When I learned of the Presbyterian Church’s (USA) recent decision to divest from three American companies that conduct business with Israel, and then read the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s letter addressing the church’s action, I felt compelled to speak out. I do not believe that our community is responding appropriately.
The letter is an apologia. Instead of considering the minatory decision of the Presbyterians, the Jewish Federation finds the silver lining. Although it is important to acknowledge that the marginal vote is not representative of the entire Presbyterian community and that the Jewish community has countless allies in combatting boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts, we cannot remain complacent.
The recent vote shows that the Presbyterian leadership represents an anti-Israel mentality that will be passed along as it dialogues with different religions and political factions.
What is even more alarming is that the Presbyterian leadership is responsible for educating its youth — the next generation of Presbyterian leaders. Despite what many well-minded Presbyterian parents preach in their homes, the church’s influence over Sunday schools and education programs will ensure that the Presbyterian youth will be led to believe that Israel is the aggressor and a force of evil in the Middle East.
Since such claims of Israel’s immorality are undoubtedly the basis of the group’s baseless decision, we should reasonably expect this message to permeate the minds of students and, if the church maintains the same opinion for years to come, the Presbyterian rank and file.
But the biggest questions in my mind are these: Why are the Presbyterians so concerned with Israel? Why don’t they focus on injustices that actually pertain to them — like the repression of Christians in South Sudan, or the plight of Christians in Syria, or even the fact the Muslim Brotherhood burns Coptic Christian churches in Egypt?
And if they want to ignore the suffering of their Christian brethren and fight immorality on a global scale, shouldn’t they consider the violation of Arab women throughout the Middle East?
The answer is very simple: These actions are anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitism isn’t a new idea; animosity against Jewish people, and in this case a Jewish nation, has existed throughout history, undergoing periods of extreme highs and quiet lows. It’s comforting to believe that anti-Semitism isn’t possible in the 21st century; many people believe that anti-Semitism ended with the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.
I’m not suggesting that the Jewish community is on the brink of obliteration, and I don’t think that the state of Israel faces immediate danger from the choices of the Presbyterian Church. Still, the actions of the Presbyterians, the BDS movement and the delegitimization of the state of Israel are clearly anti-Semitism.
It is our responsibility as a Jewish community to learn from our multimillennial history and catch this cancer before it spreads. Let’s call the Presbyterian leaders who voted to divest what they really are: anti-Semites. It’s a harsh label, and I’m fairly certain that many of the leaders that voted to divest don’t even fit my classification. But if we don’t expose the absurdity of the group’s actions right now, we’re only letting the natural, dilatory course of history to unravel.
Benjamin Jaron is a 2014 graduate from the Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy.