By a hairbreadth vote of 333-331, the Presbyterian Church USA rejected a proposal Thursday to divest from companies whose products are used by Israel to enforce occupation of the West Bank.The BDSers threw everything they had at this, and after the committee vote it looked like they would win.
The vote, at the church's biennial meeting held this year at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown, followed weeks of lobbying and days of impassioned testimony by American Jews, Palestinian Christians and Presbyterians. In proceedings that are being watched around the world, Presbyterians voted to replace the divestment proposal with a separate one calling for positive investment in businesses in the West Bank.
The vote represented a surprising reversal after a smaller committee voted by a 3-to-1 margin earlier this week to support divestment.
The vote brings PCUSA into line with other mainline U.S. Protestant denominations that have rejected divestment. The United Methodist Church voted in May not to divest from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, the same three companies targeted by PCUSA. The Evangelical Lutheran Church rejected divestment in 2007 and 2011.
The Rev. Matthew Miller from Iowa said before the body that divestment would "privilege Palestinian suffering over the suffering of Israelis" and jeopardize close collaboration with American Jews.
"No one cares about our symbolic action," he said. "It will achieve nothing other than alienation."
The Rev. Susan Andrews, a former moderator of the General Assembly and an influential liberal in the church, said she had been to the West Bank but opposed divestment.
She explained that the church's twin moral imperatives to "stand in solidarity against the pain and oppression" of Palestinians and to "stand in solidarity with our historic Jewish partners in Israel and the U.S." demanded that it take a more positive course.
But apparently, those who make the most noise are not always the the ones who carry the day.
Now the BDSers are howling on Twitter. A typically funny line that they are retweeting like crazy is "Palestinians are not victims in need of aid, they're an occupied people in need of freedom" - a pithy statement that is deceptive on at least four levels:
- PalArabs beg for more and more aid all the time
- PCUSA was not advocating aid but investment in the West Bank, something that the pro-Israel crowd has no problem with
- They aren't "occupied" for many reasons, legal and definitional
- Divestment from those three companies wouldn't bring "freedom" any closer; only negotiating with Israel would
That's gotta hurt.
UPDATE: My understanding is that the BDSers have some procedural options; one to resubmit the same proposal and one to only vote to divest from Caterpillar. We'll see.
UPDATE 2: They did overwhelmingly vote to boycott Ahava. Peter Beinart was cited to help them make that decision.
UPDATE 3: They overwhelmingly defeated a declaration that Israel practices apartheid against Palestinians.