Presbyterians attend committee meeting to support GA’s Israel-Palestine action

From the archive (legacy material)

Toya Richards Hill | Presbyterian News Service | 5 August 2005

SEATTLE, WA — About 20 members of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) came here this week to express support for the General Assembly’s decision to start a process of “phased selective divestment” from multinational corporations whose business practices contribute to violence in Israel and Palestine
“I support the actions of the 216th General Assembly,” said Marilyn Gamblin, an elder at Marine View Presbyterian Church in Tacoma, WA. “It is time to move beyond talking and take action.”
Gamblin said she realizes that some people think the action is anti-Semitic, but added: “I respectfully disagree. It is about our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is about hurting people in the land that we call holy.”
Gamblin was part of the group that met on Aug. 4 with the PC(USA)’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee, whose regularly scheduled meeting began Thursday and ends Saturday.
Among the key items on the agenda: naming the corporations that meet the criteria for the phased selective divestment process — a step toward an effort to get them to change their ways.
Before choosing the companies — the list was to be published on Friday — the MRTI committee members gathered at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Seattle for face-to-face conversation with anyone who wanted to attend.
“Christ has always called us to speak and act on behalf of the powerless and the oppressed,” Gamblin said, reading from a prepared statement. “We must take action.”
Another participant, Salwa Nemr, a Seattle resident born in Palestine, told the group how her family was “forced out” of its homeland and had to journey to Lebanon.
“All those years, I witnessed many things in Palestine,” she said. “We suffer(ed).”
Nemr, a Christian who attends Woodland Park Presbyterian Church, said she has forgiven those who oppress her people, although “it took me many, many years.”
“I hope there will be peace,” she told the committee. “But peace and justice, which is very, very important.”
The Rev. Liz Knott, a member of Seattle Presbytery and a former executive of the Synod of Alaska-Northwest, echoed that message during the late-afternoon meeting.
“I was thrilled, pleased at the action of the General Assembly,” she said. “It’s about time.”
What is happening “in the unholy Holy Land,” she said, is detrimental to Jewish and Palestinian people, as well as to their future generations.
Knott, who has traveled on numerous occasions to Israel and Palestine, concluded, “Selective divestment is appropriate Christian action.”
The process of phased selective divestment includes identifying the multinational corporations whose operations support the Israeli occupation, including those that provide products or services to the Israeli police or military, as well as corporations that assist Palestinian militants.
The MRTI committee, chaired by Carol Hylkema, an elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Detroit, will then communicate with each of the corporations in an effort to persuade them to change their practices. If that fails, MRTI may ask the General Assembly Council (GAC) to authorize the filing of shareholder resolutions advocating change.
The committee’s final option is to ask the GAC to ask the General Assembly to officially put a corporation on a divestment list. The Assembly, which next convenes in the summer of 2006, could then ask the PC(USA) Board of Pensions and the PC(USA) Foundation to comply.
The Foundation and the Board of Pensions oversee investments held in trust for the denomination.
The idea, Hylkema said, is to “engage” the corporations in talks, “to hopefully have them change their behavior.”
“This is a very slow and deliberate process,” she said.
Although most people at the meeting had a clear understanding of the General Assembly’s actions regarding Israel and Palestine, concern was expressed for Presbyterians who don’t understand.
“My concern really is … education within the church, and helping people understand this issue and why,” said Melody Young, a pastor at large who is moderator of the peace and justice task force of Olympia Presbytery. “An awful lot of people just aren’t aware.”