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Presbyterian Network Commends United Methodist Church on Boycott Vote

Presbyterian Network Commends United Methodist Church on Boycott Vote

NEW YORK - May 3, 2012 - This week at the quadrennial General Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC), delegates boldly voted 558 to 367 to boycott Israeli settlement goods from the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).

The Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (IPMN) voted in 2010 to boycott three specific Israeli companies operating in the OPT; this week’s UMC vote broadens that boycott and widens the number who believe the illegal settlements in the West Bank are an obstacle to peace. IPMN agrees with Peter Beinart who in his recent op-ed in the NY Times, calls for a boycott of “non-democratic Israel,” saying “to save Israel, boycott the settlements.”

After years of ecumenically-partnered efforts on changing corporate policies that tolerate human rights violations, the UMC also vigorously debated the issue of divestment this week, but was not ready to take the final step required to divest its own funds from three American companies profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestine.

Among the passionate speakers in support of divestment was delegate Sara Swenson from Minnesota. “I am 24 years old,” she told the gathering of thousands, “my generation is missing from the church because we see the church as hypocritical.” Swenson told the General Conference that they had done enough “prayerful consideration” and it was “time for prayerful action.”

In bringing this issue to the plenary floor for the first time, the United Methodists grappled with whether it is morally acceptable to profit from Caterpillar, Inc., Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, who have been identified by their own Board of Church and Society as profiting from Israel’s 45-year occupation of Palestinian territories.

“These are the same three companies MRTI has concluded “profit from non-peaceful pursuits” said Carol Hylkema, moderator of IPMN. MRTI is the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment, the body in the Presbyterian Church (USA) that engages with corporations for socially responsible investing of church funds. Ms. Hylkema continued “Our General Assembly Mission Council approved MRTI’s recommendation for divestment from the three companies in February, and our denomination’s 220th General Assembly will vote on it in July.”

Over the last eight years, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has passed resolutions condemning the occupation and naming the illegal settlements, the separation barrier, the Israeli-only roads in the West Bank, etc., as obstacles to peace. In contrast to the Methodist vote, the Presbyterian vote in July will not be the first time the issue of justice for Palestine comes to the plenary floor; the recommendation from MRTI to the General Assembly (GA) was initiated in 2004 by an action of the Assembly itself, calling for the customary corporate engagement process with companies to see if changes can be implemented in their policies. Divestment is the last stage of this customary process, when there is no hope seen for change in corporate policy; it is not part of the BDS movement. (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions)

Beyond identifying the obstacles to peace, in 2008, the PC(USA) embraced “The Amman Call” from Christians in the Middle East, which held that words are not enough; actions are needed to bring change. In 2010, as an action of the GA, the Kairos Palestine document was received for study in all Presbyterian congregations. (Kairos Palestine calls for non-violent action through BDS). The Presbyterian process of discernment is down a different path than that of the UMC and this path was originally identified by the church’s highest governing body.

The paths and movements for human rights take years to bear fruit; the numbers of concerned citizens grow, as the truth becomes more widely known. Slowly but surely public opinion changes, making it impossible to keep the status quo. This was the process with the American civil rights movement and with the campaign against South African apartheid. With this first debate on divestment, the UMC joins people of conscience across the world, calling for a change in the status quo on Israel/Palestine.

The Arab Spring disrupted the status quo. The outbreak of revolution and protests across the Arab world for self-determination cannot be discussed or addressed without equal attention to the same struggle in Palestine. If we support freedom and self-determination in the Arab world, we must also support the struggle for freedom against a decades-old military occupation in Palestine.

About IPMN: In joyful obedience to the call of Christ, and in solidarity with churches and our other partners in the Middle East, this network covenants to engage, consolidate, nourish, and channel the energy in the Presbyterian Church (USA) toward the goal of a just peace in Israel /Palestine by facilitating education, promoting partnerships, and coordinating advocacy. The network speaks TO the Church not FOR the Church.

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