the 1000s of rockets terrorist are launching daily now in Israel with the express intent of murdering (not just killing) children, women and men in Israel - including the large Arab population there? Why did the GA not pass a resolution condeming the Palestinians who will not recognize Israel, who have rejected all peace overtures. By not presenting a balanced response to the Israeli - Palestinian situation, the GA has unnecessarily divided the PC-USA. The Israelis only respond to suicide bombing, rocket attacks, and other murderous actions by the Palestinians. I asked those who blame Israel: what would (or should) the United States do if Mexico started firing rockets into San Diego, or Houston? Finally I am distressed for another reason. The official GA report stated the in the recent past 340 churches have departed the denomination, and they expect many more will leave the denomination due to actions of this GA. The GA seems to be saying you have to accept these acitons; we can "discuss but will not apologize". The AI for same sex marriage, and the proposed constitutional amendent redefining marriage as between "two people" is a disaster that will divide the PC-USA as never before. I hope that I am proven wrong, but ....

    by Fred Bray

    July 19, 2014

  2. What are are the objectionable activities in which these companies have engaged? Israel is engaged in a fight for its very existence and our denomination is sending signals to them and the world that we love you but. . . This when the present administration in Washington is luke warm, even anti, in its support of Israel. Maybe we should stay out of politics.

    by Jane Hogue

    July 15, 2014

  3. As a life-long Presbyterian I am dismayed by the GA's divestiture vote. I do not profess to be an expert on the Middle East, but I know enough to be positive that there are at least 2 sides to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that although Israel may not be perfect in its relations with its neighbors, the same can most definitely be said of its neighbors. For the life of me I do not understand why we want to "take sides" in this tragic situation, and if we did why we would choose the side we chose. My church chooses to not permit politics to seep through its walls; I wish our denomination did the same.

    by Charles Grubb

    July 14, 2014

  4. I did not find anything in my research about this vote that indicated any discussion involving the statements by Hamas or the Palestinians to Wipe Israel off the Face of the Earth. Where does the Presbytery of San Fransisco and or the Presbyterian Church USA stand on these statements from these two organizations and do we own any stock in companies that sell them products or items.

    by Royce McLaughlin

    July 2, 2014

  5. nothing in the presbytery documents or the comments explains to me why this divestiture was done. seems you are the pawns of special interest groups. let me ask you, how did your message promote the word of Christ? how was your message to be understood if you are alienated from them? before at least you had a voice as an investor..whatever your issue is... how is the action a reflection of Christ like behavior? Christ seeks out sinners and educates them!

    by douglas huebner

    July 1, 2014

  6. Remember with all decision we can change our mind. This just happens to is where we are at this particular point in time. With prayerful reflection, stalwart opposition, dissenting views and love of Christ, help guide our course on rocky seas.

    by Sheila L. Deskins

    June 28, 2014

  7. This is a very pain and emotional topic. It breaks my heart that people you love and care about are walking away because they don't agree. What type of message is that sending? The common goal of easing suffering and pain among the people in that part of the world is not being helped by our shutting down dialogue because we currently disagree with one implementation detail of how to address a multifaceted extremely hard and complex issue.

    by Sheila L. Deskins

    June 28, 2014

  8. It's a credit to PC(USA) Presbyterians that they wrestle with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and other issues of compassion, peace and justice at their General Assembly. Compassion, peace and justice are important themes in the Bible and all serious Christians should wrestle with those issues in the world around us. But somehow PC(USA) Presbyterians never seem able to muster the same fervor for introducing people to Jesus.

    by Jim Caraher

    June 24, 2014

  9. For purposes of determining which securities are eligible for investment by the New Covent Funds and those which are not eligible for investment, SEI Investments Management Corporation (“SIMC,” or the “Adviser”) procures a list which identifies those specific companies which may not be purchased by the New Covent Funds. Where is this list?

    by W S Webb

    June 24, 2014

  10. This will not move any line towards peace. Sounds like you took sides to me. I don't believe we should be in the political arena.

    by LH

    June 23, 2014

  11. As a Jewish American, I am pleased and proud of the courageous leadership the PC is showing on this issue. I know that many Jews have been vocal opponents of divestment, but I can assure you that so many American Jews are anti-occupation but have been silenced. The intimidation around this issue is truly frightening. My deep congratulations to the PC for having stood strong in the face of this intimidation and done the right and moral thing. Yasher Koach.

    by Judith Norman

    June 23, 2014

  12. Yet another action in a ever growing list of actions taken by our church that will divide and inevitably lead to more departure from the denomination. As a life long Presbyterian and current Ruling Elder I am deeply disturbed by this. Historically what has happened to every nation that has stood against Israel? In my humble opinion this is the equivalent of our denomination turning our backs on the Jewish people. Not to mention turning our backs on companies that employ many people, some of whom probably go to our churches. What about Israel's right to defend it's people and land, will this decision bring peace to this conflict anytime soon? NO! This action was only approved by two votes, I suggest you folks re-visit it...

    by Brian M.

    June 23, 2014

  13. To make the point that my wife and I aren't "church hoppers", I've been a Presbyterian for 73 years, am a tenth generation Church of Scotland/Presbyterian, and my wife is a direct descendant of John Knox. The other commenters have covered all the reasons I believe this is the most outrageous action any Christian denomination has ever taken. We're prayerfully considering leaving the Church, as we do not want to be a part of boycotting three great US corporations, discriminating against Israel and Jews, and supporting terrorists! Like the US and all of us as individuals, Israel is not perfect, but it is by far the most democratic and free nation in the mid-east.

    by Gene McNeill

    June 23, 2014

  14. I find this outrageous. There is a church in Greenville, SC that has changed its affiliation. I am very tempted to change. My church is filled with wonderful people, and that is the only thing that prevents me from making a rash decision, but it is on the table.

    by Helen Kelly

    June 23, 2014

  15. I am deeply concerned with this the church's leadership with actions such as this happening at the Assembly. Very disappointing!!!

    by Rick Loperfido

    June 23, 2014

  16. What are the "non-peaceful pursuits" that "some allege"?

    by jeff smith

    June 23, 2014

  17. The divestiture action by the GA does not shake my confidence in God, but it does shake my confidence in the Presbyterian Church USA. I will study this matter further before deciding what action, if any, to take.

    by Robert Lande

    June 22, 2014

  18. I protest your disgraceful and immoral decision to divest from companies doing business with democratic Israel. The Presbyterian Church of the USA professes to be a champion of of human rights, peace and good inter-faith relations with Jews, but your divestment vote damages all three of these goals. It is a deep calumny on your part to falsely equate Israel with apartheid South Africa, and it also reveals your willful ignorance of the situation in the Middle East, where Islamist extremists pose the fundamental threat to the peace and security not only of the region but the world. The divestment vote, unless reversed, will be to your eternal shame.

    by Zachary Narrett

    June 22, 2014

  19. Bravo to Jim Caraher for his comment, "... But for some reason PC(USA) Presbyterians never seem able to muster the same fervor for introducing people to Jesus. " I am asking myself, "What problems are the actions taken, as reported in the legislative highlights from the 2014 / 221st General Assembly, trying to solve with issues such as 1. Including the Confession of Belhar in the PC(USA) Book of Confessions, 2. Divesting in Motorola Solutions, Catepillar and Hewlett Packard, 3. Changing the definition of marriage. Do any of the above further the mission of the church to bring the Gospel of Christ to anyone anywhere, or just incite division within a body of believers and distract them from the mission.

    by Steve Stimpson

    June 22, 2014

  20. Do no more harm; you have committed a thing that is seen by many as a hateful thing. Remember one of basic Christian tenants (focus on verse 11): If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing. 4Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. 9For we know in part and we prophesy in part; 10but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. 11When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 12For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. 13But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love Where was the love in this action?

    by Mark

    June 22, 2014

  21. It is unconscionable that with the thousands of voices, petitions, and messages that the Presbytery received from the Jewish community opposing the divestment that you would choose to report on the sliver minority of Jews supporting your actions as: "But many Jews are in favor of divestment, said Ben Falter, young adult advisory delegate from the Presbytery of Geneva." "Many Jews in fact feel betrayed by those with whom we have forged relationships for decades in the Presbyterian Church," would be a more accurate statement. Many Jews believe that the actions of PC(USA) will further the alienation in the middle East between Jews and Palestinians.

    by Rabbi Lucy Dinner

    June 22, 2014

  22. I agree with the decision. Thank you for the vote.

    by mary soleiman

    June 22, 2014

  23. As a Jewish religious educator, I am elated by theGA's divestment decision. Thank you, Presbyterians! I have long taught that there is a difference between teaching love of the Land and People of Israel and teaching support of the State of Israel and its political leaders and political actions. In its decision, the GA recognized this and acted out of its ethical tradition and did not bow to the political pressures from the right-wing elements of the Jewish community. Also, I would like to share a "secret" with my Presbyterian brothers and sisters. The overwhelming majority of American Jews do not support Israel's Occupation and do not support the right-wing nationalist politics of the government of Israel! By acting ethically, you have shown your friendship with us even if your relations with right-wing Jewish leaders are strained at the moment.

    by Benjamin Mordecai Ben-Baruch

    June 21, 2014

  24. I am saddened by this decision. Israel is not South Africa, and it is slander to compare the two. The modern Israel was formed so Jewish people could have their land back, not to have it only if they shared it. Who are we to get in the middle of this?

    by Rick Ridgway

    June 21, 2014

  25. It's a credit to PC(USA) Presbyterians that they wrestle with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and other issues of compassion, peace and justice at their General Assembly. Compassion, peace and justice are important themes in the Bible and all serious Christians should engage those issues in the world around us. But for some reason PC(USA) Presbyterians never seem able to muster the same fervor for introducing people to Jesus.

    by Jim Caraher

    June 21, 2014

  26. As a member of the Presbyterian USA, I was very disappointed to see that the council voted the divestment of funds into caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett Packard. Not only does this damage our relations with the Jewish community , it also damages investment income for these three companies which are large employers in the United States, thereby damaging the economy of our own country. It seems that the PCUSA is drifting away from it's primary calling encouraging memberd in their day-to-day relationship with the Father.

    by Stan Van Horn

    June 21, 2014

  27. Andries Coetzee, a teaching elder commissioner from the Presbytery of Muskingum Valley, referenced the PC(USA)’s divestment from companies supporting apartheid in South Africa. As a member of the oppressive white minority in South Africa, Coetzee thanked his fellow Presbyterians for divesting there and encouraged the Assembly to do the same for Israelis and Palestinians. And how did that work out? South Africa, like the rest of Africa is a disaster.

    by Emmet Lauer

    June 21, 2014

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