as you will be aware last week, both the Presbyterian Church in the USA and the Church of England in the UK took significant votes in relation to Palestine solidarity activism and the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.
In the USA, the divestment vote failed by the narrowest margin of two votes. However, the Presbyterian church did vote for a boycott of Israeli settlement goods. Also a vote supporting the creation of a "choice of conscience" option for pension holders troubled by investments in Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard was passed.
In the UK, the Church of England General Synod voted to support the work of Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI) in Palestine.
Please find below two reports from Electronic Intifada on the votes.
In solidarity, Kim
Divestment vote fails, but Presbyterian Church (USA) resolves to boycott Israeli settlement products
The Church’s assembly also voted to accept a recommendation by the Board of Pensions to create a “choice of consciousness” option for pension holders “troubled by investments in Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett-Packard, to be voted on at the next General Assembly in 2014,” according to a statement sent out hours ago by Jewish Voice for Peace, one of the groups at the forefront of the divestment movement.
Mondoweiss has been doing an excellent job at compiling the details of each recent resolution and vote outcome, including Twitter updates. You can read more here.
The Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) stated on Friday morning:
Following last night’s vote by the plenary of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) on a motion to divest from three companies whose products are used in non-peaceful pursuits in the occupied Palestinian territories, the plenary has voted in favor of a separate resolution to boycott products made in Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, including Ahava Dead Sea beauty products and dates grown by Israeli cooperative Hadiklaim.Along similar lines, Jewish Voice for Peace’s press release states, in full:
Although the plenary failed to pass the divestment motion, its approval of the boycott resolution sends a strong signal nonetheless that the Presbyterian Church (USA) supports those Palestinians who are using peaceful means to secure their freedom and human rights in the face of Israel’s 45-year-old military occupation and colonization of their lands. The Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) believes this is a positive step and hopes the church will continue to support Palestinians who are struggling nonviolently to achieve freedom and self-determination.
The razor thin margin of last night’s vote on divestment, which was defeated by just two votes, demonstrates that the General Assembly remains divided on both divestment and investment, and has failed to provide a clear mandate on these issues. Sadly, it is the millions of Palestinians living under occupation who will pay the price for this lack of a moral directive.
Jewish Voice for Peace is heartened by the strong show of opposition to the Israeli Occupation by the Presbyterian Church (USA). This morning, the General Assembly passed a resolution to boycott settlement goods with 71% of the vote, while last evening divestment from companies that profit from the Israeli Occupation was defeated by a razor thin margin of two votes.***
This afternoon, the assembly voted to accept a recommendation by the Board of Pensions to create a “choice of conscience” option for Pension holders troubled by investments in Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett Packard, to be voted on at the next General Assembly in 2014, signaling a deep crisis of conscience within the church regarding their investments in companies that profit from the Israeli occupation.
Sydney Levy, Jewish Voice for Peace Director of Advocacy said, “I congratulate the Presbyterian Church (USA) for their decision today to boycott all goods made in Israeli settlements, just as the United Methodist Church did last month. This vote signifies the mainstreaming of boycott as a way to oppose illegal Israeli settlements, and the Israeli occupation overall. Clearly, the movement for justice for Israelis and Palestinians is growing.”
JVP is very proud to have been part of the broad coalition supporting Presbyterian efforts to boycott settlement products and divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation since 2004. We are especially proud of the members of our youth branch — Young, Jewish, and Proud (YJP) — and of our Rabbinical Council who were in Pittsburgh this year at the General Assembly meeting in support of the resolutions.
Despite being overwhelmingly out-resourced by large Jewish institutions with ties to the Israel lobby, our members succeeded in galvanizing a nearly identical amount of support for divestment as the opposition, and overwhelming support for boycott. This accomplishment is despite heavy-handed fear-mongering by the Jewish establishment that included threatening the future of interfaith cooperation and raising the specter of anti-semitism.
The truth is, growing numbers of Jewish groups and individual Jews of conscience support some form of boycott and/or divestment as a strategic tactic to pressure Israel to end the human rights abuses of the 45-year-old occupation of Palestinian people and land. This support is at least in part a response to over 20 years of U.S.-brokered negotiations that have not simply failed, but worse, have entrenched the Occupation by keeping pressure off of Israel while it has continued to massively expand illegal settlements and evict Palestinians from their homes.
Rabbi Alissa Wise, Jewish Voice for Peace Director of Campaigns, who was at the committee vote on divestment and boycott said: “I was moved to tears in Pittsburgh, as I saw deep recognition of Palestinian experience and deep commitment to justice for all people by the Presbyterian Church (USA). This was a historic moment in the struggle for dignity and justice, and I commend the Church for passing the boycott resolution and for getting this close to holding corporations accountable for profiting from the occupation.”
A near majority of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has shown the courage of true friendship, which sometimes requires facing difficult truths, and for that we are deeply grateful. We know that decades of working closely with Jewish communities in the U.S., engagement with Israel, and an ongoing commitment to understanding the Christian role in historical anti-Semitism, will continue and deepen. Jewish Voice for Peace members in communities across the United States certainly look forward to deepening those relationships, grounded in our joint understanding that Israel’s ongoing occupation makes a peaceful future for both Jews and Palestinians impossible.
Jewish Voice for Peace believes that this very close divestment vote and the successful boycott vote, along with several other recent watershed victories, makes clear that Israel can no longer count on being singled out for special treatment. Depending on major institutions to selectively ignore Israel’s human rights record year after year is no longer a viable strategy.
These recent watershed victories are:
The power behind the idea that Palestinians deserve full civil and democratic rights, just as Jewish Israelis do, grows exponentially each day.
- Morgan Stanley Capital International (MSCI), a leading US investment firm, removed Caterpillar, Inc. from its socially responsible investment indexes, saying Caterpillar’s role in Israeli human rights violations were one of the “key factors” in the decision.
- Shortly thereafter, retirement giant TIAA-CREF dropped $72 million in Caterpillar, Inc stock from their socially responsible funds.
- Friends Fiduciary Corporation, which handles investments for over 250 Quaker meetings, schools, organizations, trusts, and endowments around the US, divested from Caterpillar.
- The United Methodist Church resolved to boycott “products made by Israeli companies operating in occupied Palestinian territories.” The church called on all nations “to prohibit any financial support by individuals or organizations for the construction and maintenance of settlements and the import of products made [in settlements.]”
New pro-divestment resolutions are already being proposed for the next Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly in Detroit in 2014. We look forward to standing beside our Presbyterian friends as they take additional steps toward a just peace based on security, freedom and equal rights for all the people of Israel and Palestine.
In an embarrassing defeat for the Board of Deputies of British Jews (BoD) and the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), both of whom had lobbied hard for Synod to reject the motion, members also rejected an amendment by the Bishop of Manchester which would have omitted support for the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).
A huge majorityDuring the afternoon debate, speaker after speaker backed the PMM, and praised the work of EAPPI. When it came to the vote, which was done according to ‘house’, bishops voted 21 to 3 in favour (with 14 abstentions), clergy 89 to 21 (44 abstentions), and laity 91 to 30 (35 abstentions). In total, the unaltered motion received 201 votes, while only 54 members voted against.
The short motion commits Synod to support: the work of EAPPI (including making “use of the experience of returning participants”), aid agencies working with Palestinians, “Israelis and Palestinians in all organisations working for justice and peace in the area” (citing Parents Circle – Family Forum specifically), and “organisations that work to ensure” the “continuing presence [of Christian Palestinians] in the Holy Land”.
The proposal, authored by Dr. John Dinnen of Hereford Diocese, had received backing from groups like Jews for Justice for Palestinians, Independent Jewish Voices (IJV), and the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD). Despite that, BoD and the Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argued that the church risked harming “interfaith relations” by supporting the motion.
The displeasure of Israel’s supporters was focused on the singling out of EAPPI, an initiative of the World Council of Churches that over the last decade has sent more than 1,000 volunteers to Palestine/Israel. The motion also backed bereaved relatives group The Parents Circle-Family Forum, “aid agencies”, Israeli and Palestinian “organizations working for justice and peace”, and bodies assisting Palestinian Christians.
Pro-Israel groups insinuations of anti-Semitism fall flatInitially misleading their own supporters, the BoD sent a letter to Synod members, along with a leaflet attacking EAPPI. While in the letter the BoD said it “naturally commends those who want to protect the rights of the Palestinians living in the West Bank”, Chief Executive Jon Benjamin told The Times that to focus on “the perceived iniquities of the Israelis” also, “by implication”, points the finger at “Jews abroad.”
Aside from the Chief Rabbi’s intervention, there was an unsubstantiated insinuation of antisemitism by the Council of Christians and Jews, and weak attempts at guilt by association from JLC CEO Jeremy Newmark. Canon Andrew White released a rather bizarre statement – reprising his contribution to the 2006 divestment controversy – in which he claimed “Synod is being asked to adopt a one sided ‘NAKBA’ [sic] narrative against Israel while our fellow Christians are dying in Iraq, Sudan, Egypt and Syria”.
Those efforts were aided by sympathizers in the media, specifically The Times’ Ruth Gledhill, and the Church of England Newspaper. In a piece last week, Gledhill described the Chief Rabbi’s intervention as “highly unusual”; in fact, it is a repeat of (unsuccessful) efforts in 2010 to persuade the Methodists not to back a boycott of settlement products.
In an article in the Church of England Newspaper, Florida-based journalist George Conger, did not even get motion-proposer John Dinnen’s name correct, and contrary to Conger’s claim, Dinnen says he was not approached for comment. During the 2006 divestment controversy, Conger was praised by a pro-Israel campaigner as a helpful point of contact.
Both Gledhill and Conger cited NGO Monitor as an authority on the activities of EAPPI, an organisation which routinely attacks Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights groups, including through the use of misleading translations and disingenuous allegations of antisemitism.
Indeed, even during the debate itself, as well as after the vote, leaders of the BoD and JLC resorted to making pathetic claims of antisemitism on Twitter.
Defending the indefensibleIsrael’s apologists claimed to be speaking in the name of the Jewish community – for example, BoD Vice President Jonathan Arkush said he was attending Synod as a means of the “Jewish community expressing its views.” Yet many do not share the BoD’s “views” on Israeli policies.
It is less surprising that the BoD is attacking the proposed motion when one recalls that the body repeatedly intervenes to protect Israel on a number of issues: whether lobbying the government to change universal jurisdiction legislation, opposing schools’ participation in a Palestinian literary festival, or pressuring the Co-Op supermarket chain to reverse a decision to boycott companies complicit in breaches of international law.
This time around, the pressure on Synod members failed to thwart the adoption of the motion. This took place just after the Methodist Conference, where delegates overwhelmingly backed a Christian Aid call for a government ban on West Bank settlement products. Supporting international law and human rights is becoming less ‘controversial’, and Israel’s defenders are finding it increasingly tough to defend the indefensible.