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Presbyterians vote to continue pressure on Israel

(RNS) Advocates for Palestinians cheer the PCUSA as Jewish groups denounce measures that "demonize" Israel.

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) commissioners express their views during a plenary meeting at the General Assembly on June 24, 2016. 
Photo by Danny Bolin, courtesy of Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

(RNS) Presbyterians at their General Assembly passed several resolutions aimed to pressure Israel to leave territories it has occupied since its 1967 war with neighboring states.

RELATED: Methodist supporters of Israel-related divestment regroup after setback

The votes Friday (June 24) by Presbyterian Church USA delegates angered mainstream Jewish groups, who said the measures unfairly “demonize” Israel, give a pass to Palestinian violence and question the Jewish state’s right to exist. But some Jewish leaders noted that delegates amended resolutions to temper action and stances against Israel.

Presbyterians who voted in favor of the resolutions, called “overtures,” said they showed how committed Presbyterians are to alleviating Palestinian suffering under Israeli occupation.

On Saturday, Unitarian Universalists also considered a resolution divesting from Israel at their General Assembly in Columbus, Ohio. There, 54 percent of delegates voted to reject investments in companies involved in the occupied territories, but supporters did not meet the two-thirds majority needed for passage of the resolution. 

Among the measures that passed at the Presbyterians’ biennial assembly in Portland, Ore., were those to:

  • Approve a report of a committee charged to evaluate the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Critics said the report questions the right of Israel to exist as the sanctuary for Jews it was created to be. The report was approved 429-129 with an amendment that affirmed the right of the people of Israel “to exist as a sovereign nation.” Delegates rejected a minority report that referred to the adopted report as “pugnaciously flawed.”
  • Call for the “prayerful study” of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and opposition to BDS. The approval of this overture trumped a move to end any church affiliation with BDS, a global campaign to apply economic pressure to Israel and boycott its institutions and products.
  • Urge the realty company RE/MAX to stop sales of property within Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. Supporters of the overture said they received prior to the General Assembly a letter from RE/MAX CEO Dave Liniger stating that the company “will no longer receive any income from the sale of Jewish settlement properties in the West Bank.”

The Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the church, which had lobbied for overtures critical of Israel, welcomed “the advances made at this year’s General Assembly towards supporting a just and lasting peace in Israel and Palestine.”

The American Jewish Committee criticized the General Assembly for endorsing a report that was “one-sided” and “filled with inaccuracies.”

“For those who seek an enduring Israeli-Palestinian peace it is deeply disappointing that a major Protestant denomination in the U.S. with deep roots in the Middle East has chosen to be a cheerleader for those whose vision of peace does not include the State of Israel,” said Emily Soloff, AJC associate director of interreligious and intergroup relations.

In 2014, after an emotional and hourslong debate at the PCUSA’s General Assembly, delegates voted to divest church funds from three American companies it cited for profiting from the oppression of Palestinians within Israel’s occupied territories.

This year’s votes by the Presbyterians come less then six weeks after the United Methodists disapproved measures intended to increase pressure on Israel.


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