BDS, smoke and mirrors, and the Presbyterian Church

I grow weary of the distortions and false narratives offered by the BDS movement. They seem to be endemic in any statement calling for BDS. They certainly are in the Presbyterian Church (USA), which holds its General Assembly in less than two weeks in the same convention center where the United Methodist Church largely repudiated BDS less than a month ago.  I am weary of the smoke and mirrors offered by the Church’s BDS advocates, designed to convince commissioners who are not experts on Israel-Palestine issues to vote for pro-BDS overtures in the name of social justice.

This is nothing new.  In 2014, I authored a commissioner’s resolution at the General Assembly seeking to have the Church disassociate itself with the so-called “congregational study guide” Zionism Unsettled, which had been issued by the Israel-Palestine Mission Network, the Church’s primary pro-BDS, anti-Israel group which had been leading the charge for divestment for the past decade. Drawn from a BDS book published six months later, Zionism Unsettled is a one-sided polemic that demonized Israel, described it as a unified Apartheid state, and relied on tired BDS arguments.  It was nothing but propaganda, and could in no way be considered a balanced study guide. Zionism Unsettled was pure smoke and mirrors.

The General Assembly approved that resolution, and mandated that a statement that it did not represent the views of the Presbyterian Church accompany it in any print or online sales. It was a small victory, but two days later, the GA voted by the narrowest of margins to approve divestment against HP, Caterpillar, and Motorola Solutions. Yet, at the same time, the Church claimed not to be supporting BDS by voting for divestment. Ultimately this too was smoke and mirrors.

In late March 2016, the leadership of the IPMN wrote an email to its members stating that the IPMN should endorse neither a two state nor a one state solution.

 This is not for us, American Christians who will not have to live with the consequences, to decide. The call of our partners in Israel / Palestine is clear: above all else we need to use boycott, divestment and sanctions as non-violent tools to ensure equal rights for all Israelis and Palestinians, regardless of whether there is one state (as effectively exists now), two states, or no states at all.

I was actually quite surprised. They were admitting what everyone knew. The IPMN was acknowledging its promotion of the BDS movement. I chuckled however at the audacity of the claim that its not for us Christians who will not have to live with the consequences to decide. Really? Then why have you been promoting divestment for a decade?

Just this weekend, I received a voter’s guide in the mail from IPMN, sent to all commissioners to the 2016 General Assembly. In this guide, the IPMN encourages commissioners to endorse the report issued by the Advisory Committee for Social Witness Policy (which I wrote about in my first blog for The Times of Israel). IPMN encourages commissioners to endorse the ACSWP Report, because its focus is supposedly on values, and not two-state nor one-state. This is deceptive at best, as the ACSWP report does everything conceivable to denigrate the two state solution, while avoiding the practical consequences of what a one state solution would entail — a state in which Jews would become a minority, and which would then effectively become a Palestinian state. A one state solution is exactly what BDS wants, Palestine, from the river to the sea. Smoke and  mirrors.

What are the “Presbyterian values” that IPMN and ACSWP claim are at the focus of the report? Many of the values they mention have little or nothing to do with Reformed theology, and are instead just concepts in political theory. Nor does the report provide definitions of the Presbyterian values it upholds. The right of self-determination appears early in the report, but is this a value identified in scripture or in the Confessions of the Church? This is not to denigrate the idea of self-determination. It is an important one, which I have also written about. BUT if we are told that Presbyterian values insist that we use it to demand an end to occupation in Palestine, does this mean that the Church must also support Russian separatists in the Ukraine or the Kurds in Iraq or Turkey?

The report talks about the dignity of all people, a concept that should be held sacred. But then the ACSWP report speaks of Jews in terms of “tribal loyalties.” Tribal loyalties? That is nothing but anti-Semitic code-word used to question the loyalty and fealty of the Jewish people to the states where they reside. It implies dual loyalty and the existence of some sort of nefarious plan for Jewish domination. How can the authors of a Presbyterian Church report rely on such blatantly anti-Semitic language? And in doing so, how can they be taken seriously?

The dignity of all people should be a concept that is held sacred. But when it is used as a smoke-screen for anti-Semitism, that is unacceptable. Yes, the Government of Israel should pursue just and humane policies. But so should the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, whose list of human rights abuses are legion, but ignored by the report, and by IPMN. And yes, it is perfectly ok to criticize the Israeli government, but not to do so in way that exonerates the Palestinians for their role inciting terror. Yet, that is what IPMN  and BDS does all the time. There is no better example than the 2014 war.  Apparently it was entirely Israel’s fault, through its aggressive action against Gaza.  Those rockets?   Shhh…    Smoke and mirrors.

There is one value raised up in the report that should be encouraged — reconciliation. Christians believe that Christ’s work is clearly that of reconciliation, bridging the divide between God and humanity. And as such, any efforts to separate or divide people should be rejected. Co-existence, cooperation, and exchanges are all tools that lead to reconciliation. But even here, the ACSWP Report and its IPMN supporters are completely disingenuous. When the Israel Palestine Mission network tells us that “we need to use boycott, divestment, and sanction as non-violent tools” to effect change, they are calling for the exact opposite of reconciliation. BDS seeks to shut down communication and exchanges between Israelis and Palestinians. It does not promote interaction, it wants to isolate Israel, and wants to shut down anything that might “normalize” relations. You can’t have it both ways.

It is time for the PCUSA to sever all ties with BDS. To end the affiliation some of its mission groups have with groups like the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation. It is time for Presbyterians to promote social witness policies that do not denigrate and demonize Israel. It is time to say we do not stand for BDS.  It is time to say we can be be Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestine, and Pro-Peace. It is time to end the smoke and mirrors.

About the Author
Michael Gizzi is an active member of Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, and an elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). A political scientist and professor of criminal justice at Illinois State University, Gizzi is actively involved in research on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. His opinions are his own, and not those of Illinois State University.
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