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This report from Larry Rued in Florida seems to summarize the hopeful news from the Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly. Note that the resolution has not been adopted yet, and that even if it is, the other side will not give up so easily. Efforts to ensure fair play for Israel and prevent PCUSA and other churches from being subverted unfairly to the Palestinian cause must continue. We hope that the groups that have produced this fine achievement will build on their success. It will be a lot easier to do this if we are careful not to needlessly and gratuitously antagonize political groups by using labels like "leftist." (See Joel Mowbray's comment about "leftists" below).

Ami Isseroff

I was in Birmingham for the ommittee hearings.  This report by Solomonia accurately depicts the divestment motion passed by committee.  The entire General Assembly votes on the divestment motion Wednesday afternoon.

Larry


http://www.solomonia.com/blog/archives/008555.shtml

Presbyterian Divestment -- Where do we stand?



By now you've heard that the committee responsible for examining and rendering a recommendation on the PC(USA)'s divestment policy has recommended that the General Assembly remove language of divestment from the PC(USA)'s policy: Committee recommends replacing language calling for divestment

The recommendation - passed by a 53 to 6 vote, with 3 abstentions - says:

"We acknowledge that the actions of the 216th General Assembly caused hurt and misunderstanding among many members of the Jewish community and within our Presbyterian communion. We are grieved by the pain that this has caused, accept responsibility for the flaws in our process, and ask for a new season of mutual understanding and dialogue.

To these ends, we replace the instructions expressed in Item 12-01 (Minutes, 2004 Part I, pp. 64-66) item 7, which reads

"7. Refers to Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) with instructions to initiate a process of phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel, in accordance to General Assembly policy on social investing, and to make appropriate recommendations to the General Assembly Council for action."

with the following:

To urge that financial investments of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as they pertain to Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, be invested in only peaceful pursuits, and affirm that the customary corporate engagement process of the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment of our denomination is the proper vehicle for achieving this goal."

The two-page recommendation contains additional items, including affirmative investment opportunities, an end to all violence and terror against Palestinian and Israeli citizens and interfaith cooperation.



Yes, there's a lot of wiggle-room in there. Yes, MRTI still has a strong raison d'etre and can pretty well continue doing what they've been doing -- is Caterpillar a peaceful investment? Yes, Presbyterians will still have work to do and a watch to keep. On the wider issue though, since the battle over divestment was always really a rhetorical battle, the fact that "divestment" is being affirmatively removed is a victory. The PC(USA), should this recommendation be adopted, will no longer be an advocate of it, and cannot be used as a club with which to beat Jews.

Joel Mowbray, writing in to Power Line, is very positive:

The leftist/Palestinian political push for divestment from Israel--in other words, to institute the campaign waged against apartheid South Africa in the 1980's--is on the verge of being dealt a severe body blow...

...While full assembly embrace of the committee vote would be a huge defeat for pro-divestment forces, it is clear that significant animus toward Israel exists among some conference delegates. Many Presbyterian officials seemed apologetic not about the vote for divestment itself, but rather the "hurt feelings" and "misunderstandings" it caused. Still, disavowing divestment as the explicit aim of the church represents a sea change from just two years ago.

One thing is certain: the full Assembly ratifying the committee action would be devastating for the divestment forces. "The big mo" is critical for any nascent movement, thankfully including those who want widespread demonization of the Jewish state.

The final vote of the General Assembly is Wednesday, and no one should count any chickens before the final vote is in given the experience in the United Church of Christ of late in which divestment was re-inserted at the last moment under similar circumstances.

Should this go through as is, it looks like some people should give themselves a pat on the back, especially considering the resistance at the highest level of insiders. It's not everything we could have hoped for, but it is very, very positive.

Committee member Noel Anderson blogs on the discussion that lead to the decision [a snip -- emphasis mine]:

...There were good speakers and bad. The worst speakers by far were the representatives of the permanent GA committees. ACREC (Advisory Council on Racial Ethnic Concerns) put forward a Palestinian member who wants the committee to make a clear statement to the effect that all the trouble is the ultimate result of Israel's "illegal occupation." So, after all the peace-loving talk, our ACREC wants us to just blame Israel. The committee will disregard this advice. Another speaker was the chair of MRTI (MIssion Responsibility Through Investment). Generally, this committee seeks to ensure that Presbyterian investments "do no harm" and if possible, do some kind of good in the world. Unfortunately, it has become a lair for leftist political interests. As the chairperson spoke (and I could be mistaken here, but when I lived in Cambria and met several members of the "Dykes on Bikes" motorcycle club, I met her twin sister), she flagged in zeal over MRTI's wonderful work. There was no acknowledgment whatsoever:
1. That the "divestment" statements of 2004 were a blunder.
2. Of the public relations snafus associated with these bad choices.
3. Of the need to make amends and/or reparations for the above mistakes.
4. Of the need to re-establish a positive connection with American Jews...

Gossip from sources on the floor:

id=q>"I was sitting right behind Noel Anderson and I agree with his commentary. Bill Somplatsky-Jarmin on the Staff of MRTI had the most condescending and arrogant attitude towards the Presbyterians who ultimately pay his salary. It was like: "How dare you question my right to harass whatever corporation I choose."

Presbyterian blogger James Berkley also has a good post on the meeting: Failing grades on the test of truth

...Yesterday [during the open hearings in committee], we heard some statements that simply don't meet the test of truth. Let me name a few.

We heard that "Israel has shown no willingness to give up land." Wrong. Israel HAS given up land several times, including Gaza recently.

We heard, "Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons and so doesn't need a security barrier." Let me get this straight: Do we expect or want Israel to combat snipers and suicide bombers with nuclear weapons? Not me!

We heard, "Israeli actions have devastated the Palestinian economy." That's scapegoating! Graft, corruption, and armed battles between Hamas and Fatah gunmen will ruin any economy.

We heard, "Commissioners are just scared of offending the Jewish community." Such statements demean your faith and courage as commissioners. How false to make this out to be a case of mean Jews making Presbyterians cower in fear! PRESBYTERIANS are offended too, not just our Jewish friends!...

There's more there.

More gossip from the floor:

I observed this "face time" discussion between Susan Andrews and a representative (Evan Feltson?) of the Jewish community. My second hand information about this discussion is that at a noon luncheon on Saturday, Susan Andrews had been heard to say to a couple of GA commissioners that Jonathan Swartz of AJC had agreed with the Rick Ufford-Chase proposal to create a 7 person study team and that MRTI would continue their divestment action. Susan Andrews had apparently told those GA commissioners it was a done deal and that is the way the GA would be voting---no matter what the committee recommended.

Here's the "face time" my source is talking about: Former moderator declares her argument with adversary in public hallway was private

Former General Assembly Moderator Susan B. Andrews became embroiled in a loud argument Saturday with a Jewish man over the divestment resolution approved by 216th General Assembly.

The argument occurred in the large and open hallway outside of the room where the 217th General Assembly's Peacemaking and International Issues Committee was considering whether to rescind the divestment proposal, which has been condemned internationally by Jewish groups.

When reporters heard about the argument, they joined a small throng around Andrews and began taking notes. Realizing their presence, Andrews responded harshly, declaring that she was having a "private conversation" and reporters were not allowed to quote her...

...Andrews was arguing that the denomination's divestment policy was intended to pressure Israel to support a two-state solution for the warring Israelis and Palestinians. She also repeated her strong opposition to Israel's defensive wall that was built to protect Israeli citizens from terrorist suicide-bombers.

Her opponent was arguing that Palestinians must cede to Israel's right to exist and to maintain the defensive wall to protect its civilians. She and he agreed that the Palestinians had suffered during their long conflagration.

Andrews was at the committee meeting to lobby, along with 216th General Assembly Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase, for a proposal that called on the General Assembly to approve a small task force to advise the General Assembly Council on Jewish-Christian-Muslim relationships.

With that advice, which would not have derailed the move toward divestment, the council would have made a proposal to the 218th General Assembly.

But the Peacemaking and International Issues Committee gave scant attention to the General Assembly Council's proposal, choosing instead to craft its own recommendation...

Remember that the powers that be had sought to circumvent the whole process by appointing a committee to study the issue and not face this fight at the GA, thus allowing the process to go forward for another two years as-is until that new committee was able to issue a report at the next General Assembly. So it sounds like someone is, indeed still thinking to go around this committee's recommendation.

Therefore, the book is not closed, but we're almost there. If someone pulls a last-minute parliamentary trick in order to smother the committee report it will look very bad for the PC(USA), but so far, so good.

This just in. Jim Berkley has an excellent report on the whole thing, here: Presbyterians May Dispatch Divestment



The issue of possible Israel divestment has garnered ample attention at this year's General Assembly. Over 30 presbyteries sent overtures related to divestment, with the vast majority seeking to end or modify the process. Testimony by individuals in open hearings before a packed gallery on Friday, June 16, ran the gamut from factual to outrageous. Blogger Will Spotts extensively covered the content of the testimony.

Earlier that day, former CIA Director James Woolsey spoke forcefully against divestment from companies doing business in Israel. He warned that such a one-sided action targeting only Israel would amount to siding with the Palestinian Authority, now controlled by the theocratic totalitarian Hamas movement. Woolsey actually spoke twice—in a public lecture co-sponsored by Presbyterian Action and in the committee open hearing about divestment. So divestment is a big deal at this General Assembly.

After two and a half days of painstaking work, the General Assembly Committee on Peacemaking and International Issues compiled a delicately balanced statement on Saturday night, approved it, slept on it, and on Sunday afternoon protected it from molestation by amendment during a brief reconsideration.

The final vote for this proposed statement on the Middle East was 53-6-3, indicating that the vast majority—including those leaning in a pro-Palestinian direction as well as those more inclined toward Israel-accepted the result. Of course, the pro-Palestinian voices probably would have preferred to retain the divestment mandate of 2004. And the pro-Israel voices would have preferred a stronger guarantee that divestment could not occur. But neither side was able to obtain everything that it desired.

As of this writing, the committee report has not been posted, and thus an electronic version of the resolution is not available. However, a paper copy of the statement as amended in committee confirms the following:

1. The Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) would no longer be instructed to conduct "a process of phased selective divestment." Instead a new instruction would be substituted, "urg[ing] that financial investments of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as they pertain to Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, be invested in only peaceful pursuits." Furthermore, the new instruction would "affirm that the customary corporate engagement process of the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment is the proper vehicle for achieving this goal."

2. Note that the loaded word "divestment" would disappear in the new instruction. This change would substantially cut the links to the larger political divestment movement of Palestinian nationalists that seeks to demonize, isolate, and eventually eliminate Israel as a Jewish state.

3. Note that the new instruction would not single out Israel. It would speak of "peaceful pursuits" in the entire region of the Middle East. In balanced fashion, it would state a "commitment to positive outcomes" affecting "the stability, future viability, and prosperity of both the Israeli and Palestinian economies." There would be no sense that the denomination would be trying to undermine the Israeli economy in order to boost the Palestinian cause.

4. The "customary corporate engagement process" of MRTI would now be focused on corporations rather than on the nation of Israel (or any other nation). If there are corporations complicit in Mideast violence--and that is yet to be established with any certainty--it would be that wrongdoing, not the Israel connection, that could lead to divestment. It would become a case of divesting from misbehaving corporations, not divesting from allegedly misbehaving Israel.

5. The proposed new statement would basically return the PCUSA to where it was prior to the 2004 divestment resolution. MRTI has always had discretion to raise issues of social concern with corporations-and to recommend divestment in extreme cases. But before 2004 MRTI was not moving toward Israel-related divestments. Nor did it have any consensus to recommend any particular divestments to this year's Assembly. Now, if the new statement is adopted, MRTI would still be able to hold conversations with corporations about whose practices it is concerned. But it would have to come back to a future General Assembly if it wished to divest from particular corporations. As long as the militant Hamas controls the Palestinian Authority while Israel is making unilateral concessions for peace, it seems unlikely that any General Assembly would approve divestments that were slanted against Israel. And one would think that a prudent MRTI would not put forward a divestment proposal that the Assembly was likely to reject.

6. The new statement would take a more positive approach, asking MRTI to "identify affirmative investment opportunities as they pertain to Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank." This investment would be more than monetary. People are urged to invest themselves, "work[ing] through peaceful means … for an end to all violence and terror against Palestinian and Israeli civilians."

7. The separation barrier and the occupation of the West Bank remain issues, but they would be treated with softer rhetoric. For instance, the new statement would recognize that Israel has the right to protect its borders and defend its citizens. But it calls for relocating portions of the barrier back to the internationally recognized border prior to 1967.

8. Stronger Christian-Jewish-Muslim relationships would be encouraged, offering the possibility of rebuilding friendships and alliances sorely strained by two years of accusations, reactions, and hurt feelings on all sides.

9. Due to the rapidly changing situation on the ground in the Middle East, the General Assembly Council would be asked to monitor developments and reporting back to General Assembly in two years.

In all, the Peacemaking Committee's solution appears much more even-handed, reasonable, balanced, and diplomatic than what the 2004 Assembly produced—the product of coming together to reason, rather than squaring off in opposition. The committee rejected all outside "solutions"—especially the plan brought by the General Assembly Council—and carefully produced its own plan. That example may just show the rest of the commissioners what Presbyterians at their best can accomplish.

The hard work of knowledgeable and capable commissioners who had done their homework is to be commended. They heard the various sides, sifted the data, considered one another's perspectives, and came up with a substantial solution.

What remains to be seen, at this point, is what the full General Assembly will do with the committee's work when it reaches the plenary floor. The committee's report is now scheduled for about 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday the 21st.


Date: 6/19/2006



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