Gregg Roman

Presbyterians divest from peacemaking

The decision by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to divest from three companies doing business in Israel is a move of division, not reconciliation. Divestment supports the extremes, not the center. It is a tool of a movement that supports a one-state solution to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, not two states — a Palestinian state and a Jewish, democratic state of Israel.

It is reasonable to question the motive of those who denigrate Israel with so much greater zeal than other nations, especially when ignoring the need for balance in favor of maligning Zionism, which is simply the right of Jews to a state of our own.

On June 20 a narrow majority of commissioners from the church’s General Assembly chose to unfairly target, demonize and adopt a double standard against Israel. The General Assembly seeks to undermine Israel by replicating the tactics of the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement which effectively denies the Jewish state’s right to exist.

This resolution was adopted the same weekend that three Jewish teenagers were abducted from a bus stop by armed terrorists, a Syrian anti-tank missile smashed into a civilian vehicle killing a teenage Israeli boy, and rockets launched from Gaza indiscriminately rained down on civilian population centers.

Not one Presbyterian document made mention of Palestinian co-responsibility or Israeli suffering. Rev. Paul deJong, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Fort Myers, stated in reaction to the divestment resolution, “The actions of the denomination are at best misguided, at worst represent outright racism and certainly give every appearance of intentionally promoting anti-Semitism.”

The endorsement of divestment by the Presbyterian Church (USA) was applauded by white nationalist and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. Endorsements from hate groups are a long-overlooked consequence of passing divestment resolutions. These resolutions provide cover to radical fringe movements by allowing their opinions to commingle with mainstream Presbyterian positions.

Divestment in general is a tool that aims to eliminate a social structure that oppresses, in this case that structure is considered to be Israel. Presbyterians do not wish to eliminate Israel, so why would they support this tool?

Furthermore, we know divestment won’t alleviate Palestinian suffering, get Israel to remain at the negotiating table or foster an atmosphere of reconciliation. If anything, this measure shows a serious lack of insight into real peacemaking efforts. A religious movement that produces content endorsed by the KKK should seriously rethink its political philosophy and the company with which it associates.

The former KKK leader also gave accolades to a Presbyterian publication, “Zionism Unsettled,” which equated Zionism with Nazism. This hate document, which was available for sale on the Presbyterian Church (USA) website until it was finally taken down this past weekend, seeks to teach Jews that their religion as it is understood today is heretical. It breaks the first cardinal rule of interfaith work by invoking canards.

If commissioners who voted for divestment do not see Jewish self-determination as legitimate, then they do not see the Jewish people as legitimate. Sid Batts, a teaching elder for the Presbytery of Salem, North Carolina, stated, “Divestment has the symbolic power to humiliate our Jewish friends in this country.”

The Jewish community in Pittsburgh has never been humiliated because of its support for Israel, but we are embarrassed that we must publicly condemn the position of the Presbyterian Church (USA). For the past century, our two faiths have been able to work on tough issues through dialogue and mutual experiences, and we hope to continue this work.

The true humiliation is that the Jewish-Presbyterian relationship has gone from one of peaceful discussion to a crucible over Israel’s right to exist. This resolution has generated wall-to-wall opposition against Presbyterian divestment by Jewish groups across the religious and political spectrum.

Many Presbyterian commissioners’ paucity of information about Israel and the Palestinian territories raises uncomfortable questions about the ability to be co-opted and manipulated into adopting a more radical body’s political agenda. Presbyterians were presented with false analogies, like the accusation that Israel is an apartheid state. This indictment blamed Israel alone for Palestinian suffering and, as a consequence, the church’s actions further repudiate Jews by adopting the central plank of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.

The national church’s interpretation of the Middle East is increasingly viewed through the narrow lenses of pacifism and liberation theology, where the church ignores the historical role of Jews in Israel and adopts a revisionist history supporting other peoples as more legitimate. Balanced and distributive justice ought to be the first virtue of a church when dealing with Israelis and Palestinians, not skewed calculations of injustices based on false claims.

The Presbyterian public should not accept the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s adoption of divestment. It is a misguided decision by which the church hierarchy has allowed itself to be hijacked by a faction that promotes strident misrepresentations of reality.

This piece was originally published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Meyer S. Grinberg is chair and Gregg Roman is director of the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.

About the Author
Gregg Roman is Director of the Middle East Forum, a research center headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.