Comprehensive Digest of Social Witness at the 220th PC(USA) General Assembly


Israel & Palestine

Item 15-01: On Recognizing that Israel’s Law and Practices Constitute Apartheid Against Palestinian People

Disapproved by the Assembly. Based on the success of the anti-apartheid movement regarding South Africa, this overture sought peaceful reconciliation for the people of Israel and Palestine through open acknowledgment of the gravity of the human rights violations and the racial/ethnic separation. This overture pointed to: PC(USA) statements acknowledging Israeli human rights violations; PC(USA) policies and statements on the occupation of the West Bank; and the UN and World Court definition of apartheid.

ACSWP Advice and Counsel had recommended this item be replaced with an alternate resolution, which identified the State of Israel’s laws and policies as a form of apartheid or ethnic separation systematically favoring one ethnic and religious group over another; directed the Middle East Staff Team to examine the legal ramification if the United Nations were to deem these laws and policies apartheid; and provided for the education of the church. The counsel, however, also acknowledged the differences between South African practice and that of Israel (though international legal definition indicates that “similar” to South African practice is enough), and noted that the formal use of the word, apartheid, would not materially change the policies of the church. Divestment, in particular, does not require a determination of apartheid.

Item 15-02: On Boycotting Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories and Hadiklaim (an Israeli Date Growers Cooperative)

Approved with amendment by the Assembly. This item overtured the Assembly to condemn the production and sale of Israeli products that come from the Occupied Palestinian Territories, specifically Ahava and Hadiklaim (often marketed as King Solomon Dates and Jordan River). The amendment deleted the condemnation and instead, called “upon all nations to prohibit the import of products made by enterprises in Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.” The amendment also extended the boycott beyond Ahava and Hadiklaim to include “all Israeli products coming from the occupied Palestinian Territories.” According to the amendment, the boycott will end when “significant progress toward Palestinian rights and independence can be reported” to the Assembly.

The ACSWP Advice and Counsel recommended the clarification of the purpose and duration of the boycott (the extension of the boycott to include all similar products was recommended by the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns and by ACSWP’s rationale). ACSWP noted PC(USA) boycott policy criteria: consistency with church policy, lack of other alternative means of influence, timeliness, effectiveness, impact on other aspects of our mission, and provision for review. ACSWP stated that it finds that these criteria are generally met by the proposed boycott, as such nonviolent economic pressure is called for by both Palestinian civil society and broad ecumenical and evangelical groups of Palestinian Christians.

Items 15-03, 15-08, and 15-11: Approving Recommendations on Selective Divestment Made by MRTI

Answered with an alternative resolution. The first two items (15-03 and 15-08) recommended approval of the report from Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) (15-11), which recommended PC(USA) divestment from “companies profiting from non-peaceful pursuits in Israel-Palestine,” namely Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions. MRTI and the former General Assembly Mission Council (now the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board) recommended divestment as a final step after a lengthy and comprehensive process of engagement, which, in the case of these three companies, produced no substantive change and, in their judgment, was not likely to do so in the future. The alternate resolution, approved by the Assembly and adapted from Item 15-10, calls on the PC(USA) to “pursue a positive and creative course of action” partnering Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and to “devise a plan of active investment in projects that will support” such collaboration and “help in the development of a viable infrastructure for a future Palestinian state.” Moreover, it calls for greater engagement around “issues of job creation and economic development” in the West Bank. This alternate resolution essentially replaced the divestment recommendations from MRTI with positive investment, though it proposed no specific strategy or plans for implementation of that investment.

ACSWP’s A&C observed that divestment, in this case, would have been consistent with the theology and policy of the PC(USA); would have been an act of investment responsibility reflecting the key moral criteria of integrity, effectiveness, and solidarity; and would have supported other witness to the key problem of the occupation and the failure of political, diplomatic, and violent measures to affect the situation.

Items 15-05, 15-07, and 15-10: On Rejecting the Use of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction Policies, and Instead Pursuing Creative Actions for Peace

Answered with action on another resolution: 15-11. The first two items would specifically forbid the church to engage in divestment in pursuit of justice for Palestine and restrict the church’s peacemaking efforts to a set of actions focused largely on dialogue with the U.S. Jewish community and the Israeli government. Item 15-10 requests engagement, education, and “active investment” in projects that will provide infrastructure, jobs, and development in the West Bank. While the Assembly did not adopt language precluding the possibility of divestment in the future, it did, through its alternate resolution, accept the basic proposal of these items to pursue positive investment rather than divestment.

The ACSWP Advice and Counsel maintained that “words-only” and positive investment approaches have failed to achieve peace and justice for Israel and Palestine. The items were seen to prevent the full exercise of corporate responsibility by the church itself, while attempting equating the negotiating position of a long-subjugated people with that of a powerful and prosperous nuclear-armed state. In response specifically to 15-10: “the hope of positive investment has been investigated over the years, but founders on the fact that capital is not the chief Palestinian need.” While positive investment could be pursued despite the disincentives of occupation, it would be ineffective in removing those restrictions without being paired with divestment, as is requested by Palestinian Christian partners.

Item 15-09: On Human Rights and Religious Freedom of Arab Christians and Other Palestinian Citizens

Disapproved by the Assembly. This item urged the Israeli government to end any and all religious discriminatory practices, and to enforce its own legal obligation to protect Christian holy sites throughout Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza (while the U.S. Department has reported on the failure of Israel to do so).

The A&C notes that the decline of the Christian population in occupied Palestine is due to a number of factors, one of which is the lack of equal rights and religious freedom.

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