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Monday, June 19, 2006
Report from the Presbyterian General Assembly - June 19, 2006
I was in Birmingham for the committee 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 Rued

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:

"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
© 2006 Divestment Watch