By Alan F.H. Wisdom
Two years after the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly ordered denominational divestment from three corporations doing business with Israel, the 2016 assembly will receive proposals for further measures directed against the Jewish state. Two overtures from local presbyteries would protest Israel’s presence in the predominantly Palestinian West Bank by targeting corporations held complicit in that presence. Another overture would commend Palestinian calls for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. A fourth would denounce Israel for violating the human rights of Palestinian children. A proposed resolution from the denomination’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy faults “Israel’s policy trajectory of continued settlements and brutal occupation” for difficulties in achieving a peace settlement with the Palestinians.
Unlike previous assemblies, next week’s gathering in Portland, Ore., will not see any overtures disputing the anti-Israel onslaught. An overture from Flint River Presbytery that would have revoked the 2014 divestment mandate was disqualified for lack of a concurrence from another presbytery. Of the six items currently before the assembly’s Middle East Issues Committee, five aim harsh criticisms at Israel. The other one gently raises concerns about threats to Middle Eastern Christians from unnamed “religiously based” actors in the region.
Item 08-01, an overture from the Synod of the Covenant, would summon U.S. Presbyterians to “boycott all products manufactured and sold” by Hewlett Packard (HP). The reason cited is HP’s sales of biometric scanners, personal digital assistants, and other information technology used by the Israeli military in the West Bank. By these sales, the overture charges, HP “profit[s] from these human rights abuses [against Palestinians] and acts of militarized violence.” Hewlett Packard was one of three companies named in the 2014 divestment mandate.
Item 08-02, also from the Synod of the Covenant, asserts that “the children of Palestine … suffer widespread and systematic patterns of ill treatment and torture within the Israeli military detention system.” It demands that Israel change its tactics for suppressing West Bank terrorism: “stop night arrests; stop blindfolds and restraints; stop separation from parents and legal counsel; stop physical abuse and verbal threats; and stop isolation and coerced confessions.” The overture does not address the tactics of Palestinian political movements that place children in harm’s way by encouraging them to attack Israeli soldiers and civilians.
Item 08-04, an overture from the Presbytery of the Redwoods, notes that RE/MAX “has real estate franchises involved in the sale and rental of Jewish-only housing in Israeli settlement colonies in the occupied West Bank of Palestine.” It asks Presbyterians to press U.S. RE/MAX offices to “cut [their] ties with [Israeli] franchises involved in the sale or rental of settlement properties in the occupied West Bank.”
Item 08-07, an overture from New Hope Presbytery in North Carolina, asks Presbyterians to “[p]rayerfully study the call from Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel.” It advises church members to “[e]ngage in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue with the authors and signatories of this [pro-BDS] document.” The overture makes no mention of dialogue with Israelis or Palestinians opposed to a BDS strategy.
Item 08-06 is a lengthy resolution from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) entitled “Israel-Palestine: For Human Values in the Absence of a Just Peace.” The ACSWP resolution re-examines the PCUSA’s longstanding support for a “two-state solution” with a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza standing alongside Israel. “[T]he door to a viable Palestinian state is closing rapidly, if it is still open at all,” ACSWP warns.
The resolution fixes all blame on one side of the conflict: “Israel’s policy trajectory of continued settlements and brutal occupation is deeply troubling. Not only does it make a two-state solution increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to achieve, but the emerging, de facto single state’s systematic violation of Palestinian rights and democratic values is eroding Israel’s moral legitimacy.” Without repudiating a two-state solution, ACSWP recommends that “the Presbyterian Church (USA) should advance those efforts that best accord with its values, which have relevance in any political arrangement, including but not limited to that of two sovereign states—Israel and Palestine.”
Among all the issues that might be raised regarding the Middle East—catastrophic wars in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya, for example—only one of the six items before the assembly committee deals with anything besides the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Item 08-03, from the Presbytery of New York City, expresses concern that Christians “have been leaving the Middle East in growing numbers for decades.” It attributes those departures to two causes: economic difficulties and “religiously based radical thought and action in the region.” The overture does not name any specific groups that might be the source of this “religiously based” threat to fellow Christians. It directs PCUSA officials to consult with Middle Eastern partner churches about how best to address the problem.