The Presbyterian Church-USA (PCUSA) last week approved a vote by a razor thin margin favoring divestment from three companies – Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard – that provide supplies to Israel’s security forces in the West Bank.
The divestment decision is flawed both in principle and practice. Not only is it hypocritical, it also undermines US-backed efforts to achieve peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
PCUSA has pursued hostility towards Israel as their new modus operandi. The church has grown increasingly radical and politicized in recent years, resulting in a dramatic drop in membership. Between 2000 and 2013, close to 765,000 members have left the church – a decline in membership of almost thirty percent.
PCUSA’s Middle East Issues Committee had fourteen matters before it this year. Despite the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISIS) through Iraq, the marginalization and persecution of Christian minorities across the region, and the carnage in Syria, every single issue on the Committee’s docket concerned Israel and the Palestinian territories.
Further underscoring the undercurrent of anti-Semitism among many PCUSA delegates, a resolution was also under consideration at the General Assembly that would have banned the word “Israel” from all Presbyterian prayers.
Also at issue is the companies chosen for divestment, all of which provide counter-terrorism and defense equipment to Israel. For example, Motorola provides communications and surveillance technology to Israel. By definition, surveillance technology cannot be offensive or violent.
Despite their own incriminating stance, the PCUSA claims their decision to divest from Israel was not part of a broader effort by the so-called BDS movement, which seeks to culturally and economically defeat Israel. But the New York Times reported that intensive lobbying from the Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) was instrumental in garnering enough support for the divestment resolution to pass. JVP has a long history of supporting BDS. In 2013, the Anti-Defamation League named the organization as one of the top ten most prominent anti-Israel groups in the world.
Proponents of the resolution speak of “helping inform the whole church of the situation on the ground in Palestine.” But after centuries of devastation and destruction sown by militant Muslim (and Christian) empires trampling across Judea and Samaria, Israel alone has been able to preserve the peace and ensure religious freedoms to all peace-loving nations.
In Israel, critically, the Christian population is growing, from 120,000 in 1995 to over 150,000 at present. Holy sites, irrespective of religion, are protected by the Israel Defense Forces.
In contrast, the Christian population in Israeli territory effectively controlled by the Palestinians is decreasing due to Arab and Islamic persecution. Many of the Christian and Jewish holy sites that were ceded by Israel to the Palestinian Authority (PA) under various inked agreements have been ransacked, overrun, and desecrated by local Arab marauders.
In 2002, Palestinian gunmen violently seized the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and used it as cover to fire at Israeli soldiers, who out respect for the religious holy site – and safety concerns for the people inside – withheld return fire.
Before that, in 2000, a frenzied mob of Palestinians assaulted Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem (Nablus). With more than just tacit support from the local Palestinian security forces, they pillaged the Jewish holy site, reducing it to smoldering ruins within a mere matter of hours. Time and again, the Palestinians have proven themselves unable and unwilling to protect religious holy sites from external attack.
Rather than pursue peace with Israel, the PA has now elected to establish a unity government with Hamas, a repressive Islamic terrorist group that seeks to eradicate the state of Israel and abolish religious pluralism globally. Given the recent Hamas abduction and murder of three Israeli teenagers and the organization’s mission statement, it is rather bizarre that PCUSA has chosen to stand with such violent forces.
In a statement for PCUSA, Reverend Jeffrey De Yoe said, “Because we are a historical peacemaking church, what we have done is, we have stood up for nonviolent means of resistance to oppression.”
Yet it is the height of hypocrisy that the PCUSA would seek to divest from the one nation whose army has preserved the religious rights that PCUSA claims to uphold. It is simply hard to imagine how a decreased Israeli military presence, particularly in Judea and Samaria, would advance the cause of peace.
Moreover, the divestment decision is counterproductive, because it emboldens radical Islamic elements like Hamas, which seek to undermine U.S.-backed efforts to achieve a just, lasting, and peaceful resolution.
In an address last week to an international gathering of Jewish journalists, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described Israel as an embattled democracy in a turbulent region. He wondered why Israel, which goes out of its way to protect Christians, had been singled out.
“When the Middle East is fragmented in this horrible war, this savage, savage war between militant Shiites and militant Sunnis … the only place where you have freedom, tolerance, protection of minorities, protection of gays, protection of Christians and all other faiths is Israel,” said Netanyahu.
In addition to moral confusion, then, PCUSA’s defense displays short-sighted political vision. Advocates of the divestment decision would find themselves in a sorry situation trying to visit any venerable Judeo-Christian holy sites that the IDF would be forced to vacate in the aftermath of a successful divestment campaign.