The June 30 Perspectives piece by Meyer S. Grinberg and Gregg Roman (“Presbyterians Divest from Peacemaking”) cries out for a response.
The claim that the recent action of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to divest its stock in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions is a “tool of a movement that supports a one-state solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians,” when weighed in the balance, is found wanting.
Nor was it accurate to say that the church’s actions are “at best misguided, at worst represent outright racism and certainly give every appearance of intentionally promoting anti-Semitism.”
On the contrary, it was only after long hours of free and open debate undergirded by prayer that the assembly’s elected representatives concluded that continued conversation with the three companies would not end the disputed actions in question and that, in the opinion of the slim majority, would not end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.
The underlying conviction that influenced the majority vote actually grew out of the commissioners’ concern that both Israelis and Palestinians learn to live in peace. For example, the denomination could no longer invest in a corporation whose products are used to bulldoze Palestinian homes on disputed territory.
Also, it was in error and unfair to conclude that the assembly’s vote indicated a desire for the Presbyterian Church to end its longstanding and deeply held conviction for multilateral Jewish-Christian relationships.
Taken as a whole, the assembly’s action was an attempt to affirm the church’s comittment to ongoing interfaith engagement with the Jewish community. Further, the statement recognizes that a continuing relationship with the American Jewish community in authentic ways is central to Christian values that have grown out of our shared religious history.
The assembly’s action to divest from the three companies will continue until “the church’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee is fully satisfied that product sales and services by these companies are no longer in conflict with our church investment policy. This action … is not to be construed or represented by any organization of the PC(USA) as divestment from the state of Israel, or an alignment with or endorsement of the global BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement.”
Any misunderstanding or hurt this action has caused that threatens alienation between Presbyterians and the Jewish community is deeply regretful and misses the assembly’s intention. Linking the decision with white nationalism and the Ku Klux Klan based on the comments of a few such groups is unjust, unethical and unhelpful.
What Messrs. Grinberg and Roman ignored were some of the actual points included in the divestment document as follows:
• The reaffirmation of Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation with secure and internationally recognized borders.
• The declaration of the Presbyterian Church’s commitment to a two-state solution and a universally recognized state of Israel that lives alongside a free, viable and secure state for the Palestinian people.
• The reaffirmation of the Presbyterian Church’s commitment to interfaith dialogue and partnerships with American Jewish and Muslim friends, and with Palestinian Christians.
• The encouraging of Presbyterians to travel to the Holy Land and to give broad support to the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities throughout the Middle East.
• The affirmation of the importance of economic measures and cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians that advance a negotiated two-state solution.
Is the document in question perfect? Probably not. After all, we’re imperfect and fallible Presbyterians. We have inherited a long history of disagreements among ourselves. But we also have inherited a call to speak relevantly to the social, economic and political ills that afflict our world and to do so as faithfully as possible.
So, while our denomination remains divided on the divestment issue, it is unfortunate that the op-ed piece by Mr. Grinberg and Mr. Roman placed an erroneous spin on the assembly’s action and overlooked the true intentions it represented.
William M. Paul is a retired Presbyterian pastor living in Cranberry.