Despite strong pressure from powerful Jewish lobbyists, the Presbyterian Churchâs (USA) 217 General Assembly has maintained its determination to use divestment to pressure international corporations that support the Occupation – where the âcustomary corporate engagement processâ fails.
Two years ago the church made headway by adopting a resolution calling for “phased, selective divestment from corporations that profit from the illegal occupation of Palestine.”
The Zionist lobby worked intensely over the last years to reverse that decision. The church, however, has been able to maintain unity in the face of these attacks, modifying its language in a new resolution that does not rescind the 2004 resolution.
Passed on June 21st by a vote of 483 in favour, 28 opposed and 1 abstention, the new resolution asks “that financial investments as they pertain to Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the West Bank be invested in only peaceful pursuits, and calls for the customary corporate engagement process.” At the end of the customary process lies divestment. The resolution was an alternative to an overture that sought to repeal and rescind the actions of the 2004 General Assembly relating to “phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel.”
It is worrying that the Zionist lobby has been allowed to dictate the words that can be used within the church when it comes to Palestine. It is saddening to see that the church is still trying to maintain an approach of even-handedness and balance between the oppressed and the oppressor in the makeup of its speaker panels, reports, resolutions and even within its divestment process. The time still needs to come when the church will be ready to unmask the âIsraeli/Palestinian conflictâ for what it really is â a colonial occupation and apartheid regime aimed at the ethnic cleansing of Palestine. The day that the church recognizes Zionism as a racist ideology, it will be able to place the divestment process in a framework that acknowledges the reality of the situation in Palestine.
Yet the dinner held by the National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus on the occasion of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church featured some important interventions.
“It is time now that we start using the word apartheid,” Rev. Donald Wagner, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at North Park University in Chicago, told attendees during his speech. “In fact, it is worse than apartheid.”
Wagner highlighted the global dynamics enforcing Palestinian dispossession and demanded that “We have to unmask the face of the empire.â He said that âWe are called to stand againstâ an “empire” that uses weapons and the international media for its gain. Wagner said that the phased, selective divestment process which the denomination began in 2004 has “touched a nerve. We are touching an empire, both in the U.S. and in the Middle East. We need to hold the course now on divestment.”
Chad Ellertson, a teenager who was part of a group of Presbyterians who toured Palestine on both sides of the Green Line in April, embarrassed the shallow rhetoric of âconstructive engagementâ and âdialogueâ with a simple question: “Who will speak from behind the wall?”
Though there has been no movement away from the course of divestment that the churches have taken in the US and Europe, there is still a long way to go before the Christian world is ready to take the necessary stands and make space for the truth.