Do you really want to know what happened at the just-concluded 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian U.S.A. denomination?
As a veteran watcher of Protestant church political struggles, I urge you to remember that neither the cross nor the crown are free of an eagerness to grasp deliberate obfuscation in struggling to win each political battle.
The presumed “winners”, the anti-divestment forces, operated with a strategy that set up a “stalking horse” to enter the field of battle.
Faced with the huge problem of how to persuade delegates to vote against basic human rights for Palestinians living under occupation, the anti-divesment forces created a “stalking horse” of “investments that will benefit Palestinians”.
Seriously, that is what they put forward. Bring American money into the prisons that are the West Bank and Gaza. This will make life a little easier for the prisoners, extra deserts for lunch, you know, that sort of thing.
So it was that the battle was joined, investment, a positive sounding action for those who worship the market, versus divestment, a negative sounding word because it is a non-violent action that goes to the heart of the sin of occupation.
The anti-divestment leaders at Pittsburgh had to avoid letting three U.S.corporations–Caterpillar,Motorola Systems and Hewlett-Packard–become targets of church censure through church divestment.
The church leaders who have great respect for corporate America are motivated in part, by the wisdom of Willie Sutton, who once said, “I rob banks because that’s where the money is”.
Maintaining harmony with local rabbis is one of those motherhood and apple pie certainties.
The violation of the human rights of an entire population, versus harmony with one’s neighbors, is not a case you want to have to make. Turns out, however, a factor working for the pro-harmony forces at Pittsburgh was the mindset of American voters, religious and secular.
Harmony promoters had a huge advantage. They were dealing with voters who are conditioned to believe what they see in the movies. What the American movie-going public has seen of Arabs since the movies were born, is a steady stream of anti-Arab propaganda, from the mysterious wealthy sheiks to the more recent linking of “terrorists” with Muslims.
Jack Shaheen (pictured here) has documented this phenomenon is a remarkable series of books, the best known of which is his marvelously titled, Reel Bad Arabs.
Shaheen’s influence extends beyond his lectures and books. He was a consultant on two Hollywood films which broke from the anti-Arab pattern which Shaheen has documented in most Hollywood fare.
Shaheen, whose family is from Lebanon, has been a lone voice in American film criticism and scholarship fighting against the negative connotations of Arabs in American culture.
Pro-Palestinian forces at Pittsburgh were fighting an uphill struggle to win support for divestment from Presbyterian delegates who had been shaped from childhood to think that Muslims are simply not “one of us”, a false representation which is easily exploited by political strategists, both religious and secular.
Think, for example of the “search” for Barack Obama’s birth certificate.
Which brings us to the remarkable chain of events that transpired during this year’s 220th General Assembly when.
What happened, as one Presbyterian participant explained, was “complicated”.
The Associated Press described the key GA vote this way:
By a razor-thin margin, the largest Presbyterian group in the United States rejected a proposal Thursday to divest from three companies that do business with Israel. Pro-Palestinian advocates vowed to try again.
The Presbyterian General Assembly voted 333-331, with two abstentions, to reject the divestment plan. A second vote instead affirmed a policy of investment in support of peace in Israel and the Palestinian territories. That proposal passed by a much wider margin, 369-290 with eight abstentions.
This was the AP story used by ABC News. AP gives the anti-divestment spin with this incorrect description of what was in the resolution, “to divest from three companies that do business with Israel”, dropping the major point of contention.
The resolution was not directed against all companies that do “business with Israel”. It was aimed at three companies that directly support Israel’s occupation, a fact which AP did not include in its story.
The AP story also says nothing about the occupation. Israel does not like to call what they do an “occupation”.
This, of course, is what leads to bloggers like Robert Naiman, who works as policy director for Just Foreign Policy, a progressive web site, to give us his version of how the anti-divestment spin is so totally shaped by the Israeli narrative.
The headline in his Huffington Post blog says it all: “Likudniks Losing Middle America”. Naiman explains:
“No doubt many among what Peter Beinart calls “the American Jewish establishment” celebrated the result. They had pulled out the stops to block the Presbyterians’ selective divestment move. 1300 rabbis and 22,000 other Jews wrote to the Presbyterians, falsely seeking to characterize the proposed move as “the use of economic leverages against the Jewish state.”
Yet as The Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the PCUSA General Assembly, explained in the Washington Post, the resolution was opposed to specific actions of particular companies linked to the occupation, leaving investments in many other companies doing business in Israel untouched. And therefore, claims that the Presbyterians were contemplating “divesting from Israel” or “boycotting Israel” were disinformation; disinformation that, in the short-run, may have proved successful.
But as the Sergeant said to the Pirate King [in The Pirates of Penzance],
‘To gain a brief advantage you’ve contrived/But your proud triumph will not be long-lived.’”
The fact that the “American Jewish establishment” could only muster a two-vote majority at the PCUSA General Assembly shows what the future holds for the Likudniks if they do not change their policies towards the Palestinians.
“Losing Middle America” is not the way Israel wants the GA Assembly story to read. Little of that sentiment is found in the main stream U.S. media.
As one astute veteran of General Assembly politics observed, there really was no vote on the majority report that came before the General Assembly. The 333-331 vote was on the minority report.
The leaders of the pro-investment forces at the GA succeeded in technically refusing to allow a debate on the majority report by substituting the minority motion for “positive investment”, a term favored by the anti-divestment forces.
To gain a brief advantage you’ve contrived,
But your proud triumph will not be long-lived.The picture above is from the 220th General Assembly