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Presbyterians Decry Resolution Calling For Divestment From Companies in Israel
by Steven Weiss
New York Sun, August 12, 2004, page 7

A growing number of Presbyterians are beginning to speak out against a resolution passed in the Presbyterian Church (USA) that called for divesting itself from some companies doing business in Israel.

Presbyterians Concerned for Jewish Christian Relations, a group of 18 ministers and lay leaders from across the country, issued a statement last night decrying the resolution, saying "We are distressed that the General Assembly's statement on Israel this year lacked balance and failed to condemn the terrorism to which the people of Israel have been subjected."

Members "are deeply distressed by any suggestion that divestment policies of the church relating to Israel should uniquely target that country in ways that do not apply to any other country," the statement said.

Not all members of the church were so diplomatic.

Pastor Mark Allen Brewer of California's Bel Air Presbyterian Church recently told the Los Angeles Jewish Journal that the church's General Assembly seemingly "fell out of the stupid tree and hit every branch going down. The idea that withholding funds is going to make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is ridiculous."

The resolution calls for the church to begin the process of divestment from multinational companies that it sees as profiting from violations of the church's pacifist agenda in Israel.

Presbyterian Church (USA) is the largest Presbyterian denomination in America, representing some 2.5 million members, including 18,000 in New York City. The second largest denomination, Presbyterian Church of America, is approximately a tenth of its size.

Members of the Presbyterian Church of America say they have been affected by the resolution, though the denominations split in 1973 and have no working relationship.

"We have been inundated with letters from people irate over that vote," a spokesman for the Presbyterian Church of America, Dr. Dominic Aquila, told The New York Sun. "I think the resolution has reflected poorly on us, because it was such a stark contrast to where many Presbyterians appear to be."

An ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in Haddonfield, N.J., and an author of religious educational materials, the Reverend Gregg Meister, said the resolution does not reflect the attitudes of most Presbyterians.

"My experience with people in the pew, as a pastor, as one who produces educational resources, as one who gives seminars, is that people in the pews are quite strongly pro-Israel" and would disagree with the divestment resolution, he said.

Rev. Meister questioned the General Assembly's motives in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, saying "politically naive Presbyterians believe that our denomination is neutral on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, [while] politically astute Presbyterians know otherwise." He said he thinks the resolution "comes out of a long-standing pattern and perspective of supporting the Palestinian side of the conflict."

Pastor Walter Tennyson of the Broadway Presbyterian Church, a Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation in Manhattan, disagreed with Rev. Meister's view.

The divestment resolution reflects a "majority opinion" in the denomination, he said, and his congregants are generally supportive of it.

Pastor Tennyson said the resolution is "important... to distinguish our Christian voice from the Christian right voice which is very consistently and very simplistically cooperating" with the Israeli Right.

Pastor Robert Brashear of the West Park Presbyterian Church, another Presbyterian Church (USA) congregation in Manhattan, attended the General Assembly and is unhappy with the resolution, even though his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are more liberal.

"Divestment, at this point, I don't think would be the most effective, because the issue is complicated," Pastor Brashear told the Sun.

Divestment "works best when you're able to delineate a situation that appears more black and white," he said. "In a situation like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it's a much more complicated situation, and I think the traditional peace community has not been aware of those differences."

Presbyterian Church (USA) has launched a Web page at www.pcusa.org/interfaith/assembly to answer reaction to the divestment resolution and three others that dealt with the Jewish community.

"The decision causing the most alarm is the initiation of a process of selective divestment from companies whose business operations in Israel are found to be causing harm to innocent people there," the page notes.

It also declares that "It has been widely reported that the church called for a total divestment from any company with business interest in Israel, and compared the policies of Israel with those of apartheid South Africa, but this is not the case."

Those statements were in earlier drafts of the resolution and were not passed by the General Assembly.

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