The movement to reject the MRTI recommendations to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and HP is gaining major support within the progressive wing of the church. Two of the denomination’s Presbyteries, known for their large progressive constituencies, recently voted, by substantial majorities, to reject the MRTI recommendations.
In February by a convincing vote, the Presbytery of Chicago rejected an overture that called for the GA to support the MRTI recommendations. In March, National Capital Presbytery (the Washington, D.C. metro area) voted by a strong majority to 1) send an overture to GA asking for the MRTI recommendations to be rejected and 2) voted down an overture calling on the GA to endorse the Kairos Palestine document and its Boycott, Divestment and Sanction strategy. In both Presbyteries, supporters of the MRTI recommendations were surprised because they expected strong support for their position from the progressive wing of the PCUSA.
Why are progressives voting against the MRTI recommendations? In the National Capital Presbytery debate, the following reasons were cited by speakers opposing the MRTI recommendations:
The GA policy from 2008 was cited: “We will avoid taking broad stands that simplify a very complex situation into a caricature of reality where one side clearly is at fault and the other side is clearly the victim.” Numerous speakers said that the MRTI recommendations are a blunt instrument being misapplied to a very complex situation.
Regarding Kairos Palestine, it was noted that the last GA refused to endorse Kairos even though the Midde East Study Committee recommended it. Rejecting Kairos Palestine’s call for boycott, divestment and sanctions, the GA lifted up only those sections which speak about love, peace and reconciliation; Kairos Palestine calls the Torah a “dead letter” when not guided by Christian revelation, a heresy of supersessionism that the PCUSA rejected a long time ago; the document lays sole responsibility for the conflict on Israel, disregarding Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran; the document does not seem to acknowledge and certainly doesn’t promote a two state solution---our denomination’s policy.
Regarding BDS, it was noted the boycotts have been totally ineffective against China, Cuba, North Korea and Iran; the UCC, Methodists, Episcopalians and many denominations in Europe have refused to join the BDS movement; it will cause the Palestinians and Israelis to dig deeper into their trenches rather than encourage true negotiations which will be needed for peace.
In reaction to the MRTI claim that their recommendations are not related to BDS, it was noted that the PCUSA is not living in a bubble and must consider how its actions are perceived by others. The website The Electronic Intifada has a headline “BDS roundup: US Presbyterian church one step closer to major divestment policy” Within the church, The National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus has called for the PCUSA to endorse the BDS Campaign and in a column posted recently, Jeff DeYoe, the Advocacy Chairperson for the Presbyterian Israel-Palestine Mission Network, was quite candid about the goals: “the PC(USA) is closer to making BDS part of its operating policy than ever before.” Regardless of MRTI’s intentions, with such statements outside and inside the PCUSA, how can we pretend that the MRTI vote is anything other than a vote to join the BDS movement?
Progressives are searching for ways to be peacemakers in an incredibly complex Middle East situation. As they search, they are rejecting ineffective responses such as divesting a small amount of PCUSA-owned stock as the MRTI recommendation would have us do. Instead, they seek something that will be effective and move both the Palestinians and Israelis to the bargaining table. It is there and there alone, with the conflicting parties working out their differences, that peace will be created.
This past February, Rev. Dr. Bill Harter, our co-convener at Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, participated in an interfaith trip to Israel with a delegation organized by the America-Israel Friendship League (AIFL). A total of 15 Presbyterians participated. We encourage all Presbyterians to visit the Holy Land. The experience is not only inspirational; it strengthens the ability of Presbyterian leaders to respond thoughtfully and effectively to proposals on Middle East peacemaking, and to make a positive contribution to the peace process.