By a vote of 333 -331the Presbyterian Church General Assembly (PC-USA) meeting in Pittsburgh rejected a committee recommendation that the Church divest its pension funds from corporate holdings in three major American corporations doing business with Israel. This vote on the floor was a rejection of the resolution presented by the Commission on Mission Responsibility Through Investment, which earlier had recommended passage by an almost a 2-1 vote. While these scenarios at the PC-USA have been going on now for almost a decade—and this year’s full story remains to be told in its entirety– this was obviously the closet one ever.
Over the years there has been a group of dedicated lay and clerical leaders of the PC-USA who have worked directly with many key Jewish professionals and some lay leaders to thwart the divestment initiative. The Jewish anti-divestment forces have been led throughout these years by Ethan Felson, Vice President and General Counsel of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA). This year it appeared that this coalition had failed to hold back the proponents of divestment.
What might have turned the vote at the end was an apparently critical change this year. Both J Street and Americans for Peace Now decided to weigh in a very public way against the resolution. For the PC-USA, whose politics with respect to Israel probably are closest to these groups, to have moved for divestment would now have affronted their allies on the Jewish left as well as the mainstream of the Jewish community; especially as the vote was likely to be very close.
This vote also raised a further curious thought. In studying this critical vote on divestment I wondered whether perhaps Peter Beinart might be willing to consider that at least one of the recommendations in his book—on divestment– might not have been as constructive as he would have liked his readers to believe.