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“This victory is for the Palestinians” - US Presbyterians vote to divest

Palestinians and solidarity activists are celebrating a historic vote by the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) to divest from three companies that profit from and assist Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian people.

After hours of debate and a decade of intense, hard-fought efforts, PCUSA’s 221st general assembly in Detroit voted on Friday night by 310-303 to divest the church’s holdings in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions.

Despite a “decade of engagement,” the three firms “have failed to modify their behavior and continue to profit from Israeli human rights abuses and non-peaceful pursuits,” Reverend Walt Davis, a member of the PCUSA Israel/Palestine Mission Network, said in an emailed statement welcoming the decision.

The Presbyterian Church divestment decision “is inspiring and morally courageous. It is a victory for all peace with justice loving people around the world,” said Bisan Mitri of the Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee.

“It shows that commitment to justice comes with a moral obligation to act: the time has come for other church denominations to follow suit,” she said.

At its last general assembly two years ago, a similar divestment measure failed to pass by just two votes.

Rifat Odeh Kassis, coordinator of Kairos Palestine, who spoke at the general assembly, told The New York Times that the vote would send a loud message to Palestinians that says, “You are not alone.”

Palestinian churches have played a key role in boosting support for divestment among North American congregations. In 2009, Palestinian Christians issued the Kairos Palestine document, calling on churches around the world to take action for justice, including specifically support for the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.

“For the Palestinians”

“This victory, close as it was, is for the Palestinians and may it bring hope where there is so much darkness and abuse right now,” Reverend Donald Wagner, national director of Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA), told The Electronic Intifada.

“We know our work will not be done until Palestine is liberated from the forces of colonization and oppression. We also hope Israel will see the light and realize that their choice of brutality and deception will no longer be sustainable,” he added.

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), which had campaigned intensely for the divestment measure, applauded the vote as “a turning point.”

“This decision will have real consequences, sending a message to Palestinians that the ongoing violations of their human rights is worthy of action on the global stage, and to companies and the Israeli government that the occupation is both morally and economically untenable,” JVP added.

The Presbyterian decision comes just over a week after the pension fund of the United Methodist Church divested from prison and occupation profiteer G4S, due in part to concerns over the company’s dealings with the Israel Prison Service.

“These successful campaigns illustrate the mainstreaming of divestment from the Israeli occupation as a nonviolent tactic to end US complicity in the violation of Palestinian rights,” Anna Baltzer, national organizer of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, a coalition of more than 400 organizations, said in a statement.

Interfaith effort

FOSNA’s Wagner hailed the interfaith work that had been a key part of the campaign: “Presbyterians saw 25-30 mostly young Jews working side by side with justice-oriented Presbyterians, together playing a major role in this victory.”

Other groups, including American Muslims for Palestine and the US Palestinian Community Network had representatives present at the general assembly working to build support for divestment.

Wagner also noted the intense efforts by divestment opponents. “On the other side we found the well financed pro-Israel lobby, including many Presbyterians who had gone on one-sided pro-Israel junkets,” he said.

Wide coverage

While the BDS movement has been gaining greater coverage and attention, the Presbyterian vote received high-profile media coverage, including articles in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Reuters, Associated Press and in Israeli and Arabic-language media.

Zionist dismay

Anti-Palestinian groups expressed anger and dismay at the vote, lobbing thinly-disguised accusations of anti-Semitism at Presbyterians.

Presbyterian “leaders have fomented an atmosphere of open hostility to Israel within the church, promoted a one-sided presentation of the complex realities of the Middle East, and permitted the presentation of a grossly distorted image of the views of the Jewish community,” Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement.

The American Jewish Committee said that the divestment vote was “a setback for efforts to attain a negotiated, sustainable Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, and a breach with a Jewish community committed to Jewish-Christian relations.”

Accusations of anti-Semitism “losing power”

In reaction to the Presbyterian vote, former Israeli prison guard and Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg tweeted that “The idea of Christians lecturing Jews about morality is pretty funny to Jews who spent the past 2,000 years running away from their Christian torturers and tormentors.”

In its statement, Jewish Voice for Peace said that such “attempts to cynically use accusations of anti-semitism to forestall principled actions are losing power.”

It called on “Jewish institutions who claim to oppose the occupation to drop their spurious criticisms of divestment and instead join us in taking concrete action to change policy.”

Given that Zionist groups’ efforts at what FOSNA’s Donald Wagner has previously called “interfaith bullying” have failed to stop the divestment effort so far, the vote in Detroit may leave opponents of Palestinian rights searching for new strategies to try to stop the march.

“But we cannot and will not rest until Palestine is free,” Wagner said. “Now it is on to the Methodists, more universities and hopefully more victories as the movement is destined to grow – if we do the hard work of organizing for justice.”

Comments

Thank you Presbyterians for Living Your Belief. Those of many faiths are bound by their doctrine to "Love their fellow Man" but such a simple directive from God goes unheeded by most thru inaction. The ten year struggle for divestment from companies whose products support dehumanization of our fellow Man is a reflection of the loss of conscious faith in the world today, replaced by self interest and deviation from the true path of God. This action represents a victory in a moment in time. As we stop to praise, our brethren are being cleansed from their villages by Caterpillar Bulldozers and Racially Profiled thru use of HP smart systems. But we must stop and give praise at this moment in time as it is a hard won victory. We must say Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. Your courage will be rewarded one hundred fold. God Bless all of You !

If only the Roman Catholics had the courage that their protestant brothers and sisters have!

With thanks to the Presbyterians, I hope everyone realizes that rather than a
conclusion this is a begginning..

Israel is a terrorist state. Our focus is Palestine. Terrorist states traditionally
exhibit their evil in many ways. I woke up to the sound-bite that Israel has
attacked Syria. They have long said they would do this. This is another
issue but in a profound sense is the same constellation of issues. Mr. Foxman
of the ADL and other hawks seem to believe that opposition to discriminatory,
apartheid, terrorist states is "anti-semitism". Even though Syria is an
imperfect state (as are others such as the US), it goes through UN channels.
The Security Council unanimojusly DEMANDED that Syrian efforts to
defeat the extremist terrorists be supported (S/Res/2139 (2014), point # 14,
page 4). The US no sooner gave its support to this resolution of a unanimous Security Council than it said---again---that Assad must go for there to be peace
thus putting its own and Israel's policy in place of the unanimous Council.
The US counted on the fact that you would never find out about the Council
decision . They were correct. The control of the mass media by the West is
immense. The US and its few reluctant "allies" continued its overt and covert
aid which originally got to the extremists. Thus---- "ISIS" was made the power
it is today. "Blowback"??