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Presbyterians gather at the PFMEP breakfast.

This morning in Pittsburgh, an alliance called Presbyterians for Middle East Peace (PFMEP) gathered to analyze the possible dangers of divestment from Israel. The issue is a hot one for Presbyterians at this year’s General Assembly. Commissioners receive pressures from within and without the denomination to make a principled stand on the issue. Pushing the issue to  special prominence is the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI), which recommends that GA entities such as the Presbyterian Foundation and the Board of Pensions sell all the stock they hold in Caterpillar, Hewitt-Packard, and Motorola since these companies do business with the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). Nevertheless, as this morning clearly showed, many Presbyterians of all persuasions have strong reservations against such actions.

Self-described leftist John Wimberly moderated the event. “If we’re for peace and justice, we’re going to have to get up early and go to bed late,” he said. “We come from all sides on many issues…I am so far to the Left…that even The Layman has considered me outside Presbyterianism,” he teased, “But we all agree that divestment is a flawed strategy theory for Middle East Peace.” He added, “It’s not fair; it’s not right; it’s not informed.” “Such an unfairness springs from a double standard…There are literally thousands of U.S. companies doing business with the Israeli Defense Force,” he commented. He also declared, “Effective peacemakers do not follow their frustrations to use ineffective and unfair means to peace.” Wimberly wryly observed that the divestment move is simply the tip of the iceberg with regard to Israel-Palestine policies. Anti-Israel activists have been diligently advocating for a strategy similar to that used against apartheid-era South Africa: Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS). This policy has one goal in mind: the one-sided capitulation of one party to another. Wimberly worried, “This is no longer a divestment issue but is about joining the BDS movement.”

Next up to the podium was the young Anna Eichler, who testified on behalf of her generation of peacemakers. She claimed, “My generation needs to have a peaceful interface in an interfaith dialogue.” “Fundamentally, it’s about relationships, not about name recognition,” she reported, “It’s more about what I say to my peers more than what my denomination says.” Eichler kept reinforcing the importance of working on the personal level rather than the impersonally corporate one, “not simply looking for a statement that would not make a strong impact.”

Dr. Cynthia Campbell echoed the preceding statements: “It is right for Christians to seek peace…The issue before us is about strategy.” She testified, “The long-range goal is not a peaceful settlement, but the capitulation of Israel…We give up hope to being bridge-builders but become partisans within the conflict.” “Unfortunately, we Presbyterians have failed to build up robust relationships with our Jewish colleagues to help find solutions and common ground on the issue,” she admitted.

David Berge recounted his tour of Israel: “There’s only so much land to go around, especially when it’s sacred real estate.” He informed listeners about “[Israel’s] neighbors who are ambivalent at best about its existence.” Berge warned, “There is a huge difference between making headlines and making lasting and global peace.”

Similarly, Bill Harter described the infamous Kairos Palestine statement as a “counterproductive document because it ignores the problem of terrorism…It is one point of view from the entire spectrum of Palestinian opinions.” Harter likewise surmised, “[BDS] will be seen as punitive; we’ll be written off.”