Delegates returned home last week from a vote that divided the United Presbyterian Church (UPC) down the middle. Known as commissioners, the delegates to the 220th General Assembly (GA) considered a proposal to divest from three companies supplying the Israeli military. It was voted down 333-331, with two abstentions.
This reporter spoke to one dejected but resolute delegate upon her return:
So is this the end for Presbyterian participation in BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) against Israel?
“Participation in BDS? We would never propose such a thing! BDS is about sending a message to Israelis and Palestinians about what is ethical. That is not our purpose. This is about us, not them. We just don’t want our money to be part of the ethnic cleansing. We want to do the moral thing – or at least not to do the immoral thing.”
But isn’t the D in BDS for divestment?
“Even if we divest, it doesn’t mean we’re part of a movement. As I said, this is about us. We’re only talking about unloading a small amount of stock from three companies. And we are not giving up. We’ll be back at the next GA two years from now. We’ve been at this for ten years, and we’re nothing if not persistent.” The Presbyterian General Assembly meets every two years and is its highest decision-making body.
So why do you think your proposal failed?
“Some delegates truly felt that it is immoral not to make money from companies that profit from Israeli ethnic cleansing activities. But others felt that even if it is morally justified to divest, it would harm relations with our Jewish brothers and sisters.”
Excuse my ignorance, but as a church, aren’t you obligated to prioritize moral concerns? And weren’t there Jewish voices on both sides of the issue?
“We’re talking about the important Jews, the ones who have the financial resources to support their views. And there is a higher moral concern, which is to avoid the charge of anti-Semitism. Even if our Jewish brothers and sisters (the important ones) support Israeli ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, we feel that it is more important for them to know that we are not anti-Israeli, that we support Israel’s right to exist on a minimum of 78% of Palestine (and possibly more), and that we will never let anything bad happen to them.”
What about your Palestinian brothers and sisters that are Christian and Muslim?
“No problem there. Palestinians are grateful for whatever we do, no matter how small, and we managed to pass a proposal to boycott dates and cosmetics made by Israeli companies in the West Bank.”
So how much progress do you think you’re making
“We realize that we’re slow, but Palestinians are patient people. This is the fifth time we’ve brought the matter of divestment to the GA, starting in 2004, and we think the sixth will be the charm in 2014. Besides, look how long it took for the Catholic Church to retract its condemnation of Galileo for arguing that the earth revolves around the sun.”
Followers of the occult may wish to note that the number of commissioners voting on the divestment resolution was 666.