June 22, 2006

In News


by Toya Richards Hill

The Assembly follows discussion on the Peacemaking and International Issues committee report. Photo by Danny Bolin

BIRMINGHAM. The 217th General Assembly overwhelmingly approved the recommendation of the Peacemaking and International Issues committee regarding Middle East issues.

By a vote of 483 in favor, 28 opposed and 1 abstention today, the Assembly set as church policy that “financial investments of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), as they pertain to Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank, be invested in only peaceful pursuits.” The recommendation was an alternate resolution to an overture that sought to repeal and rescind the actions of the 2004 General Assembly relating to “phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel.”

The Assembly also affirmed that the “customary corporate engagement process” of the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) Committee be the vehicle for achieving that goal.

“This statement reflects our historic commitment to the peoples of the Middle East in all their struggles toward peace,” said the Rev. Gretchen Graf, moderator of the committee. “It also affirms the slow and careful process of corporate engagement led by our elected committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment, which recommends divestment only as a last resort.”

“We believe that this new statement clarifies the engagement process, which has not yet led to any recommendation for divestment,” she told the GA. “The earliest any divestment could occur is in 2008, and only with the permission of the General Assembly.”

During a press conference following the vote, Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick, said today’s action does not overturn the actions of the 216th General Assembly (2004), and newly elected moderator Joan Gray emphasized the church’s longstanding focus on peacemaking.

This Assembly’s actions also addressed the controversial action of the 216th GA on the matter of Israel/Palestine by acknowledging the “hurt and misunderstanding among many members of the Jewish community and within our Presbyterian communion” that resulted from the action in 2004.

“We are grieved by the pain that this has caused, accept responsibility for the flaws in our process, and ask for a new season of mutual understanding and dialogue,” the approved recommendation says.

The Rev. J. Oscar McCloud, a commissioner from New York City Presbytery, introduced an amendment to replace the part of the recommendation accepting responsibility for the flawed process with: “We regret any reportage that has caused misunderstanding of the PC(USA)’s Commitment to Peace and Justice in Palestine and Israel.” The amendment was defeated.

A wave of controversy ensued following the 2004 action that initiated a process of phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations doing business that supports violence in Israel and Palestine. The Assembly in 2004 tasked MRTI with carrying out the process, which it is currently doing.

MRTI is now engaging five multinational corporations as part of the process: Caterpillar Inc., Citigroup, ITT Industries, Motorola and United Technologies.

The 217th GA’s actions direct MRTI to make sure that its engagement practices related to Israel/Palestine:

  • reflect the application of fundamental principles of justice and peace common to Christianity, Islam and Judaism that are appropriate to the practical realities of Israeli and Palestinian societies;
  • reflect commitment to positive outcomes;
  • reflect awareness of potential impact upon the stability, future viability and prosperity of both the Israeli and Palestinian economies;
  • identify affirmative investment opportunities as they pertain to Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The security wall currently being built by the Israeli government also was addressed by the GA action, indicating that the problem with it is “its location.”

The GA “supports fair criticism of the security wall insofar as it illegally encroaches into the Palestinian territory and fails to follow the legally recognized borders of Israel since 1967 demarcated by the Green Line. To the extent that the security barrier violates Palestinian land that was not part of Israel prior to the 1967 war, the barrier should be dismantled and relocated.”

Another key component of the GA action calls for the denomination to share its policies related to Israel/Palestine with the United States government, including the president and Congress; Israeli and Palestinian leaders in the Middle East; PC(USA) members; and Christian, Jewish and Muslim faith bodies and denominations in the U.S. and the Middle East with whom the church communicates.

Sharing, too, is mandated by the GA action between PC(USA) and American and Israeli Jewish, American and Palestinian Muslim and Palestinian Christian communities in order to:

  • end all violence and terror against Palestinian and Israeli civilians;
  • end the occupation;
  • create a socially, economically, geographically and politically viable and secure Palestinian state, alongside an equally viable and secure Israeli state;
  • and encourage and celebrate efforts by individuals, congregations and judicatories of the church to communicate with Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities, sponsor programs to improve relations and engage in peacemaking.

Several additional items relating to Israel/Palestine were all answered by the action the Assembly took on this resolution.

GA approvals from Peacemaking committee recommendations also included items calling for non-violence training, a special committee to study malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa and one week of prayer and witness with Christians in the Middle East.