At the close of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the church’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) wishes to reflect on the results of the GA and to thank all of our friends, supporters, and the hundreds of church commissioners who took a stand for human rights and justice in the Holy Land last week by voting according to their consciences, and not according to their fears.
While the resolution calling for targeted divestment from three companies that profit from Israeli violations of international law and abuses of Palestinian human rights was not adopted by the plenary, it was approved overwhelmingly by the church’s Committee on Middle East Peacemaking Issues (Committee 15), and the minority report that replaced it won by a mere two out of 666 votes, with two commissioners abstaining. In truth, a full plenary discussion on divestment never took place, pre-empted by the minority report’s adoption.
On the other hand, the resolution calling for a boycott of just two products made in Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories was expanded and strengthened by Committee 15 to cover all Israeli products made in the occupied territories, before being approved by an overwhelming majority (457-180, or 71%) of the plenary in what was a very divided Assembly. The boycott vote puts the Presbyterian Church (USA) squarely into the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement launched by Palestinian civil society in 2005 and officially endorsed by the Palestinian Christian community in 2009 with the Kairos Palestine document. “Presbyterians have heard the call for economic solidarity from Palestinians, including Palestinian Christians,” said Rev. Jeff DeYoe, IPMN Advocacy Chair. “The IPMN looks forward to assisting the church in determining which products will be included in the boycott.”
Despite the fact that they failed to pass divestment, afterwards 57% of church commissioners voted in favor of a resolution directing the church’s Board of Pensions “to create a program for relief of conscience for plan members who are troubled by the choice to continue holding Board of Pensions assets in Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard.” Although this motion was later overturned on a procedural technicality by the GA’s Stated Clerk, it clearly reflected a desire on the part of a majority of commissioners to provide an option for individual Presbyterians who have moral qualms about profiting from these three companies, whose products are used to inflict so much hardship and suffering on Palestinians.
“A few short years ago, any one of these things would have been considered a significant victory for divestment and boycott supporters,” said Rev. Katherine Cunningham, IPMN Vice-Moderator. “At every General Assembly since these issues were first introduced in 2004, the church has moved slowly but steadily towards the positions advocated by the IPMN. In 2010, following our official endorsement of a boycott of Ahava Dead Sea beauty products and dates from the Hadiklaim Co-op, we were attacked by critics for being ‘ahead of the church.’ Last week, the rest of the church caught up with the IPMN on boycotting settlement products, and moved much further in the direction of divestment than anybody could have expected just a few years ago. We believe it’s only a matter of time before the church catches up on divestment too, and we look forward to the next GA in Detroit in 2014, and to the day when both Israelis and Palestinians are able to live in peace and freedom.”