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Presbyterian Church Grossly Misleading
on Its Divestment Action

How accurate is the information provided by the PCUSA on the divestment issue?

The PCUSA has responded to the widespread criticism of the General Assembly's divestment vote by posting a section on its website called Israel and Jewish Relations. The page is a highly misleading mix of half truths and articles apparently selected to give misimpressions about both the nature of the dispute and the nature and extent of criticism that the church has received.

The general effect of the material posted—and not posted—on the PCUSA web page is to minimize the scale of the public relations disaster that this has been for the PCUSA. A Presbyterian relying on this official PCUSA page for information on divestment would certainly underestimate the extent of the outrage that the divestment resolution has brought down on the Church. The overall impression given by the articles is that the debate over divestment is an argument between the Presbyterian Church and the Jews. The page completely omits the serious and widespread opposition to the divestment resolution from other churches, from the secular world, and, most tellingly, from within the Presbyterian Church, USA, opposition that has been covered by serious journalists but ignored by the Presbyterian News Service.

Omitted from this page is the highly inflammatory press release issued by the PCUSA New Service immediately after the General Assembly voted to divest. This press release, the first news the world had of the divestment vote, read as follows:

The 216th General Assembly approved several measures opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestine Friday, including a call for the corporate witness office of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to begin gathering data to support a selective divestment of holdings in multinational corporations doing business in Israel/Palestine. Divestment is one of the strategies that U.S. churches used in the 1970s and '80s in a successful campaign to end apartheid in South Africa... In other actions related to Israel, the Assembly voted by large margins to condemn Israel's construction of a "security wall" across the West Bank; disavow Christian Zionism as a legitimate theological stance and direct the denomination's Middle East and Interfaith Relations offices to develop resources on differences between fundamental Zionism and Reformed theology; and study the feasibility of sponsoring economic-development projects in Palestine and putting an action plan in place by 2005.

This announcement, with its explicit equating of Israel to apartheid South Africa, with its flat statement that the PCUSA had voted to " support a selective divestment of holdings in multinational corporations doing business in Israel/Palestine," and with its strident anti-Israel tone was in keeping with the tenor of PCUSA pronouncements on the Middle East in recent years.

The page also misleads by using several articles so inaccurate as to bring into question the professional competence of the journalists who wrote them, and the judgment or motives of the church officials who posted them.

Most of the articles come from the Presbyterian News Service. According to its own statement, "PNS is a news agency, not a public relations or promotional entity." "Under editorial guidelines adopted by the General Assembly Council, PNS fulfills its mission and purpose by:

Reporting the facts accurately, clearly, fairly, impartially and promptly.

Integrity depends upon a high degree of professionalism among the news staff and those who oversee it. While the primary sources of the news service are the church's national level ministries, its primary constituents are members of the church. Operating with integrity creates trust, which cannot be conferred but must be earned.

Analysis of the Articles on the PCUSA Website

Missing From The PCUSA Page

Four important types of articles are missing form this page:

  1. News articles on opposition to divestment from within the Presbyterian Church, such as the following: Ref1, Ref2, and Ref3.
  2. Mention of PCUSA organizations opposing divestment:

    The Presbyterian Lay Committee has opposed divestment and has an archive on its site (scroll down to News Archives: PCUSA and Israel) that, unlike the PCUSA archive, includes coverage of Presbyterian groups that oppose divestment.

    Over 1,000 Presbyterians have signed a "Call for a Special Session of the 216th General Assembly" to reconsider the divestment vote. (See Ref)

    A group of prominent Presbyterians, Presbyterians Concerned for Jewish and Christian Relations responded to the divestment vote by forming an organization to rethink the Church's approach to the Middle East.

    Presbyterians for Renewal called the decision "dunderheaded" in an opinion piece opposed to divestment and explaining the current options.

    The Presbyterians for Renewal staff have also written and posted a summary article on the divestment issue that is far more informative, balanced, and thoughtful than the material posted by the PCUSA staff. (See Divestment That Isn't: A Leader's Resource for Interpreting the Israel Divestment Issue, Ref.)

    Presbyweb has a comprehensive index on the divestment issue. It includes copious, important material on Presbyterian reactions not featured on the PCUSA page.

  3. Articles in praise of the Presbyterian divestment from those who oppose the existence of Israel and from supporters of terrorism (see Ref).

  4. Articles that would give some indication of the breadth and depth of outrage that this resolution has evoked from American Jews (see Ref).

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