the 221st General Assembly

Posts tagged ‘BDS’

Palestine News Network lists PC(USA) divestment among bds achievements in 2014


In its roundup of BDS achievements for 2014, the Palestine News Network lists the Presbyterian divestment decision:

Years of grassroots organising pays off as the Presbyterian Church (USA) general assembly in Detroit votes to divest its holdings from three US corporations – Hewlett Packard (HP), Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar – on the basis of their well-documented record of complicity in the oppression and denial of human rights of Palestinians.

The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions National Committee “warmly thanks each and every person who supported and contributed to the BDS movement this year.

Contrast this with the language inserted into the PC(USA)’s divestment decision:

“This action on divestment is not to be construed or represented … as … an alignment with or endorsement of the global BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement.”

And with Moderator Heath Rada’s comforting assurance:

“In no way is this a reflection for our lack of love for our Jewish sisters and brothers.”

Your fig leaf is slipping.  The world outside the peculiar atmosphere of the 221st General Assembly Meeting last June had absolutely no illusions about the action.  Most of the assembled commissioners had no illusions about the action.  Some lied about it; others lied to themselves about it.  But most understood the reality.

You cannot be a little BDS.  As an entity, the PC(USA) has endorsed (selective) boycotts, (selective) divestment, and (selective) sanctions.  Oddly enough, that sounds eerily reminiscent of some global movement of some sort.  As an entity, the PC(USA) has used resources at its deliberative assembly that are affiliated with just such a global movement.  As an entity, the PC(USA) has promoted resources for congregations, for Presbyterians, and others that have at times employed overtly antisemitic language.

Sure, there have always been reasons given why it wasn’t to be construed that way.  Sure, there have always been denials of responsibility for the more inflammatory materials.  But these also seem to ring hollow.

Aside

GA221 Moderator Rada on CNN


CNN interviewed Dr. Heath Rada, the moderator of the 221st General Assembly along with Rabbi Rick Jacobs president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

Moderator Rada seemed to have great difficulty parsing the decisions of the GA.

Watch the interview here.

PCUSA GA221 BDS action applauded by David Duke


Wow.  Just wow.

We’ve heard from so many commissioners at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s 221st General Assembly (and their apologists) about how their actions were not related to the global BDS movement.  (I’m convinced the assertion is insupportable – as I detail here.)  We’ve also heard how these actions came from a place of love.

The sad part is, many (though by no means all) of the ones saying this actually somehow make themselves believe it is true.

I suggest they read this.  It is an announcement on DavidDuke.com

It is titled “Victory! Presbyterian Votes Israeli Divestment!”

And it contains a couple of very interesting assertions:

[W]e heard from friends at the Presbyterian Church national meeting who told us that they were victorious … the Church voted to divest from companies doing business in the brutally occupied West Bank.

And

“The [sic] tried to threaten the voters by saying that “David Duke” supports this policy and that the Church will get a bad name by supporting something that Dr.Duke has been tied to in the media,” Said Melissa Anderson who was there with close friends who voted on the divestment. “But, people are just not listening to the Jewish racist threats anymore, they are starting to stand up for real justice.”

And it conveys a statement from Dr. Duke congratulating the Presbyterian Church “for standing up to Jewish racism and supremacism!”

 

You must be so proud.

Yep … No doubt, it was entirely unforeseen that people would interpret your acts as anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.  No doubt, you couldn’t be more surprised and distressed because you’re so full of love.

Presbyterian BDS: What you want is irrelevant, what you have chosen is at hand


When the gavel fell, the 221st General Assembly officially concluded, the commissioners began to make their ways home, and the Committee On Local Arrangements was left to clean up the details, the official PC(USA) was firmly aligned with the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. This is not really arguable in any credible way.

Now I realize this assessment will be met with protests of commissioners, of many institutional Presbyterians, and quite a few local Presbyterians. I also realize many of those protests will be offered with sincerity, honesty, and confidence. But they will be mistaken.

The language of Item 04-04 – the divestment measure, reflects the desire of commissioners to avoid association with the global BDS movement.

For example, it begins with this:

“The PC(USA) has a long standing commitment to peace in Israel and Palestine. We recognize the complexity of the issues, the decades-long struggle, the pain suffered and inflicted by policies and practices of both the Israeli government and Palestinian entities. We further acknowledge and confess our own complicity in both the historic and current suffering of Israeli and Palestinian yearning for justice and reconciliation…” [sic]

For some inscrutable reason, the text falls off into tortured grammar here. And while it might be possible to discern commissioner intent, it is really rather nonsensical. Nonetheless, it is pretty clear that the ‘prologue’ is designed to indicate that Presbyterians are really swell people who really get the complexity of the issue and mean nothing but good for everybody concerned.

Next, commissioners generously reaffirm Israel’s right to exist … not so much as a Jewish state, but something.

Then they declare their commitment to a two-state solution.

But the real clincher … the proof that their BDS is nothing at all like global BDS lies in the same paragraph as their divestment instruction:

“This action on divestment is not to be construed or represented by any organization of the PC(USA) as divestment from the State of Israel, or an alignment with or endorsement of the global BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement.”

So there you have it … Nothing to see here, folks … This is not BDS … We’re doing this out of love ….

Some of their words might sound good. Some of them might sound kind. Some of them might sound vaguely Christian – and I have no doubt they want their “stand” to be genuinely good.

There’s only one tiny, little problem: their actions.

What General Assembly Commissioners, what Presbyterian officials, what naïve supporters want is irrelevant. What they have chosen is at hand.

Let’s look at that.

1. First there is divestment itself. Contrary to popular myth, the companies selected for this special treatment (Caterpillar, Motorola, Hewlett Packard) were not chosen at random. They were already targets of a then embryonic BDS movement. Anyone who has paid any attention at all to the BDS movement knows their campaigns specifically targeting these companies. If there was some other method, some other rubric the MRTI applied to evaluate the then current and potential holdings of the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation, it has not been revealed. How then did they zero in on these particular companies? Ecumenical partners? Well some of these are the very BDS activists who issued the Amman Call [The PC(USA) commended this call for BDS in 2008.] and the Kairos Palestine document [the PC(USA) endorsed elements of this in 2010].

Committee 4 (essentially a sub-committee of the GA) that evaluated the proposed divestment recommendation and endorsed it, was staffed with resource people who offered one perspective only. I mean here, specifically, an anti-Israel perspective. Interestingly Rifat Kassis spoke to both this committee and the General Assembly as a whole. Mr. Kassis is coordinator of Kairos Palestine; he has publicly endorsed a total boycott of Israel.

Anna Baltzer, national organizer for the BDS US Campaign to End the Occupation said this prior to the General Assembly:

…Inspired by our Presbyterian friends an [sic] allies, the US Campaign is mobilizing around the clock before and at the votes — everying [sic] from organizing outreach to decision makers to testifying in committee as an official resource expert.”

Pro-BDS former Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase spoke to the committee for half an hour. He was the moderator of GA 216 that first approved divestment in 2004.

More than one commissioners from Committee 4 expressed concern on the floor of the General Assembly plenary about the lack of balance in information available to the committee. From beginning to end, the divestment action has the fingerprints of the global BDS movement all over it.

2. Second, the 221st General Assembly of the PC(USA) took conflicting, inconsistent, and self-contradictory actions. And their actions were more telling than their words.

While voting to assure the world of their commitment to a two-state solution, this same General Assembly also voted to initiate a study on whether the PC(USA) should continue to support a two-state solution. It put this study in the hands of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy – a permanent committee of the General Assembly whose record of anti-Israel animus is well-documented. This GA also insisted that the ACSWP use horribly flawed and inaccurate materials and consult with the IPMN (an unspecified, but the only relevant mission network) and the National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus. After Zionism Unsettled, the involvement of the IPMN in ANY study that concerns Israel should set off alarm bells even for the harshest Presbyterian critics of Israel.

This GA voted to assert that Zionism Unsettled – a resource endorsed by, among others, David Duke – did not reflect the views of the PC(USA), but it also voted to have the PC(USA) continue to distribute it.

This GA also voted to affirm “Occupation Free Investment in Palestine”. It commended the efforts of the pro-BDS Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s efforts to “excludes any investment in enterprises that benefit financially from the operations of the occupation, including the expansion of settlements.”

Yes, this GA rejected the proposal “On Distinguishing Between Biblical Terms for Israel and Those Applied to the Modern Political State of Israel in Christian Liturgy”; but it insisted on adding a cryptic comment:

[W]e take the matter of language, and specifically the tension around the use of the term “Israel,” very seriously. We hope the discussion and education about the use of language continues.

Though it may be self-evident to commissioners, it causes others to wonder exactly what they are saying here. What is the nature of the distinction they wish to make, and what exactly are they trying to educate people about? One likely interpretation of this is that it is an attempt to cut the Jewish people off from their biblical heritage. Given the comments of some Presbyterian activists on the subject, it would not be unreasonable to assume that hateful meaning.

3. Third, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is not just divesting. It is already on the record as boycotting “all Israeli products coming from the occupied Palestinian Territories, including AHAVA Dead Sea Laboratories Beauty Products and all date products of Hadiklaim, The Israel Date Growers Co-Operative Ltd, often marked by the brand names: King Solomon Dates and Jordan River (not Israeli products from Israel.)” It has already “called on [its ecumenical partners] to join in the boycott.”

When the PC(USA) has called “upon all nations to prohibit the import of products made by enterprises in Israeli settlements on Palestinian land”, or when it has called upon conditioning US funding of Israel to various behaviors of Israel, it has been calling for sanctions.

The bottom line here is that any claim that divesting from companies chosen by BDS activists, boycotting products chosen by BDS activists, using BDS activists as resource persons in the committee which considered the divestment proposition – as if they were unbiased and credible sources of information, commending the Occupation Free Fund and other more stringent divestment vehicles, calling for sanctions … has every bit as much credibility as sentences that begin, “I’m not a racist, but ….”

Yes, I know this is not what the 221st General Assembly of the PC(USA) wants, but it is what it has chosen.

 

Reflections on the PCUSA GA221


 Over the next couple of days I’m going to address what just happened at the PC(USA)’s 221st General Assembly in Detroit.

I’m a sucker for quotes – a personality quirk.

As I was considering the events of the PC(USA)’s 221st General Assembly while the smoke clears, several quotes leapt to my mind:

“All the king’s horses, and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

“Only ignorance! only ignorance! how can you talk about only ignorance? Don’t you know that it is the worst thing in the world, next to wickedness? — and which does the most mischief heaven only knows.” – from Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty

“I don’t hold jail against a man, but I hate a liar.” – Will Anderson (John Wayne) in the Cowboys

There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of men for this treachery.” – from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers

But two quotations stood out as apt reflections of my thoughts on the assembly: “What you want is irrelevant, what you have chosen is at hand.” – Spock to Valeris in Star Trek VI; and, “The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” – from 2 Peter 2:22.

My next two posts will address each of these quotes.

 

Aside

And Now for Something Completely Unexpected


The New York Times is already reporting the PC(USA)’s choice for divestment as part of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement.

Commissioners tried very hard to pretend that they could be D supporters without the BS.  Doesn’t work that way.

 

UPDATE:  AP articles are reporting it the same way – as BDS.  [Seems reasonable to me … just saying…]

PCUSA Divests by Seven Votes


Moderator Rada insists, “In no way is this a reflection of our lack of love for our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

I’m sure that means a lot.

Of course, the moderator is now agreeing that divestment “affirms our Palestinian friends And our Jewish friends”.

And can’t Presbyterians feel so good about themselves now that they’re so affirming?

I have no words.  Tomorrow I will feel pity for the PC(USA) as a whole.

It is done.

Aside

A Modest Proposal


Now the PC(USA) 221st GA committee considering “Middle East Issues” is debating a boycott of HP products.

Here’s a thought – why not designate all the companies you wish to blacklist with a yellow, six-pointed star?  Think of how much time that would save the faithful …

 

UPDATE 1:  They did not recommend the boycott.

UPDATE 2:  Now they’re reconsidering Presbyterian support for a two-state solution.  This has always been tepid at best ….

Committee Recommends Divestment


The PC(USA) General Assembly committee considering “Middle East Issues” voted to recommend divestment.

I understand the vote was 45 to 20.

Oooh they their parents must be so proud.

 

For clarity:  this is not the GA’s final word on the subject.  It must still pass the vote by the whole assembly later in the week.

 

How unfortunate for Presbyterians that stupidity has taken the place of ethical and moral witness.

 

Aside

Silence


It is probably not a good sign when repeat Dexter episodes are both more appealing and more uplifting than the PC(USA)’s 221st General Assembly.

I have been silent for the most part this time around.  This a partly a product of personal factors.  But it is mostly a function of my desire not to discourage those Presbyterians and others who are fighting for fairness and to avoid PC(USA) antisemitism – whatever I might think of their prospects.

The fact remains that the arguments being offered for divestment and other actions are basically either daft, facile, dishonest, or don’t follow logically.  The fact remains that commissioners are likely – as they have been in each GA from 2008 on – to give these arguments far more credence than they deserve.  Fairness has lost ground at each assembly – in part because commissioners tried to ‘split the difference’, in part because commissioners tried to oversimplify the situation (and the entire debate), in part because commissioners overestimated their own competence and importance, and in part because the process is immorally skewed by many officials and permanent committees within the PC(USA)’s corporate organization.

This year, it seems, the arguments boil down to … “Do justice …”, “Jewish feelings versus Palestinian suffering and oh so objective Presbyterian facts…”, “Desmond Tutu is for BDS so we should be too…”.  All of these have in common a reliance on official and unofficial PC(USA) false information about the situation on the ground, about the nature of divestment, about the global BDS movement, about the actions of Israelis, about the actions of Palestinians, about the placement of blame.  The basis is unbalanced.  It cannot yield an accurate, moral, or ethical result.  Period.

If you want to have this discussion, you need to actually present the facts … all the facts, and you need to actually listen to the many perspectives – not hold a Presbyterian Passion Play every two years with good Jewish villains and innocent victims.

Be that as it may, the fact is, I have expected this GA to do something shameful – to continue the trend since 2008 – perhaps divest, perhaps do something equal offensive. And since that expectation is discouraging to those who are trying to help, I have remained rather quiet.

Will Spotts

 

 

Balance, Bias, and other Four Letter Words


In defending his trademark diet from criticisms that it was unbalanced, Dr. Atkins argued that the proper corrective for an existing imbalance was imbalance.

He may have been right … or not, but the premise has some merit.

One of my chief concerns with Presbyterian activism and advocacy about Israelis and Palestinians – for as long as I have observed it – has been that it is one-sided; that it is not balanced.  A few months ago I watched a live stream of the Evangelicals for Social Action’s Impact Holy Land Conference.  One of the speakers asserted that, when talking about the Holy Land, balance should be a four letter word.

I was kind of taken aback by this claim.  I was familiar with it, of course, because the same assertion has been made in various PC(USA) contexts.  Usually this was a bromide offered as a rebuttal to charges of a lack of balance in PC(USA) materials on Palestinian and Israeli issues.  Most luminaries did not attempt to deny that there was an imbalance – because such a denial would rightly be met with laughter.  But the general thinking was that imbalance was justified.

So is it?  Should balance be a four letter word to Presbyterians? (more…)

The Same Old Song and Dance, my Friend


When it comes to Presbyterian Middle East policy decisions, not much changes.

Sure, faces and names change: since the 2004 divestment decision, the PC(USA) has a different stated clerk, a different moderator of the General Assembly, a different executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency – in fact, in 2004, the PMA was called the General Assembly Council (GAC) – then it was the General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC), a different coordinator for the Advisory Council for Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), different members for these committees or boards.

Sure, specific emphases change to reflect both facts on the ground in the Middle East and advocacy trends and fashions.

But the central issues remain the same. Indeed the concerns, problems, emphases, and thrusts of PC(USA) policy – especially on Israel and Palestine – has not changed one bit in all the time I’ve observed it. No General Assembly has altered this. (Arguably, the 216th General Assembly in Birmingham in 2006 intended to do so; but if that was its intent – as I believe can be clearly demonstrated – it failed to give its actions enough force make a difference. Among other things, there were no consequences for committees, agencies, networks, employees of the PC(USA) failures to comply with GA instructions.)

The takeaway here: when it comes to PC(USA) Middle East policy decisions, we are in essentially the same place at the beginning of the 2004 General Assembly. Ten years of polity wrangling, of excessive spin, of cosmetic adjustments, of argument – in some rare cases, reasoned argument, have still left the same basic problems and questions unanswered in any meaningful or satisfactory way. (more…)

It’s That Time Again


In even numbered years in spring, I find myself getting sucked in to all the drama which is the PC(USA)’s General Assembly. This year, it is slated to take place in Detroit from June 14 through June 21.

To get an idea of both the ‘official’ tasks and scheduled activites, check out the docket and schedule. As in past years, specific business items can be found on the pc-biz site. PC-Biz is the best place to follow the items commissioners will consider.

In anticipation of a busy GA season, I am in the process of reorganizing this blog. The menu items that appear at the top of this page provide links to 2014 issues, to commentary on past general assemblies in 2012 and 2010, to a few older posts from between 2005 and 2009, to the Bearing Witness website (run by Jon Haber), and to my (new) other blog. (Surprisingly enough, it is a blog about other topics.) (more…)

Where to Now St. Peter?


In Pittsburgh, the smoke clears, and the dust settles. The PC(USA) has emerged from its 220th General Assembly, having received its due flurry of media attention. Now the denomination, like a groundhog that’s seen its shadow, will recede from public notice and go about business of its own. A fair number of members and attenders of Presbyterian churches around the country remain unaware that anything even took place. At most, they will eventually receive a summary of the points someone, somewhere considers noteworthy. Observers are unlikely to get a clear picture of events.

What just happened? What does it mean really? What road is the PC(USA) on now? How do you even evaluate a General Assembly?

Is it like American Idol? “This assembly was in it to win it”. “What we really love about you is that you stay true to yourself.” “It was a bit pitchy for me.” “That was like really bad karaoke.” “It was appalling.” Will Americans have an opportunity to call in and vote? (more…)

Consolation Prizes


The overture to boycott all products produced by Jews in the West Bank passed.

Of course, the effects of this will be minimal – relatively few Presbyterians are aware of or participate in denominational boycotts.

 

Tag Cloud

%d bloggers like this: