Introduction


The Committee to End Divestment Now

The Committee to End Divestment Now coalesced in 2005 as a group of Presbyterians reflecting a broad spectrum of viewpoints but united in the belief that a mistake made in 2004 by the 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) needs to be corrected.

We believe that repeal of the resolution calling for “a process of phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel” is essential to the future of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and to the future of Presbyterian-Jewish interfaith relations.

Our goals are limited in time and scope:
1) To educate Presbyterians about what took place at the 216th General Assembly (2004), specifically the passage of the resolution calling for actions leading up to divestment of church stock in multinational companies doing business with Israel and the resolution calling for immediate and unconditional removal of the security barrier constructed by the Israelis as a defense against Palestinian suicide bombers and snipers;
2) To educate those commissioners who will be attending the 217th General Assembly in Birmingham, AL, in June 2006 about the harm caused by these resolutions; and
3) To encourage deliberation over what just and fair actions the church can take in place of the existing resolutions that will help promote peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

Our committee's work will be completed when these three important steps have been taken, and we expect to dissolve in July 2006.


Background

We believe that peace is essential for both Israelis and Palestinians and that it is achievable. We want our church to help build bridges to peace. We have profound respect for the many people we have met on both sides who are working diligently and courageously to promote peaceful solutions, and we have strong empathy for our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters who are caught in the political crossfire of the present conflict. We believe their interests are also best served by those who are bridge builders between the sides.

If our church is to play a meaningful role, we must take a balanced approach that encourages peaceful initiatives on both sides and does not single out either side for primary condemnation. We believe that we are much more likely to encourage peaceful initiatives by investing our church resources in specific bridge-building projects than by threatening either side with divestment or by vilifying Israel in the same manner that South Africa was made a pariah state.

In entering into a delicate diplomatic situation, we believe it is essential that we never lose sight of the overriding church purpose of helping every member achieve a closer relationship with and deeper discipleship to our God and Savior. As much as he preached on love and justice, Jesus was not a politician or a Secretary of State. Nor should the PCUSA presume to step out of its field of expertise to assume such roles as a primary responsibility. Commissioners to General Assembly cannot be expected to possess the diplomatic background and credentials to effortlessly cut the Gordian knot of Middle Eastern political realities.

Our committee believes in the representative democratic process that has historically served Presbyterians well in times of crisis and times of change. We do not, however, believe that what happened at the 216th General Assembly reflects the system working at its best. Nor does the consequent decision represent the views of a majority of PCUSA members. The proceedings, with respect to the Israeli-Palestinian resolutions, did not meet the standards of thoughtful and balanced debate we have a right to expect.

We believe that the lopsided votes in favor of these resolutions were not “prophetic,” but were the result of an unfortunate combination of factors:
1) The resolutions were brought to a routine vote without adequate notice of their significance. In a full agenda, commissioners could easily miss the importance of the matter. For instance, the actions were not included in the “Top 10” list of most interesting likely actions of the 216th General Assembly.
2) A Palestinian-Christian ecumenical advisory delegate made a brief but emotional and one-sided presentation to the commissioners at the time of the vote. No such equal opposing special-interest presentation by a noncommissioner was provided for balance, even though an alert commissioner tried to ask for a Jewish response but was brushed aside when a staff member dodged his question.
3) The commissioners relied heavily on denominational and committee leaders, who did not provide a balance of viewpoints in the discernment process or unbiased research. On the contrary, the ideology of the committee and staff “experts” was decidedly slanted to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel position.

The commissioners' trust was misplaced. The resolutions were factually and conceptually flawed, biased, and in need of far greater consideration and ideological balance.


After-Assembly happenings

Our committee also shares a common concern about the way the PCUSA leadership has responded to the waves of criticism from inside and outside the church in the months following the passage of these resolutions. Over the last eighteen months, we have watched with interest as:
(1) Denominational officials and the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee have at numerous points recharacterized the exact wording of the divestment resolution to suit various purposes.
(2) PCUSA representatives, engaged in an ill-advised “fact-finding” mission to the Middle East, created a disgraceful incident when a group met with the terrorist organization Hezbollah and praised Hezbollah while criticizing Jewish leaders. This major debacle was taped and played across the Middle East on Arab television stations, providing scandalous propaganda for terrorists.
(3) Broad and continuing dissent within the church and in society as a whole over these unpopular resolutions has been largely discounted by those in authority.

The 2004 actions look ever worse with the passage of time, in the context of recent political events in the Middle East since July 2004. The President of Iran has in recent months called for Israel to be wiped off the face of the earth, contended that the Holocaust never happened, and defiantly moved forward with the development of a nuclear weapons program as well as building a missile system capable of targeting Israel. Syria and elements in Saudi Arabia join Iran in continuing to support terrorism against Israel.

In contrast, Israeli President Sharon, at great political and personal risk, successfully completed a peaceful disengagement from Gaza, despite widespread opposition within Israel. The Palestinians, on the other hand, in January 2006, gave Hamas 58 percent of their votes and 74 of 132 legislative council seats. Hamas thus will be forming a government. Hamas has, for many years, been listed by the European Union, Canada, and the United States as a terrorist organization. As recently as the day after the election, it reaffirmed its commitment to the destruction of Israel as part of its “covenant.”

It is quite obvious that continued mindless Presbyterian adherence to its 2004 resolutions in the context of these and other developments in the Middle East will further damage our denomination's credibility and witness. Our cumbersome, biennial-assembly structure--with no amendments allowed between assemblies--simply does not allow us to be nimble enough diplomatically to remain current with the conditions.


Fractured Relationships

These resolutions have shattered our interfaith relations with our Jewish friends. These resolutions have undone a half-century of positive efforts to improve interfaith relations, following our denomination's less-than-impressive response to the Holocaust. Isolating Israel for punitive action, while not condemning terror-sponsoring states, means that Israel has been unjustly targeted.

Historically, such double standards have been connected with anti-Semitic attitudes. While anti-Semitism probably was far from the minds of commissioners in 2004, our committee understands why our Jewish friends are consequently upset. At the same time, however, we are confident that interfaith relations can be fully restored if the church acts promptly to repeal these resolutions at the 217th General Assembly in June 2006.

Any peacemaking role we as a church may assume in the face of the complexities of the Middle East conflict must reflect and be tested against authentic grassroots congregational convictions. In a like fashion, our role must be fashioned in humility and fairness, in close consultation with authentic representatives of mainstream thinking in both the Jewish/Israeli and the Palestinian communities. This task yet remains to be accomplished properly.

 

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