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

June 20, 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. Problem is it's being presented poorly. This divestment has little to do with Israel directly and more to do with particular businesses from whom we'd like to see evidence that their product sales are not "complicit" in activities that dehumanize a population. The recommendation has specific language about specific activities with which I wholly agree that we should disassociate ourselves.

    by Samuel Lawson

    September 8, 2015

  2. I am at a loss for words to understand how any Christian denomination could show such blatant disregard for our Jewish friends. I will always stand with Israel. The symbolism of this move by your main assembly is shameful. "I will bless them that bless Thee, and curse them that curseth thee."

    by R Hudson

    February 21, 2015

  3. Hearing today of the Palestinians celebrating the brutal slaughter of Israelis praying in the temple in Jerusalem is a sad reminder of how our Presbyterian delegates also celebrated gleefully on the floor of the convention center in Detroit this past June. This following a success in boycotting the county of Israel. Is it just me, or does this make others sad also?

    by sam boyer

    November 19, 2014

  4. My heart is broken. We should always support Israel, they are surrounded by countries that would kill any Jewish person anywhere. I can't agree with or support this decision. I have always been proud of the open arms of my church. Proud that it supported the underdog. Proud of it's acceptance of all peaceful people. Palestine is not a country. Hamas is a terrorist group that vows to kill Jews. I am ashamed to call myself a Presbyterian.

    by Joanna Turbow

    September 11, 2014

  5. Great news, brave decision to take knowing the criticism they would be getting after it. Way to show the world what is right and wrong

    by t

    August 9, 2014

  6. Blessed are the peacemakers. This decision is right and courageous. Thank you for lighting this candle in the present darkness.

    by Martin O Hara

    July 24, 2014

  7. It is really great news! When it comes to doing what is right and standing up for the rights of the oppressed Palestinians, the Presbyterian Church(USA) and its leadership are trail-blazers! Please don't pay attention for the nay sayers who are nothing but apologists for the Israel Apartheid America and the world are better off for having a leadership like you, and institutions like yours. Way to go!

    by Hamdi Mohamed

    July 7, 2014

  8. As an American who is Jewish, I find this decision offensive and hurtful. While debate and criticism of Israeli policy is fair, I think this action creates more problems than it attempts to solve.

    by Jon

    June 24, 2014

  9. This action shows a lack of understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. Singling out Israel and placing all blame on its door step is, at best, hurtful. What's more, it will accomplish nothing positive.

    by Stan

    June 23, 2014

  10. Please, please take the time to inform yourselves about the 'facts on the ground' in this conflict. Some useful, validated statistics at the website 'If Amerians Knew' would be a good starting point. The Presbyterian Church has taken a principled, courageous and Christian stand on this matter, and should be congratulated.

    by Margaret Targett

    June 23, 2014

  11. Can someone tell me what “non-peaceful pursuits” means? I would like to understand why these 3 companies were singled out. What are they doing in the region that prompted this action? Thank you.

    by Patricia J Mitchell

    June 23, 2014

  12. I agree with everything James said, why haven't we divested of companies doing business in China, with its hostility toward Christians and mistreatment of its own citizens? Or Russia, Afghanistan, Nigeria?

    by Cheryl

    June 22, 2014

  13. To my Jewish friends: I am terribly sorry about the vote of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church - my church - to divest from companies performing work in the West Bank and Gaza. I believe this is an act of actual or symbolic anti-semitism, for the church has not taken a similar stand on investments in other non-Jewish states whose sins against their own citizens, or the citizens of territories they have occupied, is far worse. The BDS movement has singled out Israel because it is the Jewish state, and I believe that the movement's supporters (including those who glory in the murder of children) hope for the destruction of Israel no matter what they tell their Western enablers. I hope and believe that the well-meaning people who voted in favor of the measure did not understand what they were doing. But well-meaning people who support evil out of ignorance cannot be forgiven even if they were willfully blind to the natural consequences of their actions. I promise you this: I will work to rectify this sin.

    by James Owens

    June 21, 2014

  14. There is no other way to interpept this vote as anything but a full endorsement of BDS and a slap in to face to our Jewish friends. All the sugar coating in the world will not change what this vote really represents. We will soon regret this outcome. We are not an anti-Semitic church - but now the world will think we are.

    by James

    June 21, 2014

  15. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has become an unwitting accomplice in a campaign to unfairly malign Israel, the Jewish state. The decision to punish Israel, and only Israel, on behalf of the Palestinian Arabs represents interference in a conflict that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) doesn't understand sufficiently well. The Jews of Israel have a realistic fear that the conflict with the Arabs which has lasted over 100 years is not yet over and that the Arabs still want to destroy Israel. Peace will only come if and when the Arabs make a credible attempt to convince the Jews of Israel that their jihad against Israel will finally end when they achieve a sovereign state. But until then, the Jews of Israel have every reason to suspect that a sovereign Palestinian state would pose an existential threat. If you sincerely want to bring peace to the Middle East use your good offices to convince the Palestinian Authority to try to convince the Jews of Israel that a sovereign Palestinian state will be a peaceful neighbor to Israel. If you do try to do that you will soon come to understand how difficult it is to ask the Palestinian hard-liners to give up their jihad. Until now, the Palestinians have taken every opportunity they get to congratulate themselves on the success of terrorist actions against the Jews of Israel and even Jews not living in Israel. When the Jews of Israel see this they come to the reasonable conclusion the Arabs have not given up their attempts to destroy Israel.

    by Barry Leonard Werner

    June 21, 2014

  16. This is wonderful, wonderful news from the church that I grew up in. Honestly, it falls far short of the full endorsement of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions that the Church should ethically be pushing for. But it nevertheless shows real bravery among the leadership of the Presbyterians, a little bit of a return to the moral leadership that has been lost for so long.

    by Jack Brown

    June 20, 2014

  17. I am relieved to see that the GA voted at long last for divestment from investments making profit from other people's suffering.

    by Sharon Hasenjaeger

    June 20, 2014

  18. It'd be interesting to know how many shares of each company are owned by the presby foundation, & what percentage of all the shares of each company.

    by Randall S.

    June 20, 2014

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