The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) continued discussion and debate this morning on issues related to the Middle East, but rejected efforts to reconsider a vote against divestment that they had taken late Thursday night.
By a 457-180 vote the commissioners meeting at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh voted to boycott
"all Israeli products coming from the occupied Palestinian Territories," including AHAVA Dead Sea Laboratories beauty products and dates from the Hadiklaim Israel Date Growers Co-operative Ltd. The motion, which initially called for the boycott only of AHAVA and Hadiklaim products, had been expanded in committee sessions to include all Israeli settlement goods.
The motion stipulates that the boycott end once "significant progress toward Palestinian rights and independence" is achieved, a measure that the Rev. Jack Baca, moderator of the committee on Middle East Peacemaking, described as "an attempt to communicate our hope for signs of progress and that the proposed boycott would be temporary."
Opponents said that boycotts weren't constructive, and one man said his dermatologist highly recommended Ahava products.
But Marilyn Daniel, an elder from Kentucky, spoke for the majority when she said the boycott was "a narrow and focused action which clearly states we are opposed to Israeli settlement on the West Bank ... It is not a broad and general condemnation of Israel."
In another headed debate, commissioners voted 463-175 against labeling Israeli policy toward the Palestinians "apartheid." The Middle East committee opposed the label, saying that while the policies were wrong, they did not fit the United Nations race-based definition of apartheid.
They had no debate before voting 621-19 to call for a cease fire and mediation in Syria, and to oppose all outside intervention there.
There were two unsuccessful attempts to revive the issue of divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, whose products have been used by Israelis in actions against Palestinians. On Thursday night the General Assembly had narrowly rejected divestment in favor of investing in Palestinian enterprise.
A move to formally reconsider that vote failed 415-252 this morning. Another attempt to insert it into the boycott measure was ruled out of order.
Without discussion, the assembly approved a motion from the floor to have its pension board create a "relief of conscience" fund for clergy and church workers who do not want any of their wages to go to Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard or Motorola Solutions.
After the vote, Andy Brown, vice president of the board of pensions rose to say that because of the way those investments are structured, that directive was "simply impossible" to carry out. The Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the denomination, said he would look into how the conflict could be addressed.
Ann Rodgers: email@example.com or 412-263-1416. First Published July 6, 2012 12:45 AM