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June 11, 2014
Separating the Presbyterians From BDS
The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), which has narrowly defeated measures in the past to divest in companies doing business in Israel, is at it again.
The group’s biennial assembly, slated to take place next week in Detroit, will not only be considering divestment resolutions this time around but also whether the church should continue to support a two-state solution.
The reality is that whatever the Presbyterians or any other denomination say or do is not going to make much difference in terms of advancing or halting the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace. That’s up to the parties themselves, and at this juncture, it’s not looking good.
And by many accounts, what a national convention of church leaders decides will not have much impact on churches around the country or their constituents in the pews. There are some — within the Jewish community itself and among the Christian clergy who support Israel — who worry that too much focus on the issue gives BDS supporters, a minority in the church, unwarranted attention.
While both points are valid, that does not obviate the need for action. As Adam Kessler, the director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, which has reached out to local Jewish and Christian clergy on the issue, put it:
“While it may not have major immediate and practical impact in local churches, there is a need to remain vigilant so that this doesn’t become bigger over time. Passing BDS overtures will be symbolic in the worst way for the Jewish community and Israel, where their sense of isolation is increased.”
Tensions have risen to such a degree that a letter of protest was signed by some 1,500 Jewish leaders — bringing together Jews across the political and religious spectrums in a rare show of unity. “Oversimplifying a complex conflict and placing all the blame on one party, when both bear responsibility, increases conflict and division instead of promoting peace, reconciliation and mutual understanding,” the letter states.
More importantly, a powerful letter by some local Presbyterian leaders made explicit their opposition to efforts to “hijack” the gathering.
“We are about to experience ‘Groundhog Day,’ ” the letter reads, “as the supporters of failed proposals seek to force our denomination into a lose-lose scenario, where both Israelis and Palestinians will lose out on peace.”
We applaud such activism and call on those in Detroit to heed those words of wisdom. It’s time to end the folly once and for all.