Presbyterians overwhelmingly approve compromise on Israel divestment

The Presbyterian Church (USA) voted 483-28 to approve a compromise resolution that, while not eliminating the option of divestment, puts the issue in its broader context within the church.

The resolution was passed at 5 p.m. at the church’s General Assembly in Birmingham. The resolution was unchanged from the Saturday night compromise (posted below), though there were two amendments offered. One would have changed the apology to the Jewish community to instead “regret” misunderstanding of the church’s stance on the Middle East due to “reportage” of the 2004 overture.

That overture was seen as singling out companies that did business in Israel as targets for divestment by the church.

The second defeated amendment spoke of the church’s solidarity with the Palestinian people while working for “a just and lasting peace.” That proposal was defeated 273-237. Presbyterian observers said that reflected respect for the process by which the committee crafted a document that was seen as even-handed, not favoring one side or the other.

Rabbi Jonathan Miller of Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El, who had worked with local Presbyterians on reconsidering the 2004 resolution, said “now we need to support the Presbyterian Church and rebuild our relationships locally and nationally.”

Rev. Edwin Hurley of South Highlands Presbyterian Church in Birmingham, who spoke for a compromise resolution offered by the local Presbytery, said “I thought it was a fair and balanced acknowledgement of the General Assembly of the error they made two years ago.”

Eric Greenberg, associate director of interfaith affairs for the Anti-Defamation League in New York, said “this speaks to the importance of interfaith dialogue in helping to resolve issues between faith communities.”

As he spoke to reporters in the hallway after the vote, Miji Working, a Presbyterian delegate from Santa Barbara, Calif., approached to offer a personal apology for the conflict between the church and the Jewish community.

Hazem Ziada, an observer from Atlanta who was at the American Friends Service Committee Middle East Peace Education Program’s booth earlier in the day, said it was “strange” that the debate lasted less than half an hour.

After the second amendment was debated, the call for the question was made to include all motions, shutting down debate on the overall resolution.

Regarding defeat of the second amendment, Ziada bemoaned, “I’m not sure that acknowledging the Palestinians was all that offensive.”

The resolution frames the debate in terms of supporting efforts for peace, rather than punishing companies through divestment. “What we’re concerned about is investing in peace, not seeking divestment,” said David Henderson, vice-moderator of the Peacemaking and International Issues committee.

Joan Gray, moderator of the General Assembly, said the main concern for Presbyterians is “how can we be peacemakers” and “listen to all voices.”

She commended the committee for its “excellent work.”

The Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee will still be charged with examining companies whose policies are not in line with the church’s stances, but Israel is no longer singled out as an area of special emphasis.

Divestment could still be recommended against offending companies, though any such recommendation would have to be approved by the 2008 GA at the earliest.