the 221st General Assembly

Posts tagged ‘PC(USA) divestment’

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

We’re Up


The General Assembly is now considering Middle East Issues.

If you’re interested, you can follow it live here.

Update on PC(USA) Support for Two State Solution


It seems Committee 4 passed item 04-01 “On Reviewing General Assembly Policy Regarding the Two-State Solution in Israel Palestine” without any amendment or alteration.

Of course, this is not an outright rejection of a two-state solution; it only calls for a reconsideration.  If it passes the plenary, it will still not be “acted upon” until the next General Assembly in 2016.

Given the records of the people specifically tasked with this project, I can only say with absolute certainty that it will be bad for Israel.

Perhaps members of Committee 4 were very naive; perhaps they meant well.  (For example, someone said that all 8 YAADs supported divestment …) It doesn’t matter really – we only have their results to look at.  And these are pretty much uniformly bad.  Uniformly unfair – they do not take into account legitimate perspectives that don’t follow their basic narrative.  Uniformly dishonest – they spring from dishonest sources, and they foster continued fictions.  Uniformly unhelpful – nothing in this committees recommendations, if taken, will in any possible way increase the likelihood of peace or bring any conceivable benefit to any Palestinian or Israeli – with the possible exception of a tiny handful of professional activists.

 

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…)

Presbyterians Are Moving Up in the World


The PC(USA) has finally arrived. Proposed Presbyterian policies are getting celebrity endorsements. And I don’t mean boring celebrities, or celebrities within specific constituencies of the church. Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters has endorsed the divestment action proposed by the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee (MRTI) and the General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC).

And a number of pro-divestment Presbyterians “rejoiced with exceeding great joy”.

At last, Presbyterians can once again start getting invites to the good parties. The cool kids will finally flock to our churches. The days of trying to rationalize 45 years of membership declines are coming to an end. We’re crossing the Jordan ….

But I would caution commissioners: maybe you shouldn’t just jump on the bandwagon of the first celebrity to look your way. Maybe you should find out what OTHER celebrities think about divestment. You don’t have to decide anything today. You’ve got to the end of the plenary after all. Even Committee 15 members have until tomorrow night before the have to make a decision – regardless of their posted schedule.

Why not conduct an emergency straw poll of celebrities to see where they stand. I mean, God forbid you get stuck with a bunch of B-listers. I’m sure some of the better tabloids would be willing to help in this crisis.

All kidding aside, I don’t generally fault Waters – or any celebrity for having an opinion and for expressing it. But I do fault people for giving more weight to celebrity opinions than they do to others. Yes, celebrities do have a certain platform – they have a fan base. But their opinions are no more likely to be right than the opinions of anyone else. It would be the height of stupidity not to treat ideas and proposals on their own merits.

Additionally, I am a little concerned that the PC(USA)’s anti-Israel proposals, rather than being about justice or peace or truth or God, are more about political fashion. There are three possibilities only: 1. The church has something to offer the world different from the world. 2. The church takes its cues from the world – and is basically kind of an appendix. 3. Neither the church or the world has any more or less likelihood of being right. Judging solely by the proposals coming to the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), I’m not seeing very much of option #1.

 

Will Spotts

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