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June 19, 2014 1

Anti-Israel Resolutions Debated at Presbyterian Church USA’s General Assembly

Israel is very much on the agenda at this year’s Gen­eral Assem­bly (GA) of the Pres­by­ter­ian Church USA (PCUSA), cur­rently meet­ing in Detroit.  All four­teen res­o­lu­tions, or over­tures, being con­sid­ered by the Mid­dle East Com­mit­tee con­cern the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, as does one before the Ecu­meni­cal and Inter­faith Com­mit­tee.  The PCUSA, which has had a pres­ence in the Mid­dle East since the early 1800’s, has taken up divest­ment at each bien­nial meet­ing since 2004. In 2012, the divest­ment res­o­lu­tion was nar­rowly defeated.  This year, it is once again on the agenda, as are over­tures to boy­cott Hewlett-Packard (HP), to label Israel an “apartheid state,” and to study whether the Church should main­tain its com­mit­ment to a two-state solu­tion. ADL, rep­re­sented at the GA by its Inter­faith Direc­tor, Rabbi David Sand­mel, opposes these mea­sures as unfair to Israel and con­trary to the goal of achiev­ing a two-state solution.

There are also over­tures being con­sid­ered that oppose divest­ment and sug­gest a “third way” of engag­ing the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict through sup­port­ing peace-makers, travel to the region and encour­ag­ing study­ing a broad range of views through local relations.

Dur­ing the first few days of the GA, com­mit­tees receive over­tures pro­posed by local gov­ern­ing bod­ies, hear tes­ti­mony, debate amend­ments, and even­tu­ally decide what actions to rec­om­mend the GA take regard­ing the over­tures they received.  While the com­mit­tees have a great deal of influ­ence on what finally ends up before the entire polity, it is the GA that makes the final deci­sion, which is sched­uled for Fri­day, June 20.

Pow­er­ful groups within the Church, such as the Israel/Palestine Mis­sion Net­work, which pro­duced the anti-Semitic “Zion­ism Unset­tled doc­u­ment,” sup­port divest­ment.   Due to the GA’s struc­ture, these groups have a dis­pro­por­tion­ate voice in the Com­mit­tee, and are sup­ported by the anti-Israel Jew­ish Voice for Peace, whose promi­nent vis­i­bil­ity at the GA has con­fused some par­tic­i­pants into think­ing they rep­re­sent the main­stream Jew­ish com­mu­nity.  More mod­er­ate voices within the Church, such as Pres­by­te­ri­ans for Mid­dle East Peace, have been work­ing closely with the ADL and a broad coali­tion of other major Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions and reli­gious lead­ers to bring a fairer per­spec­tive to the deliberations.

Though the Mid­dle East Com­mit­tee did vote on June 17 in favor of divest­ment from HP, Cater­pil­lar and Motorola, it also explic­itly stated “the action does not mean align­ment with the over­all strat­egy of BDS (Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions).” The over­ture that rec­om­mends divest­ment also reaf­firms Israel’s right to exist within secure and inter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized borders.

There is also the large major­ity of Pres­by­te­ri­ans who sup­port the state of Israel while also sym­pa­thiz­ing with the suf­fer­ing of the Pales­tini­ans. They feel torn between their com­mit­ment to pos­i­tive Jewish-Christian rela­tions and desire to see an end to the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, and some have expressed feel­ing over­whelmed with input from all sides. While the bar­rage of anti-Israel rhetoric from cer­tain sec­tors has been chal­leng­ing to hear, the shrill­ness of their mes­sage may be pro­duc­ing a back­lash, espe­cially when com­pared to the more mea­sured pre­sen­ta­tion from the mod­er­ates and rec­og­nized main­stream Jew­ish organizations.

It is clear that the Church is divided on how best to address the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, as demon­strated by the con­flict­ing rec­om­men­da­tions of the Mid­dle East Com­mit­tee. The process in the com­mit­tees is dif­fer­ent than that of the GA where the debate is much more bal­anced. While in the past the GA has rejected rec­om­men­da­tions of the Com­mit­tee, what will hap­pen this year can­not be pre­dicted, and, as the vote draws near, there will likely be intense lob­by­ing of the vot­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives from all sides.

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April 24, 2014 1

Momentum For Divestment On California Campuses Falters

Despite the best efforts of anti-Israel stu­dent groups, divest­ment res­o­lu­tions debated on two Cal­i­for­nia cam­puses failed last night by wide mar­gins, while a third passed by just one vote.sdsu divest logo

Stu­dent Sen­a­tors at San Diego State Uni­ver­sity (3 Yes-16 No-3 Absten­tions) and the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Santa Bar­bara (8–16-0), rejected res­o­lu­tions that called on their respec­tive uni­ver­si­ties to with­draw invest­ments from multi­na­tional com­pa­nies that work with Israel. A sim­i­lar res­o­lu­tion did, how­ever, pass by a razor-thin mar­gin at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Riverside.

The results of the River­side res­o­lu­tion, though not favor­able, are telling in and of them­selves about the state of sup­port for BDS on Amer­i­can col­lege cam­puses. The final vote was 8–7 and that was only after the Sen­a­tors voted to con­duct a closed vote so that the rep­re­sen­ta­tives would not have to openly declare their anti-Israel views.

More­over, it appears that the pres­i­dent of the Sen­ate did not sup­port the res­o­lu­tion. Based on live-tweeting from the event, it seems that the pres­i­dent, Sai Pata­dia, asked those in favor of divest­ment to explain why it was legit­i­mate to sin­gle out Israel for pun­ish­ment, an issue often cited by the pro-Israel com­mu­nity. [Last Novem­ber, Pata­dia also tried to resolve an issue that had arisen when a divest­ment res­o­lu­tion on cam­pus was intro­duced in stealth, strip­ping pro-Israel stu­dents of the oppor­tu­nity to present an alter­na­tive view­point.  This time around, Pata­dia encour­aged Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine to reach out to the pro-Israel com­mu­nity and let them know when the res­o­lu­tion was drafted, accord­ing to an arti­cle in the cam­pus newspaper.]

UC River­side and UC Santa Bar­bara have both dealt with sim­i­lar res­o­lu­tions before. A res­o­lu­tion sev­eral months ago was voted down and last March, a res­o­lu­tion passed but was then rescinded a month later. At UC Santa Bar­bara, a vote last April failed 10–11-1 where­upon pro-Israel stu­dents took it upon them­selves to run for Stu­dent Sen­ate, pre­sum­ably in the hopes of avoid­ing a sim­i­larly close vote this year.

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March 21, 2014 1

Divestment Resolutions Abound on U.S. Campuses This Week

In the wake of Israeli Apartheid Week, which recently wrapped up after tak­ing place on sev­eral dozen col­lege cam­puses dur­ing the month of March, divest­ment res­o­lu­tions were intro­duced on four U.S. col­lege cam­puses this loyoladivestweek.

Here’s a run­down on the res­o­lu­tions – two of which passed, two of which were held up – that were intro­duced this week:

Loy­ola Uni­ver­sity – Although the Loy­ola Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine (SJP) chap­ter had dis­sem­i­nated a peti­tion urg­ing the uni­ver­sity to with­draw invest­ments in five cor­po­ra­tions, the cam­pus was blind­sided by the sur­prise intro­duc­tion of a divest­ment res­o­lu­tion in  the Stu­dent Sen­ate on Tues­day. The res­o­lu­tion, which passed by a vote of 26–0-2, had not pre­vi­ously been announced and stu­dents who sought to oppose it were not given the oppor­tu­nity to express their perspective.

Ari­zona State Uni­ver­sity – Also on Tues­day, a res­o­lu­tion call­ing on Ari­zona State Uni­ver­sity (ASU) to divest from Cater­pil­lar, which pro­vides heavy machin­ery to the Israeli army, was tabled by the Under­grad­u­ate Stu­dent Gov­ern­ment. The bill was intro­duced by the group “ASU Divest from Cater­pil­lar Inc.” and it will report­edly be amended and rein­tro­duced by ASU’s SJP chap­ter in the near future.

Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan – The Cen­tral Stu­dent Gov­ern­ment (CSG) was sched­uled to vote on a divest­ment res­o­lu­tion ini­ti­ated by the anti-Israel stu­dent group “Stu­dents Allied for Free­dom and Equal­ity” (SAFE). The meet­ing attracted an over­whelm­ingly large num­ber of stu­dents and as the room became over­crowded, the meet­ing was moved to another loca­tion on cam­pus where an announce­ment was made that the vot­ing ses­sion would be post­poned indef­i­nitely. Accord­ing to the Michi­gan Daily, the crowd then “pressed up against the stan­chions divid­ing the room and chanted ‘Divest’ at the CSG mem­bers for sev­eral min­utes.” In addi­tion, more than 100 stu­dents gath­ered out­side of the Michi­gan Union to rally in favor of divestment.

The fol­low­ing day, mem­bers of SAFE declared that they were con­duct­ing a “sit-in” near the stu­dent gov­ern­ment offices until the CSG would hold a vote on their divest­ment res­o­lu­tion. The stu­dents  took over the space and refused to leave until they were told that they would be arrested. Reports on Twit­ter indi­cate that mem­bers of the group are cur­rently recon­ven­ing for the third day of their “sit-in.”

San Diego State Uni­ver­sity – San Diego State University’s (SDSU) Stu­dent Diver­sity Com­mis­sion passed a divest­ment res­o­lu­tion by a vote of 11–6-2 on March 19. The res­o­lu­tion now will report­edly be brought before the uni­ver­sity council.

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