Presbyterian Church(USA) Endorses Boycott; Support for Divestment Grows!
There is a moment, just before a pendulum changes direction, when it is perfectly still. It is precisely that moment that marks the end of the old way and the beginning of the new. That is what happened for divestment last week in Pittsburgh.
Click here to read the full account on what happened and what it means.
At the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (PC[USA]), the US Campaign and member groups Jewish Voice for Peace, the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, and the Rachel Corrie Foundation for Peace and Justice rallied to support the Israel Palestine Mission Network, also a member group, in its efforts to pass a resolution to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett Packard to protest the companies' profiting from the Israeli occupation. The effort also included a proposal to boycott settlement products Ahava Beauty Products and Hadiklaim Israel Date Growers.
The roller coaster week began with an historic victory in the Middle East and Peacemaking Issues Committee considering both divestment and boycott. The committee voted overwhelmingly -- by a more than 3:1 margin -- to recommend both measures to the GA.
The decision followed a series of moving testimonies [click for example] from Palestinians (including Palestinian Presbyterians), other Presbyterians, Jews, and others, followed by many hours of heartfelt discussion about what it meant to stand with the oppressed, to withstand bullying, and to vote according to one's conscience rather than what others might think.
On boycott, the committee decided that boycotting only Ahava and Hadiklaim wasn't enough. They amended the overture to include boycott of "all Israeli products coming from the Occupied Palestinian Territories," and calling on "all nations to prohibit the import of products made by enterprises in Israeli settlements on Palestinian land." The overture passed in plenary by 71%.
This is a major victory. The GA has also called for the suspension of U.S. military aid to Israel. These are the "B" and the "S" in BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions).
The boycott victory was bittersweet. I was among hundreds on the plenary floor who let out a collective gasp when a vote to substitute divestment with investment won 333 to 331. Divestment was ruled out by just one vote (a tie would have gone to considering the divestment option). One woman announced that she had accidentally voted against divestment, but by then it was too late.
Click here to read the full account on what happened in Pittsburgh.
The commissioners casting the crucial vote were split. For years, support for divestment had represented a small, albeit important, minority of the church. That day, discussion on divestment reached the end of the pendulum swing: 50/50. There's only one way it can -- and will -- go now forward, towards divestment and justice.
While the commissioners were split, the majority of advisory delegates -- who advise the commissioners but don't have an official vote -- voted against substituting divestment with investment. Crucially, they included the Young Adult Advisory Delegates, representing the future of the church. In addition, virtually all staff and leadership within the church have come out in support for divestment.
It can be said that the commissioners were split but the Church representation overall is for divestment.
Throughout the deliberations, it was crystal clear that the discourse has shifted. Nearly unanimous condemnation of the occupation and widespread opposition to U.S. institutional support for it has entered the highest levels of mainstream institutions. Nobody tried to defend the occupation, but only debated what should be done about it.
Ultimately the Church faced the crucial decision of whether it should listen to the voices of the oppressed (calling for divestment), or decide for themselves what is best for Palestinians (i.e. investment)? Palestinian civil society, including Christians of all denominations, is asking for divestment. In the words of Palestinian businessman Sam Bahour,
"we Palestinians don't want a more beautiful prison to live in. We want the prison walls to come down, and that won't happen unless pressure is placed on Israel to end the occupation." [Click to read in full.]
The PC(USA) vote, like the United Methodist vote two months ago, garnered the attention of world, including U.S. mainstream media, showing that the BDS movement can no longer be ignored. In light of this and the recent stream of victories for divestment by major U.S. institutions, and the extraordinary success of BDS worldwide, it is clear that those defending Israel's actions are fighting a losing battle. The pendulum is beginning to reverse and will continue to gather momentum as it swings towards justice.
The US Campaign will be there every step of the way, pushing that pendulum to keep swinging in the right direction.
PS. The collective impact of these recent developments is huge –- and will continue to grow. We’re reaching a new stage of the movement. This coming September 21-23 in St Louis, please join us at the 11th Annual National Organizers' Conference where we will gather to discuss, to strategize, to build and to forge ahead in building an ever-stronger movement. We hope to see you and celebrate with you there! Click here to register.