220th Presbyterian General Assembly rejects Divestment

The 220th Presbyterian General Assembly, meeting in Pittsburgh in early July, rejected a proposal to divest from 3 companies doing business in Israel. The plenary first voted to replace a divestment recommendation from the Middle East Peacemaking Committee with a minority report which rejected divestment and instead endorsed a path of positive investment. The subsequent vote, making positive investment the policy of the PCUSA, carried by a margin of 369-290-8. We urge you to read the actual text of the resolution passed on our website (220th GA calls for positive investment). It is straightforward, concise, and clear as to the direction the PCUSA will pursue on peacemaking going forward.

With this decision, the PCUSA, United Methodist Church, the Episcopal Church, and the Lutherans have all unambiguously rejected divestment. The path chosen instead, which we at Presbyterians for Middle East Peace strongly support, is to embrace dialogue and partnership among Christians, Jews and Muslims for peace, along with direct engagement and investment aimed at improving the lives of ordinary Palestinians in the West Bank as they strive to build a peaceful and civil society. We want to express our deepest appreciation and gratitude to all of the Presbyterians who worked so hard for this outcome, and to the commissioners who embraced a course of positive investment.

It was the secular, international Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) movement and BDS advocates within the PCUSA that championed divestment. Had divestment prevailed, it would have been hailed as a huge victory for BDS. If one supports a fair and realistic two-state solution, one cannot support a global movement that seeks to end Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state. One cannot support a movement that makes demands only of Israel and turns a blind eye to the armed groups openly committed to Israel’s annihilation. Perhaps most importantly, one cannot support a movement that recklessly engages in the demonization of an entire people, something that we as Christians can neither accept nor tolerate within our church community.

At both the PCUSA General Assembly and the Episopalian Triennial General Conference, the Kairos Palestine document, which calls for support of BDS as a means of supporting Palestinian Christians, failed to get the endorsement its supporters expected. At the General Assembly, an overture requesting the GA to affirm Kairos Palestine was answered instead by the General Assembly’s action to end the PCUSA’s divestment strategy. Given that the Kairos Palestine document was recommended for a two year study in 2010 by the GA but never approved, by taking no action to authorize further study or endorse Kairos, the document no longer has official status in the PCUSA. 

At the Episcopal General Conference, the Episcopalians explicitly refused to endorse either Kairos Palestine or the film Steadfast Hope (originally created by the Israel Palestine Mission Network in the PCUSA). Both identify Israel as the underlying problem in Middle East peacemaking and favor a boycott, divest and sanction strategy aimed at Israel.

The failure of Kairos Palestine in both denominations reflects a majority view in both denominations that labeling Israel as the underlying culprit in the MIddle East does not match facts on the ground. Kairos Palestine claims that if the occupation were to end, peace would immediately blossom in the Middle East. Such claims contradict Israel’s experience when it has left Gaza and territory in Lebanon only to see them become rocket launching bases of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Presbyterians for MIddle East Peace has two goals going forward. First, we will do all we can to make positive investment for peace a reality. A strong effort in this direction is already underway at Auburn Theological Seminary, and we will do all we can to expand and advance these important initiatives. We will be reporting on this progress regularly. Secondly, we will work to better educate Presbyterians of the threats to a just peace that movements like BDS represent. There is a right way to realistically advance peace between Palestinians and Israelis, and there are also, unfortunately, wrong and misguided suggestions like BDS.  The 220th General Assembly chose the right path to peace.