What’s with the Presbyterians? On the one hand, The Presbyterian Church (USA) claims to love its “Jewish sisters and brothers” and believes in interfaith dialogue; and its member churches frequently partner with Jewish organizations to combat such societal ills as hunger and homelessness. On the other hand, the church has now become the poster child for the promotion of the BDS agenda to delegitimize Israel.
At its biennial General Assembly last week in Detroit, the standard-bearer of mainline Protestant groups voted to divest millions of its investment dollars from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard over those companies’ dealings with Israel’s security forces in the West Bank. This decision, coming against the backdrop of the horrific kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers just a week before, is not the work of a brother or a sister, much less a friend.
And it’s not as if the organized Jewish community didn’t try to work with the Presbyterians. Repeated efforts were made. For example, in a valiant plea to prevent the divestment resolution from coming to the floor, Rabbi Rick Jacobs of the Union for Reform Judaism appeared at the assembly and practically begged those gathered to steer their church back to a path of engagement. He even invited the Presbyterian leadership to join him in a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to protest the Israel settlements in the West Bank, rather than embrace divestiture.
In the end, those pleas fell on deaf ears.
Some are arguing that the result of the vote, at 310-303, indicates that Israel and the Jewish community still have plenty of friends on the Presbyterian side. That may be true, since almost 50 percent of those assembled actually voted against divestment. But two years ago, when a similar resolution came to the floor in Pittsburgh, the outcome was again about half and half.
What this shows instead is that in two years, the concerted efforts of the Jewish community have failed to move the needle. And over the course of the past 10 years, when the Presbyterians first toyed with the idea of divestment, the sentiment within the church has increasingly moved toward the view of Israel being the aggressor against a victimized Palestinian population. Sure, the church proclaims that its vote shouldn’t be read as support of BDS. But who are they trying to fool? Boycott, divestment and sanctions by any other name is BDS.
Let’s make no mistake about what has happened: The Detroit fiasco has escalated the simmering tensions between Presbyterians and Jews from a dispute among friends to a slap in the face. It hurts.
At first blush, I thought “Here goes another boycott Israel movement.” But then I began reading about some of the other publications and articles produced by the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its Middle East Study Committee (MESC). It copies its playbook from Iran, Hamas, and David Duke’s KKK and American Nazi Party. I was appalled. As American Jews, we need to stand up to this group. Their articles seem to be copied from the playbook of Iran, Hamas, and David Duke’s KKK and American Nazi Party.
Even J Street, which is not exactly an apologist for the Netanyahu government, declared that the Presbyterian Church (USA)“offensively intimates that Zionism is racist, pathological and the very root of the conflict in the region.” Former CIA Director James Woolsey, a Presbyterian, has been very critical of the Church’s position’s on Israel.
For further reading, consult “Presbyterian Church USA Proposed Biased Report on Israel: A Stated from United Synagogue About the Proposed Report on Israel Prepared for the Presbyterian Church Convention in July 2010”, United Synagogue of Conservative of Conservative Judaism, Dialogika, May 13, 2010, as well as Jewish Council for Public Affairs, “Backgrounder: Presbyterian Church (USA) Middle East Study Report”, April 2010.
My complaint is that in my voting precinct in Clifton, VA, I have to vote in the Clifton Presbyterian Church, which is an affiliate of the Presbyterian Church (USA). When our former voting place, Clifton Elementary School, closed two years ago, they moved it to the Church, instead of to the Clifton Town Hall, which would have been a more logical selection. I have been going through the established channels to get it changed and, if not, to provide an alternative for those Jews who no longer feel comfortable entering a Presbyterian Church. However, I am getting “stiff armed” by the Fairfax County Electoral Board. One official told me that if “You Jews don’t feel comfortable voting in a Presbyterian Church, then I guess that you just won’t vote.”
I am contemplating organizing a protest march outside the Church on Election Day with a group of Jews wearing yellow Stars of David waving signs that say ” “WHY DO WE HAVE TO VOTE IN A NAZI/HAMAS AFFILIATED CHURCH: PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (USA)”