Thursday, April 27, 2006

Task force proposed to find divestment alternatives, report findings in 2008

Task force proposed to find divestment alternatives, report findings in 2008:
Presbyterian Outlook (registration required to read the full article)
"LOUISVIILLE – Seeking to calm the storm over divestment and get people talking constructively about the Middle East, Rick Ufford-Chase, moderator of the 216th General Assembly, is proposing a plan.

First, the General Assembly this summer in Birmingham would create a task force to carefully monitor events in the Middle East – a task force whose members would be committed both to working with Palestinian Christians who want to end the Israeli occupation and to deepening relations with Jews and Muslims in the area. That task force would present ideas on “how to move forward on these sensitive areas” to the assembly in 2008.

Second, the assembly would refer all overtures regarding divestment (and there are a truckload of them) to the Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee. Many of those sending overtures want the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to revisit the assembly’s highly controversial decision, made in 2004, to begin a process of phased, selective divestment in some companies doing business in Israel....

Third, Ufford-Chase is recommending that conversations begin – including MRTI, the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation – regarding alternate investment possibilities “that promote peace and strengthen the economies both in Israel and the occupied territories.” A number of the overtures sent to the assembly want to explore this area, he told the council – so there already seems to be some energy coalescing around this possibility...."
The PC(USA) is not going to please everyone, no matter what it decides at the upcoming General Assembly. If any damage was done (and I think our credibility was one casualty), then it happened in 2004 when the divestment overture was approved. Since then there have been overtures ranging from endorsment of the 2004 action to repudiation of divestment, and many in the middle.

The overtures representing the middle seem to focus on affirmative support for peacemaking rather than trying to take a political and punitive approach targetted mainly toward one side in the conflict.

It seemed that "damage control" began immediately following the 2004 action of General Assembly and it became obvious that the MRTI committee was not given the power to act independently. All recommendations would have to come before a subsequent General Assembly. MRTI has already made it known that no recommendations will be presented at the 217th GA, thus the earliest any actions can be implemented is 2008.

From my perspective, the issues include the following:
  • The apparent one-sidedness of the action, targetting Israel, but minimizing the actions of Palestinian terrorists.
  • Erroneous assertions that Caterpiller manufactured "armor-plated bulldozers" for Israel. (They don't. Armor plating is applied by a third party)
  • The legal difficulties in managing pension funds for any other reason than the benefit of its shareholders.
  • The failure to take into account the intertwining of the Israeli and Palestinian economies, making it difficult, if not impossible to "target" Israeli investments without causing harm to all sides, including the people.
  • The failure to discuss this with wider constituencies prior to the 216th GA.
Our penchant for doing things "decently and in order" has slowed this process down, and many, if not most seem to agree that this could have been handled far better. We have the opportunity to correct our missteps, achieve some measure of reconciliation with the Jewish community, and concentrate on pastoral efforts to bring about peace.

We are not, nor should we be, the agents of punishment, and I am heartened to see so many overtures that express pastoral concern to the Middle East, and I hope the 217th GA adopts one of these thoughtful overtures as the paradigm through which our social mission in the world is carried out.

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Quotidian Grace said...

Well said, Denis!

Denis Hancock said...

Thank-you. This is a subject I have strong feelings about.

Boycotts and other forms of economic punishment seem to always hurt the innocent before they affect the targets, and we need to at least acknowledge that fact.