A battle for the soul of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is raging, and the good guys are losing. The Church’s recent vote to divest from three companies doing business with Israel who they say support the Israeli occupation of the West Bank has sent a hurtful message to the Jewish people and state of Israel.
While the resolution to divest passed only by a very small margin of 310 yay to 303 nay, it included disclaimers that Church members hoped would soften the blow. Moderates in the Church were careful not to signal an ultimate split with the state of Israel, nor did the Church align with the international BDS movement (Boycott, Divestiture and Sanctions) which does not grant Israel the right to exist as a sovereign nation (the resolution did affirm that right).
After the vote one Church leader reaffirmed Presbyterian love for Jews. However, most Jews weren’t buying it, even if we didn’t say so out loud. Many of us believe that anti-Semites in the Church won the day. I would not go so far as to say that all the 310 yay votes are necessarily anti-Semitic or anti-Israel, but I believe many are whether they think of themselves that way or not.
This resolution was unfair, biased, shameful, ignorant, and a misguided slander of the Jewish people and state of Israel, pure and simple.
Bel Air Presbyterian Church Reverend Drew Sams agreed and expressed his embarrassment:
“It doesn’t represent who we are. To develop policy that would convey the message that we are turning our backs on our brothers and sisters in Israel is just very, very disappointing.” (LA Jewish Journal)
What makes this resolution so toxic to Jews is that it comes on the heels of the publication of a screed called “Zionism Unsettled,” a pseudo-historical propaganda piece that so distorts the state of Israel and Zionism that it is unrecognizable to those who have visited and know anything about modern Jewish history.
There is nothing positive in “Zionism Unsettled” about Israel. There is no affirmation of the Jewish people’s right to a national home in the land of Israel. It accuses Zionism of ethnic cleansing, and racial and religious superiority. It obsessively critiques Israel and gives no historical context to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It says nothing about Arab terrorism and violence, or why Israel spent a fortune building a security fence to prevent suicide bombers from blowing up school buses, pizza parlors and shopping centers. It only critiques Israel as if there are not two parties to the conflict and as if the Palestinians are wholly innocent victims. It reflects no appreciation or understanding of the context in which Israel finds itself, as if the violence and turmoil of the region doesn’t exist and has no spill-over relevance to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It doesn’t note that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, the only nation with an independent judiciary and free press, the only country that protects gay and lesbian citizens and safeguards Christians and their holy places. It is as if there is one nation alone on earth that requires rebuke, Israel.
Jane Eisner, the editor of the Jewish Daily Forward summed it all up this way:
“When Jewish treatment of Palestinians is judged worse than the way any other dominant group treats a minority, when it is deemed worthy of unique sanction, when other horrors around the world are ignored – how can I believe that this isn’t about the Jews? And that, my Presbyterian friends, is anti-Semitism.”
I am often critical of specific policies of the Israeli government when those policies are undemocratic, violate human rights or work against the creation of a two-state resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict because I love Israel, believe in her, am inspired by her remarkable contributions to the world in so many areas of human endeavor, and want to see her thrive in safety as a democracy and the homeland of the Jewish people alongside a peaceful and secure Palestine.
This Church resolution does not forward those goals in any way. Not only does the vast majority of the Jewish people oppose BDS as a tactic because it is inherently unfair, but divestiture will not be effective in helping to bring about a two-state resolution of the conflict.
True friends of the Jewish people would not have passed such a resolution. True friends would have come to Israel to learn first-hand about the reality in which Israelis live. True friends would have toured other countries in the region to understand context. True friends would not have permitted the publication of that propagandist anti-Israel and anti-Semitic screed and would remove it immediately from the Church website. True friends would have joined with the American Jewish community to support efforts to help Israel and the Palestinians resolve their conflict. True friends do not stab each other in the back.
That is what the Presbyterian Church (USA) did, all disclaimers aside – and it hurts!