Assembly rejects efforts to revive divestment option

PITTSBURGH, July 6, 2012 – Advocates of divestment from three companies accused of selling equipment that Israel puts to non-peaceful uses made several efforts to revive the issue in Friday morning’s session of the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

All those efforts failed.

The assembly initially rejected divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions Thursday night, when commissioners voted 369-290, with eight abstentions, for a substitute measure that calls for a “positive and creative course of action” in relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It also mandates development over the next two years of a plan to raise funds for investment in the West Bank.

Before approving that measure, the commissioners first voted by a hair’s-breadth margin (333-331-2) to substitute it for the divestment proposal. On Friday morning, a commissioner tried to roll back the clock to that crucial point.

Emily Anderson of East Tennessee Presbytery moved to reconsider Thursday night’s vote to make the investment proposal the main item on the floor at the time. Under procedural rules, she could make that request because she had voted with the majority on that question Thursday.

It was a bid for a do-over on the whole question of divestment. Arguing for it, Anderson said the outcome Thursday hinged on one or two commissioners who accidentally “pushed the wrong key on their keypad.”

Jim Thomas of the Presbytery of Elizabeth backed her proposal, saying “people around the world are watching” the assembly’s action on divestment.

But the majority wasn’t buying the idea. The assembly rejected reconsideration by a vote of 415-252, with one abstention.

Backers of divestment made what appeared to be three more efforts to revive it as an option. All fell short.

Commissioners voted 535-96 against a motion to bring up five overtures by the Middle East Peacemaking Issues Committee one by one, rather than conduct a single vote on whether they had all been fully addressed by Thursday’s vote on positive engagement and investment in Israel-Palestine. Bringing the measures up one by one might have opened the door to a new motion to divest.

Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons ruled out-of-order two other apparent attempts to use overtures as launching pads for divestment, either by substitution for the main measure or by amendment.

Finally, backers of divestment won a limited victory in the form of a directive to the Board of Pensions to create a “relief-of-conscience” option for members troubled by the board’s holdings in the three companies targeted by the failed divestment measure. The directive, which passed on a 355-257-16 vote, directs the board to create a reporting process and present it to the 221st General Assembly for approval.

Andrew Browne, vice president and corporate secretary of the Board of Pensions, called the proposal “simply impossible” to carry out because of the board’s limited control over the choice of companies for investment. Tom Trinidad, vice moderator, responded: “With humanity, some things are impossible, but with God that is not the case.”

The main proposal on divestment brought before the General Assembly had the backing of the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee and the General Assembly Mission Council. It would have mandated phased withdrawal of more than $17 million in Board of Pensions and Presbyterian Foundation investments from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions and prohibited further investment in those companies.

On Friday, the assembly voted 492-153 to declare the five other overtures related to the divestment question “answered” by the decision to instead pursue positive engagement and ramped-up investment in peaceful enterprises benefiting people in Israel and Palestine.

On other overtures reported by the Middle East Peacemaking Committee, the assembly:

  • Approved, by a 531-127-1 vote, a call for peaceful means to resolve tensions with Iran.

  • Voted 457-180-3 to call for a boycott of Israeli products produced in occupied Palestinian territories.

  • Voted 463-175-2 against an overture that would have recognized Israel’s laws, policies and practices as constituting apartheid against the Palestinian people.

  • Voted 473-175-5 to disapprove a call to commend the U.S. State Department for listing incidents of religious discrimination by Israel.

  • Voted 621-19-5 for a measure opposing military intervention in Syria and supporting a peaceful role by the United Nations, possibly including observers and peacekeeping forces.

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