Both Jonathan Marks and Pete Wehner admirably summarized some of the main issues surrounding last Friday’s vote of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA to divest itself from companies that do business with Israel. But in assessing this distressing development it’s important for the Jewish community to focus on those elements from within its ranks who played a crucial role in this result.
As both Jonathan and Pete wrote, in voting for what is, in effect, a declaration of economic war on the Jewish state, the largest Presbyterian denomination has not only allied itself with haters like David Duke. In acting in this manner it has also alerted its shrinking membership to the fact that radicals tainted by anti-Semitism have hijacked its leadership.
Presbyterians claimed that their vote was one signifying criticism of Israel’s policies rather than an attack on the Jewish people. But as I wrote earlier this year, the Presbyterians’ publication of a new book Zionism Unsettled that criticized Jewish faith and attacked Israel’s existence, as well as much of the rhetoric surrounding the vote, made it clear that this move was motivated by intolerance and hate. In acting in this manner, the PCUSA has shown that dialogue with such groups or even cooperation on unrelated issues isn’t just pointless. To carry on business as usual with a group that has declared war on the Jewish state and the Jewish people in this manner would be to tolerate that which is intolerable.
But how then should Jewish communities regard those Jews—specifically the group calling itself Jewish Voices for Peace—who actively aided and abetted this effort?
The answer is clear. They deserve to be cut off from the organized Jewish world and treated like the pariahs they have chosen to be.
The role of JVP in the Presbyterian vote was amply illustrated in this sympathetic piece published last weekend in the New York Times. This anti-Zionist group served as the perfect foil for the radical Israel haters inside the PCUSA. Instead of being forced to own up to the fundamentally anti-Semitic spirit of the BDS—boycott, divest, sanction—movement targeting Israel, the Presbyterians were able to produce left-wing Jews who shared their views as cover for this campaign of hate that masquerades as “socially responsible” investing.
JVP assists those groups, like the Presbyterians who think it is moral to single out the one Jewish and democratic state in the world for discrimination while ignoring genuine human-rights violations going on elsewhere. But even while assisting anti-Zionist campaigns that are thinly veiled anti-Semitism, the organization claims to represent Jewish values.
As Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the former leader of the Reform movement aptly stated this week in Haaretz, JVP cloaks their own extremist principles in ambiguous language in order to try and represent themselves as just one more liberal Jewish group. Indeed, its position is even more radical than the final resolutions passed by the Presbyterians since it wholeheartedly backs BDS on all of Israel, not just a few American companies and neither supports a two-state solution nor the Jewish state’s right to exist.
By assisting the BDS movement in this manner, JVP gains press attention from papers like the New York Times and faux respectability from left-wing Christians who embrace it as a “partner” that somehow represents Jews. But the point about the farce that played out at the Presbyterian GA in Detroit is, as Yoffie rightly points out, that this group represents very few Jews and takes positions that are anathema to the entire spectrum of the organized Jewish world.
Just as Presbyterians should know they are making a crucial mistake in embracing JVP, so, too, do Jewish communities and Hillel groups on campuses err in allowing this group to join community relations councils or to be represented in campus councils.
While there are strong disagreements between mainstream Jewish groups and left-wing groups like J Street who often play a destructive role in many communities and undermine support for Israel, there is a clear difference between those that are critical of Israel, like J Street, and those that are at war with it and Zionism, as is the case with Jewish Voices for Peace. One may be tolerated, albeit reluctantly, within the community because of its support for Zionism; the other puts itself on the other side of a line that should never be crossed.
Jewish Voices for Peace has every right to do or say as they like even if their policies are deceptive and aimed at aiding those attacking Jews. But they should never be allowed to do so under the banner of the Jewish community. Like ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionists or Jews for Jesus, JVP is an unfortunate yet noxious fact of life that cannot be denied but must also never be treated as a legitimate partner in any Jewish community or on any college campus.