Presbyterians, Israel/Palestine, and Corporate Engagement
The Office of the General Assembly has received more than two-dozen overtures related to the actions of the 216th General Assembly (2004) regarding Israel and Palestine. The General Assembly Council (GAC), with guidance from an informal group convened by Rick Ufford-Chase, Moderator of the 216th General Assembly (2004), at the request of the GAC, has carefully reviewed these overtures and submits the following comment and advice to the 217th General Assembly (2006).
The General Assembly Council recognizes the goodwill and concern for peace and justice reflected in all the overtures. The intense debate occasioned by the actions of the 216th General Assembly (2004) regarding “phased, selective divestment” from companies whose products, activities, or services support the violence of the conflict in Israel and Palestine is grounded in the inescapable reality that as Presbyterians we have deep, meaningful, and historic ties with many of the primary players in the conflict.
Our Christian partners in the region ask Presbyterians to hear and act on their grave concerns about the injustice of the occupation. They are clear that a peaceful resolution of the conflict will be unattainable as long as the occupation continues to make it impossible for Palestinians to create a viable state that offers genuine hope for their children’s future. The church’s own mission experience in the region impresses upon us that no Palestinian can be secure in the midst of the violence and daily oppression that define the military and economic occupation of the West Bank.
Our Jewish partners, both in the United States and Israel, are clear that no legitimate peace can be possible without a guarantee that the State of Israel will be respected by all of the surrounding nations in the region, or without genuine safety for the citizens of Israel who live under the constant threat of attack against civilians. Further, they have worked hard to help Presbyterians understand that we must “go the extra mile” in an attempt to stand against a two-thousand-year history of Christian violence against the Jews that culminated in the Holocaust.
Our partners in both Israeli and Palestinian peace organizations have continued to call on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to find ways to support their positive efforts for reconciliation and the creation of a lasting, just, and durable peace that will allow their peoples to live together in two viable, side-by-side states.
Presbyterians have learned that most people—including many of our own members—who care deeply about these matters find it difficult, perhaps even impossible, to articulate the concerns and desires of one of our partners in this entrenched conflict without denying the validity of the concerns of the other. This is perhaps our greatest challenge, a critical balancing act as we continue to move across the high-tension wire of working to be a genuine partner for peace in the region.
The General Assembly Council notes the following concerns, many of which are broadly shared across our denomination, for careful attention by the 217th General Assembly (2006) as it considers these overtures:
Many Presbyterians are fully committed to the ongoing support of our Christian partners in the Middle East who have called on us to continue the sensitive and careful implementation of the work of the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee as regards the action of the 216th General Assembly (2004) to engage those corporations in which we hold stock about our social witness policy.
Many Presbyterians are extremely concerned about the actions of the 216th General Assembly (2004)—especially regarding the specific language of “divestment”—and its unintended meaning and consequence for our Jewish sisters and brothers.
Many Presbyterians are calling on the 217th General Assembly (2006) to encourage the exploration of alternative investments that promote peace (especially joint efforts by Palestinians and Israelis), strengthen the economies in Israel and the occupied territories, and work toward a viable, two-state solution.
Some Presbyterians have called on us to empower a working group to continue to work intentionally on these matters with special attention to the following concerns:
- The quickly changing political realities in both Israel and Palestine;
- The need to build consensus around our core values as people of faith, even when some of those core values may appear to be in contradiction with one another;
- A commitment to strengthen and support all efforts to build positive understanding and relationships within and among Jews, Christians, and Muslims in Israel and Palestine, in the Middle East, and in the United States.
The General Assembly Council urges the 217th General Assembly (2006) to keep in careful balance all of the tensions we have noted above as it sorts its way through the various proposals and overtures.
As commissioners and advisory delegates wrestle with these sensitive issues, the General Assembly Council advises the 217th General Assembly (2006) to:
1. Empower the Moderators of the 216th and 217th General Assemblies to create a working group of seven members that will:
a. Carefully monitor ongoing developments of the situation in the Middle East;
b. Intentionally listen to Presbyterians and our Christian, Jewish, and Muslim friends in the Middle East and the United States; and
c. Develop guidance that honors each of their concerns as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) considers how to move forward on these sensitive issues.
d. Report its findings to the 218th General Assembly (2008), in conjunction with the General Assembly Council.
We urge the Moderators of the 216th and 217th General Assemblies to ensure that the working group be made up of Presbyterians who are committed both to our continuing accompaniment of Palestinian Christians who seek the end of the occupation and to the deepening of our historic and ever-living relationship with our Jewish and Muslim sisters and brothers. Further, we recommend that any guidance or recommendations on next steps from the working group be forwarded directly to the General Assembly Council for its consideration by February, 2008. Given that the working group is not tasked with developing policy, any recommendations or comments the members may wish to make regarding policy should be referred to the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy.
2. Refer any overture—including overtures and commissioners’ resolutions not yet received—that may affect the investment policy of the PC(USA) or that calls for boycott of or divestment in a specific company, country or region, to the MRTI committee for their recommendation to a future General Assembly, through the General Assembly Council.
3. Encourage the Board of Pensions, the Presbyterian Foundation, and the MRTI committee to explore new or existing alternative investment possibilities that promote peace and strengthen the economies both in Israel and the occupied territories, and to report their findings to the 218th General Assembly (2008). We give this advice in humility, noting the serious fiduciary responsibility of these two partner agencies and seeking genuine partnership as we explore any possibilities cooperatively.
In encouraging the formation of such a task force, we note the following:
The important work of the MRTI committee is proceeding deliberately. We urge the 217th General Assembly (2006) to acknowledge that the MRTI committee’s work cannot and will not result in the selling of any corporate stock until (at least) the deliberation of the 218th General Assembly in 2008.
The political situation in both Israel and Palestine is changing extremely quickly, and we believe it would be helpful to have a group that is tasked with working to follow, interpret, and understand the potential impact of those changes.
We are convinced that our church would benefit greatly from a serious effort to listen to one another and seek a solid consensus for our actions in the delicate task of peacemaking in this troubled region of the world. The alternative is an “us vs. them” debate that misses the fundamental reality that most Presbyterians care deeply about the issues of peace and justice in Israel and Palestine.
In the end, we are clear that Jesus calls us to just such an effort in peacemaking. In the second chapter of Philippians, we are told that Paul’s deepest desire for the church is to “make my joy complete,” calling us to “be of one mind, having the same love, being of one accord, and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”
It is clear that, somehow, Christ calls us to stand with our Palestinian sisters and brothers—Christian and Muslim—and our Jewish sisters and brothers as each cries out for justice. We can stand with those bold and courageous leaders on both sides of this contentious debate who insist that there is a way to share the land of our forefathers and foremothers in peace and security with one another.
May it be so.