As Presbyterians meeting in Detroit consider divestment from three companies linked to the Israeli occupation of Palestine - Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett Packard - Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the leader who more than any other human being alive is associated with the successful use of divestment to help overturn apartheid in South Africa, is calling on Presbyterians to choose divestment from the Israeli occupation.
Tutu received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 in recognition of his leadership, as General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches, of the nonviolent resistance campaign to challenge apartheid.
In granting the peace Nobel to Tutu, the Nobel committee wrote [my emphasis]:
The Committee has attached importance to Desmond Tutu's role as a unifying leader figure in the campaign to resolve the problem of apartheid in South Africa. The means by which this campaign is conducted is of vital importance for the whole of the continent of Africa and for the cause of peace in the world. [...]
This year's award should be seen as a renewed recognition of the courage and heroism shown by black South Africans in their use of peaceful methods in the struggle against apartheid. This recognition is also directed to all who, throughout the world, use such methods to stand in the vanguard of the campaign for racial equality as a human right.
As a leader of the nonviolent struggle against apartheid, Tutu championed divestment - efforts to pressure U.S. institutions to sell their investments in companies doing business in South Africa and supporting apartheid by doing so.
Here's what Tutu is saying now about the prospect of Presbyterian divestment from the Israeli occupation: [my emphasis]:
As the Presbyterian General Assembly gathers for its biennial meeting I reach out in prayer and solidarity that the Assembly will make a strong witness for reconciliation, justice and peace. I am aware that the Assembly will consider eight overtures on the confounding and intractable conflict in Israel and Palestine, however I am especially urging the Assembly to adopt the overture naming Israel as an apartheid state through its domestic policies and maintenance of the occupation, and the overture calling for divestment of certain companies that contribute to the occupation of the Palestinian people. Both are worthy of adoption, by speaking truth in the first instance, and owning up to the Church's complicity in maintaining the occupation through its investments in the second.
The sustainability of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people has always been dependent on its ability to deliver justice to the Palestinians. I know firsthand that Israel has created an apartheid reality within its borders and through its occupation. The parallels to my own beloved South Africa are painfully stark indeed. Realistic Israeli leaders have acknowledged that Israel will either end its occupation through a one or two state solution, or live in an apartheid state in perpetuity. The latter option is unsustainable and an offense to justice. We learned in South Africa that the only way to end apartheid peacefully was to force the powerful to the table through economic pressure.
The overtures proposed at the General Assembly are not about delegitimizing the State of Israel, but about ending its suppression of 4,000,000 Palestinian sisters and brothers. It's about naming an unjust system and refusing to participate in it. The stubbornness of Israel's leaders in wanting to hold onto and settling land that is not theirs can only lead to tragedy for both peoples. For the sake of them both as God's cherished, the strong witness of the two overtures is the only peaceful route left in the cause of justice and ultimate reconciliation. My prayers today are with the members of the General Assembly and with all the peoples of the Holy Land in Israel and Palestine.
My Just Foreign Policy colleague Megan Iorio and I are in Detroit this week, working to help lift up the diverse voices - Christian, Jewish, and Muslim, Palestinian and Israeli - speaking to Presbyterians in favor of divestment from the Israeli occupation.
On Sunday evening, we had the opportunity to speak with Rev. Don Wagner, a Presbyterian minister who has been a leader for decades in efforts to end the occupation and defend the human rights of Palestinians.
I asked Rev. Wagner: what's the most important thing that you think we should be telling people right now about this debate? His answer: tell people about Archbishop Tutu's statement in support of divestment from the Israeli occupation.