Pride and Prejudice:

(The Presbyterian Divestment Story)


Will Spotts

September 28, 2005




The Middle East policy statements of the 216th General Assembly (2004) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and their centerpiece, divestment from corporations operating in Israel, were marred by several flaws and unwarranted assumptions. 


  • The General Assembly heard one-sided testimony from those who supported the divestment decision and excluded other relevant voices.  Two non-Presbyterians communicated with the assembly, Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, and Rt. Rev. Riah Abu el-Assal.  The views of Israeli settlers, Israeli Christians, Israelis who opposed divestment, and American Jewish groups who opposed divestment were not considered.  


  • The General Assembly relied on flawed sources of historical background information.  Walter Owensby’s U.S. Policy and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Joel Beinin’s and Lisa Hajjar’s Palestine, Israel, and the Arab-Israeli Conflict: a Primer were the two main sources used.  Both display elements of one-sidedness, biased language, and disputed factual assertions. 


  • The General Assembly depended uncritically on the testimonies of Palestinian Christian leaders.  Those same Palestinian Christian leaders have made public statements that raise clear questions of credibility. 


  • Several offices and permanent committees of the PC(USA) have demonstrated severe and long-standing bias against Israel.  These include the Presbyterian News Service, the Washington Office, and the Advisory Committee for Social Witness Policy.


  • Over-cooperation between the employees of the PC(USA) and the employees of other denominations affected Presbyterian policy in violation of the Presbyterian form of government. 


  • The General Assembly employed several quirky and potentially dangerous theological ideas to justify Middle East policy statements.  Among these are elements of replacement theology and the use of explicitly Christian imagery to demonize Israelis.


  • The General Assembly apparently did not consider potential damage to Christian Jewish relations, the danger of contributing to the increase American anti-Semitism, and the danger of encouraging further violence in the Middle East.


These problems render the whole Middle East policy of the Presbyterian Church (USA) morally suspect, extra-Christian, and potentially harmful.  The actions of the 216th General Assembly obscure the Christian witness of Presbyterians everywhere, whether or not they individually supported them.  


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