One of the next battles over BDS will be fought in a little more than two weeks, when the 222nd General Assembly begins in Portland, Oregon. Portland was site of the recent United Methodist Church’s General Conference, which rejected BDS efforts at divestment, and even saw the Methodists end ties with the “US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation”, an umbrella organization of BDS groups in North America. The UMC is a much larger Church than PCUSA, and I am hopeful that we Presbyterians can learn from the wisdom of our Methodist brothers and sisters. The BDS Movement has targeted the PCUSA for more than a decade. It includes a relatively small, but extremely vocal and effective group of activists who have worked very hard to get the Church to adopt social witness policies promoting the goals of the BDS movement, while often masking them in claims that the policies being sought are not about BDS, but about justice for Palestinians. Two years ago, they succeeded in getting the Church to selectively divest from three companies doing business in Israel – Caterpillar, HP, and Motorola Solutions, while claiming that divestment was in no way an embrace of BDS. Boycott. Divest. Sanction. How could anyone ever think that divesting from these companies was related to BDS?
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The Presbyterian Church (USA) has been tied up in the politics of the Boycott-Divest-Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel for more than a decade, culminating in a narrow four-vote majority in the 2014 General Assembly to divest church funds from HP, Motorola, and Caterpillar because of those company’s products being allegedly used to violent ends by Israel in the Palestinian territories. The GA tried to claim that its vote to divest was not about joining the BDS movement, but was a statement on socially responsible investment. This was wishful thinking because within 30 minutes of the GA’s vote, the New York Times reported that the Church had become aligned with the BDS Movement.
Now, two years later, another PC(USA) General Assembly approaches. This time, the BDS agenda is a bit more nuanced. A task force was commissioned by the GA in 2014 to examine the continued viability of the Church’s commitment to a Two State solution. Responsibility for this study fell on the Church’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), which recently issued a report titled "Israel-Palestine: For Human Values in the Absence of a Justice Peace." The ACSWP seeks to have their report endorsed by the GA this summer in Portland, Oregon, when it meets in mid-June. It should surprise no one that the report that was written mimics many of the Israel-targeted BDS arguments that have been used again and again.