|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
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:
recommends replacing language calling for divestment
- 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
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
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.
Mowbray, writing in to Power Line, is very positive:
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.
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
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.
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:
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
"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
[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:
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
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
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.
that advice, which would not have derailed the move toward divestment, the
council would have made a proposal to the 218th General Assembly.
the Peacemaking and International Issues Committee gave scant attention to the
General Assembly Council's proposal, choosing instead to craft its own
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