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 boycott, divestment and sanctions agenda to delegitimize Israel.
At its biennial General Assembly last week in Detroit, the standard bearer of main-line 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 has 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 their 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.