Presbyterian Church (USA) Approves Divestment
July 3, 2014
In an outrageous move that threatens to bolster anti-Israel extremism and undermine the path to peace, the Presbyterian Church (USA) (PC(USA)) last week narrowly passed a resolution to divest from three US-based companies that sell to Israel. The 310-303 vote to sell holdings in Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlitt Packard at the 221st biennial General Assembly reflects an intensification of Israel hatred within a radical faction of the Church, but also a deep division within the denomination on the issue of Israel and the Palestinians.
The stage for the contentious vote had been set six months earlier with the January 2014 release of “Zionism Unsettled,” an anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist polemic that went farther than any previous Church report in demonizing Israel. Written by the Israel-Palestine Mission Network (IPMN), a PC(USA) educational committee, and sold on the Church website, the 74-page, so-called "study guide," blames Zionism as the root cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the alleged destruction of “rich Jewish communities across the globe.” The Liberation Theology-influenced IPMN dubs Zionism a false theology akin to the ideologies behind the world's worst brutalities. American Jews are accused of stifling dissent against the Zionist narrative.
The six-day gathering saw divestment opponents inside the Church and their allies struggle to counter a barrage of false accusations against the Jewish state, improper procedural moves to sway the vote by partisan General Assembly staff, and at least a half dozen anti-Israel overtures. They defeated a call to label Israel an Apartheid state, but lost a vote that would have forced the Church to stop distributing "Zionism Unsettled" through its website. (Sales through the website stopped this week as a result of intense lobbying from within the denomination, although the publication is still available through IPMN). The Assembly also rebuffed an appeal for engagement by Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who invited Church leaders to join him in sharing their mutual concerns with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Despite adopting the tactic of the Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS) Movement, the Assembly endeavored to publically distance itself from the anti-Israel campaign. Those efforts ring hollow with Jewish organizations, who view the Church’s action as a nod to those seeking Israel's elimination. The Assembly's decision to commission a study evaluating the viability of a two-state solution exacerbates that concern, as it not only marks a major departure from longstanding PC(USA) policy of support for two states, but also opens the door to continued delegitimization in support of a one-state solution.
While Jewish organizations lament the devastating impact the 221st General Assembly will have on national Jewish-Presbyterian relations, it is important to note that divestment is strongly opposed in the pews of most local churches. In Orange County and around the country, Presbyterians are expressing their sorrow and outrage over their leadership's reckless actions, and are challenging those radical voices in a variety of ways. For that reason, grassroots engagement is more important than ever. The Rose Project of JFFS, in its effort to counter BDS and promote knowledge of Israel, will continue to work with our Presbyterian partners in Orange County who are committed to leading their churches in a more positive direction.