The PCUSA and Israel (Part 3)

I’m sorry to have to say so, but it’s far worse than you thought.  When the PCUSA publicized the 310 to 303 vote to divest from three U.S. corporations that do business with Israel (“On Supporting Middle East Peacemaking”), a typical person likely thought that it represented a very slim victory for the radical anti-Israel crowd.  Unfortunately, the facts don’t bear out this hopeful interpretation.

It turns out that “On Supporting Middle East Peacemaking” did have powerful opposition, but not for the typically assumed reasons.  This Overture attempted to deliver on the divestment demanded by those in the Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement while simultaneously distancing the denomination from its positions.  The Overture concurrence rationale from the Presbytery of Santa Barbara summarizes the second half of this impossible position.

This overture calls on Presbyterians to act as peacemakers in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, … The overture recognizes the necessity of foundation building for peace through grassroots collaboration, person-to-person contact, mutual respect, and cooperation. …

The overture also calls on the General Assembly to make clear that the PC(USA) is not a part of the international Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) movement. … Official committees of the PC(USA), like the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) and the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), have failed to recognize the spirit and intent of prior General Assembly actions and have continued to promote the very kind of negative approach to peacemaking that prior General Assemblies have rejected. This is wrong and must end.

We all want to see an end to the conflict and the occupation, but here a moment of truth is called for: the occupation will not and cannot end until the Palestinian people and their leaders choose a viable, democratic, Palestinian state, committed to living peacefully alongside the Jewish state of Israel. This is the hope of all of us, but this point has not yet been reached.

And the ACSWP did indeed vehemently oppose this Overture, and, defend the BDS movement.  Here are excerpts of their official response, which is an integral part of the Overture information.

1.   This overture is essentially the opposite of prophetic challenge and would restrict the witness of the church and the hopes of the Palestinian people. Next to its innocence about power and sin, it is the voices of Palestinian Christians that are most lacking in this overture. The overture echoes Israeli government attacks on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. About 40 percent of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s annual speech this spring to AIPAC, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, comprised attacks on BDS ( large amounts of money and time spent by representatives and supporters of the Likud-led Israeli government attacking Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, strongly suggests that they understand that their own policies of occupation are the source of their “de-legitimation.” The effectiveness of nonviolent economic pressure was also confirmed by Secretary of State John Kerry, who pointed to the growing worldwide strength of BDS in one of his efforts to keep the “peace process” going.

Despite its rhetoric, this overture asks the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to choose a side: the side of occupation. In the struggle for South Africa, and in the Central American struggles, as in the civil rights struggle here at home, the church stepped up. We think it is that time again.

So, you ask, how can I suggest that the vote was close for other reasons than a pro/anti Israel split in the GA?  I will explain in my next post.

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