So the Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee is calling for divesting funds from three U.S. corporations who they say are profiting from Israeli violence against Palestinians.
I have studied the most recent report of New Covenant Funds, the primary investment arm of the Foundation and the most recent comparable data from the Board of Pension’s two investment arms, its Balanced Investment Portfolio and Fixed Income Portfolio.
The New Covenant Funds portfolio discloses several Chinese companies, several Middle-East Arab country controlled companies, and a huge list of American companies known to have business ties with such countries, not the least of which is General Motors with assembly plants in China, and all sorts of American retail companies that sell consumer goods we know all too well to be plainly branded “Made in China.” Given those countries’ well-documented record of human rights violations and religious discrimination and religious persecution, why are we so focused on Israel?
I was an elder commissioner to the July 2010 General Assembly. I was an active participant in the late-evening “St.Croix” group meetings seeking to negotiate a middle ground and balanced position that eventually resulted in a major modification and balancing of extreme and one-sided original language in the Middle East Study Committee Report. That report, after that extensive modification by the unanimous committee, fell more in line with the pronouncements of the last two general assemblies, which have carefully called for avoiding taking sides in the dispute, eschewed divestment, and advocated positive investment in combined Palestinian/Israeli enterprises as a form of positive and constructive peacemaking.
I was overture advocate for Overture 11-1 at the 2006 GA. That overture from my presbytery formed the model and basis for the more balanced and statesmanship-like Palestinian/Israeli peacemaking approach our denomination has advanced at GA level since then.
I am not a Zionist. I am neither anti-Palestinian nor anti-Israel. I am pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel, and those are not mutually exclusive terms.
I freely and regularly criticize Israel for the numerous mistakes it has made in the peacemaking process. They are all too frequent. Many of them, however, take place in the pressure-charged reality of Israel being a tiny Jewish-majority country surrounded by hostile neighbors, most of which are working hard to bring about its destruction. Even so, it can and should do better.
Some in our denomination seem determined to undermine the very right of Israel to exist in safe, secure, internationally recognized boundaries and to exercise the rights of any sovereign nation to defend and protect itself. Israel is the only democracy in the region. It is also the only government in the region that guarantees religious freedom, and is the only government in the region in which the Christian population is actually growing. (All easily verifiable).
I also freely criticize the Palestinian factions for their non-stop actions in rejecting every peace proposal presented to them by Israel, their continuing political corruption at the expense of the well-being of their own people, and their insistence on continuing unabated acts of terrorism daily against Israeli civilians. Hamas continues to refuse to recognize the legitimacy of Israel and continues to include in its charter the total destruction of Israel. Hamas is actively funded and supported with rockets and other munitions from Iran and Syria it daily hurls into Israel.
An eye-opening read on the realities of the situation on the ground through the eyes of a former Hamas militant, now a Christian finally granted political asylum in the U.S., is the book Son of Hamas, by Mosab Hassan Yousef. I respectfully suggest that before Presbyterians join lock-step in condemnation of Israel, as justified as some of that condemnation may be, that they read this book to understand the true complexities of the task at hand in peacemaking in that tragic conflict, and the need to tone down the rhetoric, avoid taking sides, and to get serious about real peacemaking.
Real concessions must be obtained from both sides. Before we can be a meaningful voice in that process we must have a place at the table. We can’t do that by taking sides.
We lose our voice as a peacemaker in this complex and frustrating powder keg situation when we align ourselve with either side. We marginalize ourselves. Rather, we must act as diplomats. That requires us to be evenhanded and to build trust and respect from both sides. It is for this reason I have serious problems with what MRTI is now doing and what I respectfully assert is political hypocrisy when viewed against our portfolio holdings. It is also for this reason that I find myself deeply involved in the work of the moderate PC(USA) affinity group, Presbyterians For Middle East Peace.
It is one thing to say” no” to investments in alcohol, tobacco, firearms and gambling businesses. We should. But to use our portfolio to engage in partisan political battles on issues in which our own dwindling denominational membership is sharply and deeply divided seems poor stewardship of our denominational assets. It is hypocritical. Tragically, it undermines Middle East peacemaking.
Pete Bloss is an elder currently serving on session and is Clerk of Session at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Gulfport, Mississippi.