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The Presbyterians Divest

By now, COMMENTARY readers may have heard that the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted, narrowly, 310 to 303, to divest from three companies, Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, and Motorola, that allegedly help Israelis oppress Palestinians. I provide some background here.

Yair Rosenberg observes that “given how many Presbyterians and their leaders at the Assembly voted against the measure … and how many rank-and-file members of the 1.8 million-strong church had little say in this vote, individual and local ties will no doubt persist, even as institutional ones become strained.

I think Rosenberg is right about the rank and file members. And the Assembly did some good things this session, such as distancing itself, though not as decisively as it should have, from the noxious “study guide” sold by the Church, Zionism Unsettled, which revives the old “Zionism is racism” attack. Nonetheless, the actions of the Church’s General Assembly are worse than the divestment vote indicates.

In particular, the Assembly voted overwhelmingly, 482-88, to reviewGeneral Assembly Policy Regarding the Two-State Solution in Israel Palestine” and to put the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) in charge of the review. Since the ACSWP provided advice and counsel on this and other matters before the Assembly, it is not hard to guess what this review might say. Concerning the resolution to reconsider the Church’s commitment to a two-state solution, the ACSWP thinks it important to remind us that the breakdown of peace negotiations is entirely Israel’s fault. Here is a sample:

Secretary of State John Kerry has testified that Israel’s refusal to curtail settlements and finally to release a fourth group of only twenty-five Palestinian prisoners led to a “poof” that ended the process. … There were no significant achievements during the 9 months, and in fact a growing number of “price tag” desecrations of Christian and Muslim sites, increased number of shootings of nonviolent Palestinian protesters and farmers trying to harvest alongside “security zones,” and numbers of Palestinians denied identity cards in Jerusalem.

In commenting on other resolutions, ACSWP indicated its support for the boycott movement. For example, although the Assembly rejected a resolution to boycott “all Hewlett Packard products,” ACSWP was for it because boycott strategy remains an effective and very participatory way to support greater justice for the Palestinians, and seems to be regarded by the Israeli government and its supporters as a danger to their control. ACSWP also complained, in a different context, about the demonization of Hamas.

So the Assembly voted, not narrowly but overwhelmingly, to entrust a committee that has shown itself to be consistently and deeply anti-Israel with making recommendations about where the Church should stand on a two-state solution.

It is hard to believe that the people who voted for this resolution, the vast majority of the Assembly, were unaware of what the ACSWP does, for it has a track record. But even if they somehow managed to be ignorant of what their vote implied, they are, at best, frivolous about serious matters.



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