Some of my best friends are Presbyterian. I take them to lunch and they take me to lunch. George Douglas for one. George is a respected businessman, an elder of the Pacific Palisades Presbyterian Church (PPPC), and a friend who has traveled with me on two interfaith missions to Israel. When the Presbyterian Church USA (PC USA) endorsed a pro-divestment overture at its 2004 General Assembly, George and his fellow PPPC members issued a public apology for the shameful actions of their national church body. George is a leader in Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, a group of concerned clergy and laity that rejects divestment from companies that do business in Israel.
The Rev. Dr. Mark Brewer is another friend of mine. Mark is the senior pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church, one of the largest and most influential congregations in southern California. He and I have worked together on interfaith endeavors, and we share a commitment to peace and security for the Israelis and Palestinians. Pastor Brewer is a prominent critic of the one-sided, uncontested anti-Israel messages he hears so often at PC USA conventions. He understands that the BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) movement is a blemish on the worldwide Presbyterian Church and ignores critical realities in the Middle East.
The Rev. Dr. Richard Mouw is another Presbyterian friend. He is president of Fuller Theological Seminary, one of the largest and most influential evangelical institutions in North America. Rich and I have created an ongoing series of seminars for pastors, rabbis, Christian and Jewish academicians, seminarians and community leaders. We have brought our faith communities together for spirited, respectful discussions of our respective narratives and views of the Middle East. Dr. Mouw rejects divestment as a strategy to solve the thorny issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
George, Mark and Rich are three of my Presbyterian friends. 369 commissioners of the PC USA General Assembly in Pittsburgh are my new Presbyterian friends. They rejected a dangerous, one-sided resolution that endorsed divestment from three companies that conduct business in Israel. In a preliminary vote that passed by the narrowest of margins (333 to 331 with two abstentions) and a final vote of 369-290, Presbyterian commissioners called instead for positive investment in the Palestinian territories as an alternative to selective divestment.
I applaud the wisdom and courage of Presbyterian clergy and laity who led the fight against divestment in the body politic of their denomination. I remain deeply concerned that a cadre of PC USA staff and leaders seize every opportunity to push the BDS agenda on the regional and national levels. They are neither friends of the Jewish community nor the people of Israel. They are neither trusted friends nor true proponents of peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians, notwithstanding their pious proclamations to the contrary. We will continue to “call them out” when their actions are imbalanced, irresponsible and offensive.
I cherish the bonds of friendship and collegiality I enjoy with George Douglas, Mark Brewer and Richard Mouw. I will continue to collaborate with them and with like-minded Presbyterians who appreciate the challenges and complexities of the Middle East conflict and endorse positive steps to foster peace and reconciliation in that troubled region. To our Presbyterian friends new and old, I am pleased to say: Let’s do lunch!