I take an extraordinary step in writing this blog post today, as I usually refrain from usual labor/work activities on the Shabbat. But the divestment vote taken yesterday at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA has affected me deeply.
If you had not yet known, the delegates to the national Presbyterian meeting in Detroit voted 310 to 303 to remove $21 million of investments in Hewlett-Packard, Motorola Solutions, and Caterpillar from their investments. According to the Presbyterians, these companies profit from the continued occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and the Church has now deemed that it does not want such investments in their securities portfolio.
At Presbyterian meetings over the last 10 years, similar motions have been brought to the floor and have been defeated, but by continually dwindling vote margins. The success of this vote yesterday is not shocking, but extremely disappointing.
Even more hurtful is the disingenuousness of the language of the motion that passed the assembly. According to the NYTimes (click here), the Presbyterian measure stressed that it is “not to be construed” as in “alignment with or endorsement of the global B.D.S. [boycott, divestment and sanctions]” movement by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). According to the church’s website, “After the vote, the assembly’s moderator told a hushed auditorium ‘To our media friends in the room, please don’t report that this action is anything other than an expression of love for both our Jewish and Palestinian brothers and sisters.’” (You can read more about the Presbyterian vote and see some comments of the delegates by clicking here.)
I think we’ve been loved like this before, and it has not ended up well.
Regardless of the Presbyterians’ protestations to the contrary, I believe the vote and subsequent actions of the Presbyterian Church will add fuel as well as momentum to the international BDS movement. The sad irony is that such actions generally have had the effect of strengthening Israel’s resolve to do solely what it believes is best for its national security. Nothing the Presbyterians did in Detroit will serve to advance their goals in this regard.
This move has the potential also to drive a sharp wedge between friends who have, for many years, together sought a peaceful solution to the conflicts of the Middle East. I pray that this will not be the case. And I pledge, in my corner of Wisconsin, not to allow this vote to hinder the important work of peacemaking that could involve our local Presbyterian friends.
Two days before the June 14 start of the assembly, I met with two delegates from the Presbytery in which we find ourselves. This was a very cordial and frank meeting, where I had hoped to express my fears, my concerns, and my suggestions for alternatives to a divestment vote. I so much appreciated their willingness to meet and hear my side. And I believe they felt my sincerity and my apprehension. And immediately after the vote, I received an email message from one of these delegates, hoping to meet upon their return and continue our dialogue on these crucial questions. I am sure we will pursue our conversations, and I know that we will pursue peace, as difficult as this now will be.
I hope I have your support to pursue peace even when it is most difficult. For if we do this in our corner of the world, perhaps others will perceive our efforts, and similarly make the moves necessary for peaceful solutions to our problems.