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Presbyterian Parley Poised To Drop Divestment Push

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Presbyterian Church (USA) appears to be stopping its push to divest from Israel.

Two years ago the church angered Jewish organizations when delegates to its general assembly passed a resolution calling for divestment from Israel. At this year’s Presbyterian parley in Birmingham, a church committee agreed June 17 to ask the full assembly to replace its 2004 resolution calling for “phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel” with a policy of “corporate engagement” that would restrict investments in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank to peaceful pursuits. The full assembly was to vote on the resolution Wednesday.

The committee overwhelmingly agreed to the motion after days of deliberation in which it held open hearings and heard dozens of proposals. If approved, the resolution would mark a significant victory for Jewish organizations that have lobbied hard against the original divestment measure.

Although the resolution does not formally rescind divestment, most took it to mean that the drive toward divestment had been stopped and that the call for “corporate engagement” shows a more balanced approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Many Jews and some Presbyterians felt blindsided by the divestment resolution two years ago. Lay and clergy all seemed to have an opinion on the efficacy and justice of the matter.

Even Jewish communal officials have had the chance to air their views this year, beginning with a panel discussion June 15 followed by open hearings June 16. Anti-divestment testimony was delivered by James Woolsey, former CIA director, and by Judea Pearl, father of slain Jewish journalist Daniel Pearl.

More arguments against divestment were aired the night of June 17 during debate on resolutions before the church’s peacemaking and international issues committee.

Anti-divestment activists were pleased with the new language.

“Divestment has been stopped,” said the Rev. James Young, an anti-divestment proponent from Virginia Beach, Va. Previously, divestment was a mandate, he said. Now, the “probability that they will recommend any sort of divestment is extremely remote.”

Other anti-divestment activists said that more needed to be done.

Committee member Adam Fischer was one of six who voted against the motion. While he called it a “step in the right direction,” he noted that it doesn’t rescind the process that could lead to divestment.

Fischer fears that Israel’s detractors will abuse the new resolution for anti-Israel ends.

Fliers posted at the conference center memorialize the life of Rachel Corrie, the pro-Palestinian activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer while trying to disrupt an Israeli anti-terrorist operation. Corrie’s cousin testified in favor of divestment.

The 2004 resolution was a “great gift to the Palestinian people,” said peacemaking committee member Nabeel Saoud of West Hills, Calif., in response to a suggestion to eliminate the word “occupation” from the compromise resolution.

Saoud said that the committee should not pull the “rug from underneath” the Palestinians.

In the end, the word “occupation” was left in.

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