To our commissioners to the 221st General Assembly:
The Middle East Committee had a tough decision. They could endorse the divisive tactic of divestment which has split the Presbyterian Church and peace activists; or reject divestment as a peacemaking strategy, or attempt to find a “third way” which might bring people together to work for peace between Israel and Palestine.
After hearing literally hours of testimony from boycott, divestment and sanction (BDS) advocates, the committee voted to divest from H-P, Caterpillar and Motorola Solutions. In addition, the committee adopted numerous overtures criticizing Israel with barely any criticism of Hamas and its affiliates, such as the kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers this past week.
While the committee’s intention is to divest from three American companies, not from Israel itself, the media immediately presented a very different view of the committee’s actions. Today the Associated Press is saying, “It would be the broadest endorsement of divestment to date by an American religious group protesting Israel." The PCUSA can say we are not divesting from Israel. However, the world does not agree with us.
If preceding General Assemblies are any example, on Friday afternoon, the plenary session of the General Assembly will speak with a different voice. The General Assemblies that met in 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012 have all refused to follow divisive recommendations from the committee. They have sought peacemaking strategies which are less divisive to the body of Christ and empower peacemakers, not extremists in both Palestine and Israel who want conflict.
The General Assembly will hear a minority report that rejects divestment and encourages MRTI to have the meaningful dialogue with Caterpillar, HP and Motorola Solutions that has been established successfully by the United Methodist, Episcopalian and Lutheran denominations. Why the PCUSA has failed to create a meaningful dialogue with these companies while others have succeeded remains an unanswered question.
Ultimately, peacemaking is coalition building, bringing all parties with a stake in peace together. The PCUSA needs to help create a coalition of Jews, Christians, and Muslims; of Palestinian Americans and Jewish Americans; all of whom can work for peace together.
Advocates of Israel-targeted divestment and the international BDS movement go to great lengths to avoid the use of the word conflict, when the reality of conflict could not be more evident. We instead hear the word occupation used repeatedly and ending the occupation described as the silver bullet that will bring peace and justice.
The occupation of the Gaza Strip ended almost 10 years ago and did not bring peace. Instead, the end of the Gaza occupation has meant more than 8,000 rockets launched at Israel. We must all recognize up front that ending the conflict will end occupation, not the other way around.
If Israelis are forced to make a choice between putting the lives of their families at risk and being boycotted by the PC(USA), they will choose boycott.
The BDS Movement
Israel-targeted divestment is joined at the hip with the BDS movement. If divestment is approved the world will see it as the PCUSA getting on the BDS train, which demonizes Israel and denies the right of the Jewish people to a home land. The “Zionism Unsettled” document, produced by the Israel-Palestine Mission Network (IPMN), is an example of what the BDS movement stands for. It is a deeply offensive document that does nothing but exacerbate hostility and extend the conflict.
Neither party is blameless in the conflict. We urge you to recognize that and affirm our commitment to the legitimate rights of both Palestinians and Israelis. Vote yes for constructive engagement and peacemaking, and no on divestment.