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.
Check out two of the films on which Shaheen consulted, Syriana and Three Kings, both of which show Arabs as fully human.
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
Thanks for this, Jim. That same horse stalked our UM General Conference. It sounds so good, “positive investment.” It salves the consciences of those who fear hard choices and losing false friends. The PCUSA General Assembly and our own UM General Conference votes illustrate what Jesus said about the narrow (hard) road/choice leading to life, while the wide road/choice leads to destruction.This is a situation where making the hard choice could have led to life by putting strong winds behind legislators and others who might speak out if supported– but the churches instead chose the wide, easy road–which will lead to further death and destruction and that, sadly, also condemn the churches to the disdain of anyone who understands what is really going on in Palestine/Israel.
Israel threatened that a vote for divestment would damage Jewish-Christian relations. Ironically, the Presbyterian vote came on the same day as a news report that UNESCO had declared the Church of the Nativity a world heritage site and both the U.S. and Israel objected. What rationale does the U.S. give for opposing protection of this church?
Preventing the direct debate on divestment demonstrates the weak position of those choosing moral cowardice. Opponents of the minority report had by far the strongest arguments, which would have been difficult to reject in support of divestment without embarrassment. Had even the minority report discussion been structured as a real debate it would have been no contest, especially the reminder that Jesus made no accommodation to the Pharisees. I would have added that the Pharisees were committing no criminal acts that remotely compare with those of Israel.
It is very important that any “Positive investments” be tracked. Experience in the past has shown that Israel makes money off of these types of investments in Palestinians by taxes, reqirements to use Israeli eqiptment etc.
Rev. Dr. Betty Jane Bailey
Wow. You can tell that our bds team really lost by how bitter you are. Tone it down dude. This doesn’t help us.
I would like to see the proceedings in Pittsburgh in a positive light, but I find that impossible when one looks at developments both in the Middle East and the US over the last sixty odd years and the increasing unlikeliness of any just resolution to the Palestinians’ struggle for justice. This statement by James Wall sums up the argument from my prospective.:
“The church leaders who have great respect for corporate America are motivated in part, by the wisdom of Willie Sutton, who once said, ‘ rob banks because that’s where the money is”.
“Maintaining harmony with local rabbis is one of those motherhood and apple pie certainties.”
In so many words, what he is referring to is the long history of Jewish philanthropy to non-Jewish religious institutions which for some years now has been deftly employed not for the benefit of those institutions but to intimidate those that would take a position critical of Israel. In being on the “receiving” end of this, the Presbyterian Assembly is far from alone. Black churches, whose constituencies one would think have more in common with Palestinians than Israelis, are afraid to even make an attempt at divestment from Israel, let alone criticize it actions, knowing that to do so would place in jeprdy critical Jewish funding.
This is why, with but a handful of exceptions, they remained silent as Israel provided arms to apartheid South Africa (and were joined in doing so by the Congressional Black Caucus!) and most recently, have ignored the pogroms in Israel against black African immigrants and Israel’s decision to either deport them or imprison them in “detention” camps.
That’s the context of that 333 to 331 vote. The support for divestment was indeed impressive but it will mean nothing if further action must wait until the next assembly.
You can participate in positive investment in Palestine by contributing to the Seraj Library Project. Go to http://www.serajlibrary.org for details.–Colleen
I wonder how the vote would have come out if Israel’s plans to build a military college on the Mount of Olives had circulated at the conference. News reports state that this project will offend the religious sensibilities of all three of the Abrahamic faiths.
Thanks, Jim, for looking at this vote from different perspectives. Since I experienced PERSONALLY the situation by traveling with a group called MEDJI which leads dual-narratives tours to Israel, I would say that those who voted anti-divestment have probably not seen/experienced the honest, day-to-day life situations of Palestinians. Once you’re ‘on the ground’ and see and hear the life stories of ‘occupation’, it’s hard to NOT do something to address the underlying issues. It’s a long journey and let’s not grow weary of addressing the injustices.
In the case of the Middle East, divestment is a flawed strategy. When M.L. King Jr. proposed the Montgomery bus boycott, he knew that if blacks didn’t ride buses, they couldn’t buy Easter clothing and that would hurt the town’s white power structure. In Montgomery, a boycott strategy made sense. If we stop sending Caterpillar bulldozers to Israel, the Israelis will simply buy Japanese equipment and to keep the occupation going. Cat knows this; most Presbyterians know this. Why MRTI can’t figure this out is anybody’s guess. Wake up, folks. If we want change in the Middle East, we need something besides divestment.
Divestment won’t change anything in the Middle East. Even proponents admitted that. It’s a futile gesture and a flawed strategy. Why is MRTI so focused on Caterpillar? It reminds me of the lunch line at the school where the principal had hung a sign over the basket of apples. “Take only one apple,” it said. “God is watching.” At the end of the line there was a stack of brownies. A student had left a sign there that said, “Take as many brownies as you wish. God is watching the apples.” Will MRTI ever admit that the situation in the Middle East cannot be solved by targeting only a few products that are used there?
James M. Wall fails to observe that US foreign policy in the Middle East will not be significantly changed until American citizens of all religions and none can engage in constructive discussion & debate about failures in our policy & how our nation should engage all governments on new terms in a region experiencing radical transitions (Egypt, Syria, Libya, Tunisia, etc). Wall’s rhetoric does not contribute to making that critical discussion & debate possible. Rather it alienates even some of us who work and pray for greater justice and security for all in the Middle East. I encourage Sabeel’s leaders in Jerusalem & N. America to find wiser spokespersons whose editorials may create occasions for more Americans to engage the necessary discussion & debate.
I agree that divestment, at best, which would include all Israeli products,will not bring Israel and its domestic supporters and lobbyists to heel, and the timid way it has been approached in the US by religious and secular based organizations has yet to produce any measurable success.
The reality is that most Americans who don’t have a vested interest in the conflict have been shown to have no interest in resolving it but they would have an interest in where their money was going and what institutions and organizations were primarily engaged in promoting the interests of a foreign government with whom, apart from ethnic cleansing an indigenous population, we have very little in common.
It is the latter, which is referred to commonly as the pro-Israel Lobby that distorted the voting process at the PC USA assembly as it has the US Congress which routinely ratifies by almost unanimous votes on any piece of pro-Israel legislation that is passed on it by AIPAC. Which is why we are on the threshold of another war. That both houses of Congress gave Israeli PM Netanyahu 29 standing ovations in 2011, three days after he had publicly dressed down the POTUS as if he was an errant schoolboy should go down as one of the most distasteful events in US history and would if most of the American people knew about it.
But they don’t because people who know better are afraid of talking about it and other transgressions by the Lobby and its lackeys lest they be called “anti-Semites.” In other words, the occupation that we need to address first is that of Washington by Israel and its American agents who seem hell bent on destroying what little is left of American democracy. And let them call us all the names they want. They are swiftly losing their meaning. Plus, justice is on our side.
No, BDS won’t solve the I/P conflict, nor end the shameful occupation. Its fundamental benefit is to bring focus to educating westerners on the evil and racism behind the oppression of Palestinians, whose crime is being dubbed by Israeli law as “non-Jews” and so treated. And so, in the churches, it offers Christians the opportunity to make an informed moral choice.
Thus I observe that the rather American language of “win/lose” is misguided. The latter — typically American, as heard in reference to your elections, your wars, and even intellectual debates — falsely represents all of this as contests rather than what they are. Anytime a debate occurs such as that in PCUSA , many are educated and it is a win for truth, thus mooting the win/lose language.
not of the USA
Wonderful article! Straight on. Thanks Jim.
The “constructive”, “critical”, “necessary” discussion and debate repetitiously called for and presently found lacking by letter-writer Cathey has been engaged in and enabled for many decades thanks to the dedication, tenacity, courage, insight and intelligence of the James Walls of this country. I find Mr. Cathey’s criticism a sophomoric disconnection from reality.
The Zionists didn’t go to the wall on this because it makes no difference. Selling Caterpillar stock will have no direct economic effect, and it won’t stop Israel from buying bulldozers elsewhere, or just blowing people’s house up with explosives. But then the power of the little kid shouting that the emperor has no clothes is not in direct political or economic impact. It’s a big deal for Israel and its actions to be rightly named, from which all else will follow. We need not despise the day of small things, because as John the apostle taught in 1 John 1, telling the truth about things is most of the job.
If “selling Caterpillar stock will have no direct economic effect, and it won’t stop Israel from buying bulldozers elsewhere, or just blowing people’s house up with explosives,” then why target Caterpillar? I still don’t get it. Target what OUGHT to be targeted for crying out loud.
The IPMN support disinvestment as a way “to limit their activities in the region to peaceful pursuits… Companies are asked to ‘refrain from allowing their products or services to support:… construction and maintenance of settlements… All three companies are profiting from involvement in non‐peaceful pursuits,’”
To look at two of the companies targeted, Motorola Solutions is charged with making motion-detection systems used to protect settlements, and Hewlett Packard markets biometric technology that gathers data at checkpoints. The first thing to note is that neither of these activities are violent. Both are in fact used to protect Israeli civilians from violence. Protecting Jewish civilians is a “non-peaceful” pursuit?
How do we respond?
Motorola first. Simple question. What is immoral with providing passive surveillance to settlements? Do settlers, including the children, deserve the death penalty? The Fogel family (including three children) were murdered by Palestinians who got onto their settlement undetected. If their settlement had had a better surveillance system, maybe they would be alive today. How is providing passive surveillance to protect civilians immoral? A recent poll showed 30% of Palestinians supported that massacre. If Palestinian Christians want to be a prophetic voice to their own community, they should be donating these systems to the settlements.
I have enormous reservations about exposing that poor family to the likes of the BDS mob, but how about a poster with a picture of the Fogel family on it, and the caption;
Disinvestment; Helping you facilitate the murder of Jewish children from the comfort and safety of your own church.
Followed by some of the facts mentioned above, then at the bottom of the poster,
Disinvestment – It’s immoral
Next, HP. The Kairos Response group of the Methodist church put out a promotional video for disinvestment, in which they stated; “Checkpoints … a ten minute trip can take hours … produce often spoils at checkpoints.” Now, given that these checkpoints pick up explosives, guns and knives, and are still needed, what to do? Well, biometric monitoring speeds up the whole process, while also maintaining its safety. Why would anyone want innocent Palestinians to have to wait longer in the queues? Surely this is a win/win. Why is speeding up the through traffic immoral? So, poster two, a picture of a long queue at a checkpoint with the caption;
Disinvestment; helping you make life pointlessly harder for ordinary Palestinians
Finally, whatever the Palestinian Christians may think about the settlers, they are their neighbours. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbours, not to refuse to buy from them or sell to them.
Poster number three, over a picture Palestinian Christians;
Disinvestment; helping Palestinian Christians to hate their neighbours.
Followed by “God commands all of us; ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
In this way, the utter immorality of their case could be driven home. They do not occupy the high ground. Many are young, idealistic and deceived, so maybe it could also help them to think. Rebuke a wise man and he will love you.
The most astonishing to me is not so much this whiny, plaintive, poorly-written piece by a sore loser as much as his sheer hypocrisy (and most of the commentators’ here): while you pontificate about the alleged evils of the Israeli occupation (and refuse to acknowledge the Palestinians’ own responsibility in the bind they’ve cornered themselves into since 1948), you don’t even have the decency to talk about the butchery going on on a grand scale (circa 15,000 dead so far) in next-door Syria. Clearly, in your skewed eyes and obsessed minds, the only victims worthy of your attention in the world are the Palestinians, whose fate as it is is far more enviable than that of their Syrian brothers, and that of so many others around the world. If you applied the same standards to all, you might have a valid case to make, but this only proves your bigotry, narrow-mindedness and sheer hatred. You are a dark blot on the Presbyterian Church (USA) image and reputation.
“The alleged evils of the Israeli occupation,” Mr. Gonzalez? Your obvious support for Israel’s illegal occupation which I have personally witnessed over 40 years which has been condemned by every country including our own, comes right from the Israel Lobby’s well tarnished “talking points”tells us more about you than it does about anything else and if more evidence is required as evidence for your lack of humanity, it is your placing blame on the Palestinians of six decades ago for their refusal to passively allow more than half of their native land given to comparative strangers by the newly minted UN that has since tried to rectify the problem only to be stymied by scores of US vetoes ordered by humbled US presidents
As for Syria, I am not aware that there is any US company that is doing any business with the Assad regime and if I am mistaken, I am sure you will correct me. Otherwise your criticizing the Presbyterian Assembly for not adding its voice to the world wide condemnation of Syria is not only irrelevant but mean-spirited.
“Mean-spirited”? Boo-hoo… Your self-righteous whining is really pathetic. Your concern for “the Palestinians of six decades ago for their refusal to passively allow more than half of their native land given to comparative strangers” is really touching… until one remembers – and wonders – why you’re not out there on the barricades demanding the exact same rights for the Kurds, the Tibetans, the Saharaouis and scores of other real nations (as opposed to the imaginary Palestinian one) who have been devastated not only by UN cowardice and inaction, but also by the unspeakable brutality of the countries either the colonial powers or their own sheer imperialistic drives (China, Morocco, Serbia, Turkey, Iran, Sudan, etc) have forcibly attached them to. The day you fight for the same rights for all the victims of the world, I’ll be interested to listen to what you and your sanctimonious hypocritical brethren have to say regarding Israel. Until then, you have only one option, and that is to have the decency to keep quiet. I know, this is all irrelevant and mean-spirited. The only true victims in the world worthy of anyone’s attention, care and concern are the Palestinians. All the others can die by the thousands in abject deaths, but they are indeed irrelevant. Everyone knows that. Silly me. There have been no less than a staggering 5 MILLION deaths in the Congo alone in the last 15 years, but you were too busy fussing about the fate of the Palestinians to care one second. Eternal shame be on you!
So why doesnt someone else blog about the other minorities?. Mr. Wall writes about the Palestinians, whom most others ignore, but they are the only people whose repression our tax dollars fund. Certainly Mr. Wall courageous to stand up for them. The Israeli occupation is a crime we pay for. Where are the true Christians?
When it comes to a people who have suffered, Mr. Gonzalez, there is none that begins to come close to those of the Congo which goes back to the late 1800s when the “civilized” world allowed King Leopold of Belgium to do as he wished with the Congolese in pursuing profits from the country’s valuable rubber trees and an estimated 10 million dies and tens of thousands of others left with severed hands and feet for failing to bring in their quota of rubber or the world’s new auto industry. Not only is that history not taught to the children of this country, there is no public discussion of the estimated five to six million who have died in wars in that mineral rich country, some backed by outside sources, over the last decade.
If the Presbyterian Assembly and activists groups within and outside of other churches were aware that the US was financing this ongoing genocide I assure you there would be even louder protests and demands than what we have seen around the Israel-Palestine issue which, thus far, at least on the Presbyterian side, has been very, almost, too polite.
What is different about the latter when compared to all the other tragedies you throw in our face, not out of sympathy for those peoples–sympathy and certainly empathy clearly being not part of your make-up–is that Israel’s domination of the Palestinians and its wars against it neighbor to the north, Lebanon, have been financed and publicly supported by the government of the US with members of both houses of Congress having no compunction about sending the tax dollars of their constituents to do it, while at the same time telling us that there is not enough money to pay for their constituents so-called “entitlements” or their failing public schools.
Without US support and close to 100 UN vetoes of resolutions condemning its actions, Israel would not be able to commit the crimes it has been committing against the Palestinians, stealing their land with impunity, killing them when they choose, and quietly continuing the ethnic cleansing that began back in 1948. If you have a problem with those who do not want their tax dollars nor their country to continuing to support this, I suggest you take a good long look at yourself in the mirror, Mr. Gonzalez, and tell us what you see.
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