As we wrote last week, the Presbyterian Church USA is faced with a choice about the future of its relations with the Jewish community and, indeed, the vast majority of Americans who ardently support the state of Israel. Unfortunately, rather than listen to voices of reason, church leaders have today taken another step toward approval of measures that place the denomination in favor of economic war against the Jewish state when their General Assembly Mission Council voted to recommend a report that calls for “selective divestment” from Israel.
Though the PCUSA claims what it is doing is meant to encourage peace, it is doing just the opposite. By approving a call for sanctions on some companies that do business in Israel, the PCUSA is not only doing something that will encourage Palestinians to persist in refusing to make peace, they have also done something that makes it impossible for Jews and others who care about Israel to continue to work with the church on any issue.
The measure approved in advance of the church’s biennial General Assembly to be held next summer specifically seeks to encourage divestment from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett Packard because they do business with Israel’s Defense Ministry and the country’s home construction industry. While the Presbyterian activists who have promoted this noxious measure are attempting to distance themselves from their comrades in the BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement against Israel by choosing to try and pass a more limited measure rather than a full boycott, what they are advocating is a tactic that seeks to delegitimize Israel’s right of self-defense.
The attack on Motorola and Hewlett Packard is particularly insidious because they are singled out for the fact that Israelis use their equipment to build and man the security fence that protects the country against Palestinian terrorism. The fence has saved countless lives since its erection halted a wave of suicide bombings and other terrorist attacks. The Presbyterian move to approve a ban on these companies is tantamount to the church taking a stand that Israel has no right to take defensive measures aimed at saving the lives of its citizens.
The criticism of Caterpillar is just as hypocritical. The church simply assumes any Israeli construction or use of machines to create roads and security stations is illegitimate.
It should be emphasized that boycotts such as these do nothing to advance peace, despite the pious rhetoric that accompanies this destructive resolution. Rather than encouraging Palestinians to stop fomenting hatred of Israel and Jews and to go to the negotiating table which they have shunned for years, the Presbyterians are simply seeking to chip away at Israel’s right of self-defense and to live in peace. Such measures are part of an international campaign of attacks on the legitimacy of Israel and Jewish rights.
As much as we would like to accept the notion that the Presbyterians are acting in good faith, it needs to be pointed out to them that anyone who singles out one state or people in this manner or who seeks to remove their right of self-defense is acting in a discriminatory fashion. There is a term for those who engage in such bias against Jews: anti-Semitism. While the church may claim to oppose hatred against Jews or anyone for that manner, it must be understood by joining the ranks of the BDS movement in any manner, what they are doing is making common cause with the haters.
It should also be emphasized, as we have pointed out in the past, that support for these damaging resolutions is largely limited to the activists who work for the church and is not shared by the overwhelming majority of Americans who affiliate with Presbyterian churches or their pastors. Like most Americans, Presbyterians support America’s democratic ally Israel and have no wish to associate themselves with extremist measures that serve only to buttress the forces of Palestinian rejectionism.
But it will be up to the Presbyterian Church USA’s rank and file to make it clear to those who attend the biennial next summer that they must vote this awful measure down if they wish to remain part of the mainstream of American religious life.
It will also be up to American Jews and their rabbis to reach out to their Presbyterian neighbors to make them aware of what has happened to their church and what they must do to stop this. The Jewish Council on Public Affairs, the national umbrella group of Jewish community relations councils, has assumed an important leadership role in this struggle and did its best via outreach to try to persuade the Presbyterians to back away from the precipice. But now it will be up to ordinary Americans of every faith to make it clear to the PCUSA that business as usual cannot continue with them as long as they are prepared to place their faith on the side of hatred and intolerance. We can only hope church members will listen to their better angels of their nature and discard this resolution before any more harm is done to ecumenical relations.