PCUSA Divestment – Fallout

Will Spotts provides an admirable Fisking of an FAQ document provided by members of the Presbyterian Church to explain their divestment positions.

The original FAQ, full of reasonable sounding language, tries to make the case for continuity between previous divestment-related General Assembly decisions and this year’s choices (although they leave out rejection of divestment in 2006, 2008 and 2010 from their historic timeline – and seem to portray last Spring’s rejection of divestment by the Methodists as a decisions still pending).

This document also deftly avoids charges of hypocrisy by highlighting past church divestment activities that fell well within church consensus (Sudan and Apartheid South Africa), but avoiding an explanation as to why church investments in human rights disaster areas like China and Saudi Arabia remain unchallenged.

But what is most remarkable about this FAQ is that it avoids altogether the unquestionable consequences of any PCUSA 2012 divestment vote, consequences we know full well will happen because we’ve been here before in 2004.

So just in case anyone is listening, if PCUSA decides to pass this “humble, reasonable” divestment overtures they are being served by those smiling, friendly BDS advocates, here is what will happen minutes later:

* Those friendly BDS champions will immediately announce to the world that the Presbyterian Church is now fully onboard the BDS bandwagon in condemning Israel as an Apartheid state (i.e., a state made up of racist murderers)

* They will leave your hall and fan out across the globe to declare that every other church, city, school, union and other civic institution should join the Presbyterian Church in singling out Israel for economic punishment

* The Jewish community will react with outrage at being slapped in the face (yet again) despite a decade of broken promises that the endless propagandizing against Israel would cease (or at least be moderated)

* Thousands of church members, unaware of what is being voted on in their name, will be appalled and angered and wonder why divestment (which they thought was voted down time and time again) is once again the policy of a church they thought took their concerns into consideration

It would have been great had those pushing divestment within the church had the decency to let members know that this is what they will be voting on, rather than trying to wrap a radical departure from church policy in the appearance of continuity and moderation.

But, as noted before, PCUSA boycott advocates seem to be BDSers first, Presbyterians second. And if the church decides to rejoin the BDS “movement,” members of that movement will not stick around to help PCUSA deal with the fallout of such a decision.  Rather, they will have left the hall to travel the planet finding the next sucker to buy their snake oil.

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13 Responses to PCUSA Divestment – Fallout

  1. fizziks June 30, 2012 at 7:56 pm #

    yep. But they have to know what the future holds, right? since the PCUSA has been through all of this before.

  2. will spotts July 1, 2012 at 12:09 am #

    fizziks – You might be surprised. People have a very large capacity for denial and very short memories. This is exacerbated by the fact that many of the commissioners have not been to a GA before. A good portion of Presbyterians who were not directly involved with the reactions / controversies in prior GAs (especially 2004) often didn't know anything about it at all.

  3. Anonymous July 1, 2012 at 12:21 am #

    Wait a minute. Hasn't a new “normal” standard for socially responsible investment been established? And hasn't Israeli policy in the occupied territories failed that ethical and moral standard? Seems the Presbyterians would be consistent in divesting since they want to be socially responsible.

  4. Jon July 1, 2012 at 1:17 am #

    Actually, “normal” for the last ten years has involved BDS activists demanding schools divest from and boycott Israel, only to watch those schools fall all over each other to establish ties with the Jewish state. It’s consisted of BDSers insisting retailers exile Israel products from their shelves and then watching as sales of those products shoot through the roof (even without the help of a BUYcott). It’s consisted of demands that financial firms shun investment in Jewish (whoops! I mean Israel) businesses, only to watch Israel-related equalities become the hottest properties in today’s world markets.

    Fortunately for you, “normal” has also consisted of a self-proclaimed “human rights community” given a free pass while ignoring the behavior of Apartheid states or statelets such as Saudi Arabia, Syria and Gaza which they give a clean bill of health just for joining you in your BDS Crusade. Unfortunately, none of the general decade-old BDSFAIL dynamic changes just because some until-now-unknown financial monitoring firm sent out an ambiguously worded statement that the BDSers can spin to their advantage.

    I understand that the propagandist’s job is to redefine “normal” as consisting of everyone doing what you want. But just to give you a bit of rhetorical advice, most people are not so dorkily obvious about it when they attempt this tactic.

    You’re welcome.

    • Anonymous July 1, 2012 at 2:38 am #

      How was MSCI's press release “ambiguously worded”?

  5. Dusty July 1, 2012 at 7:08 am #

    You might want to know what I heard from my investment counselor at Tiaa-Cref:

    I am writing you regarding your June 21 phone conversation with ****** of our National Contact Center . During your conversation, you requested an explanation as to why Caterpillar (CAT) was removed from all TIAA-CREF Social Choice portfolios.

    TIAA-CREF continues to stand by our original position on the Jewish Voice for Peace request for divestment. While we acknowledge participants’ varying views on Israeli and Palestinian policies and the Gaza Strip and West Bank , we are unable to alter our investment policy in accordance with those views. Our responsibility to earn a competitive financial return on the retirement savings entrusted to us by 3.7 million participants obliges us to invest in a diverse line-up of companies across all sectors of the global economy.

    Our decision to end our investment in Caterpillar within our Social Choice portfolios is due instead to other factors. These include its ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) rating downgrade resulting from employee health and safety, labor relations, and toxic releases.

    The removal of Caterpillar from our Social Choice funds does not impact any other TIAA-CREF funds.


    Nothing ambiguous about that, is there?

    • JayinPhiladelphia July 1, 2012 at 9:39 am #

      “While we acknowledge participants’ varying views on Israeli and Palestinian policies and the Gaza Strip and West Bank , we […] alter our investment policy in accordance with those views.”

      Voila! Right there in black & white, in true BDS style…

    • Anonymous July 1, 2012 at 2:39 pm #

      That's great, but I asked about MSCI's statement, not TIAA-CREF's. After all, Jon was actually referring to MSCI's statement.

    • Anonymous July 1, 2012 at 11:13 pm #

      So despite the last decade of BDSer railing, MSCI has continually included CAT. But now that CAT has shuttered a big Ontario manufacturing plant rather than resolve its troubled labor relations there, MSCI has dropped them. The result of years of BDSer railing has merely prompted MSCI to give the crumb of mere acknowledgement that all that screaming activism existed but was never grounds in their eyes to indulge its demands.

      This *recognition* is what you would like to claim as the “victory” you've been denied for the many preceding years? So they got your message (back years ago), noted it in the file, *NEVER divested*, and now that something real has arisen, they are mentioning that your badgering is in the file, and well below several other categories of issues, (which are issues of some substance, rather than a lie-based insecure bourgeois activism fantasy).

      As an aside, BDS in usual form, then doctored the facts (regarding CREF) with blatant dishonesty! That's the name for that. CREF, take notice. (Actually that warning is surely unnecessary, they likely took notice long ago. It's just reinforced by this new event.)


  6. Dusty July 1, 2012 at 11:35 am #

    Jay, JVP couldn't have said it better themselves.

    In admiration….

  7. Anonymous July 1, 2012 at 8:14 pm #

    JVP is calling for a protest to pressure Tiaa Cref to do what they already claim Tiaa Cref has already done. so much for the “huge” victory Their email follows

    Chicago Divests, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), The Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine (CJPIP), Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), and the Chicago Movement for Palestinian Rights (CMPR) are holding a vigil this Friday at the corner of Lake and LaSalle. They are recognizing TIAA-CREF's recent divestment from Caterpillar, and are urging the financial firm to continue divesting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

    TIAA-CREF, one of the nation's largest retirement fund providers, invests $2.3 billion in corporations profiting from human rights abuses in occupied Palestine. After years of grassroots campaigning and shareholder pressure, TIAA-CREF removed Caterpillar from its Social Choice Accounts last Thursday. Caterpillar provides bulldozers to Israel military and civil authorities for the systematic destruction of Palestinian homes, orchards, and businesses. Caterpillar used to enjoy $73 million of financial support from TIAA-CREF's social choice accounts, which are designed to “favor companies with a 'best-in-class' record on environmental, social and corporate governance issues”. Now, TIAA-CREF can no longer claim that Caterpillar's facilitation of ethnic cleansing is compatible with “financial services for the greater good”. We applaud TIAA-CREF for recognizing Caterpillar as an ethically irresponsible investment and for giving its clients the option of a Caterpillar-free Social Choice fund.

    See our facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/422290831134874/

    What: Vigil for socially responsible investment in Israel and Palestine

    When: Friday, June 29th 12:00PM noon

    Where: TIAA-CREF Illinois office, 200 N LaSalle Street (Northwest corner of Lake and LaSalle)

    Why: To recognize TIAA-CREF's recent divestment from Caterpillar and oppose their continuing investment in the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

    Chicago Divests demands that TIAA-CREF divest from all corporations profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Chicago Divests specifically targets six corporations–Veolia, Motorola Solutions, Hewlett-Packard, Elbit, Caterpillar, and Northrop Grumman–for providing weapons, surveillance systems, and segregated services to enforce the occupation.

    Chicago Divests Campaign Organizer Daniel Kaplan, chicagotccampaign@gmail.com, 847.903.4895
    Jewish Voice for Peace Chicago's Lynn Pollack, lynnpollack@gmail.com, 847.902.4455

    • Anonymous July 1, 2012 at 9:16 pm #

      Do you have any reading ability whatsoever?

    • Jon July 2, 2012 at 12:03 am #

      I was planning to write something over the weekend to clear up this confusion, but PCUSA and my kid returning home from camp both got in the way.

      I should be able to get to it tomorrow, but in the meantime it sounds like we all agree that TIAA-CREF DID NOT engage in any political divestment activity (i.e., did not make any decision as an organization to change its politics regarding Caterpillar, Israel or the Middle East).

      If we can all agree we've reached consensus on this issue, we can move onto the MSCI question with the air cleared on CREF.

      OK with everyone?

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