By a 310-303 vote last week, a prominent American Protestant denomination made history. The Presbyterian Church, with about 1.8 million members, became the first major Christian group in this country to approve a resolution in favor of economic divestment from American businesses that make equipment that helps foster Israel’s occupation in the West Bank.
The amount of money that the Presbyterians will withdraw from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, $21 million, is relatively small in the world of international finance. But the message that the Presbyterian’s General Assembly sent last week in Detroit was huge: keep away from Israel.
Boycotts of Israel are nothing new. In Israel’s early years, the Arab League launched one, with participation of firms that avoided doing business with the Jewish state for fear of offending the much larger Arab market. Over the last few decades this boycott has weakened in influence, a result of lawsuits in the United States and Israel’s growing prominence in the emerging high-tech realm.
But people who seek the delegitimization and destruction of Israel have taken up the weapon of BDS — the boycott, disinvestment and sanctions movement — whose goal is to harm Israel by painting it as a racist society and making those who deal with it into pariahs.
Overall, the results of the BDS movement are mixed; some universities buckle to pressure, cancelling appearances by Israeli speakers; some academic groups boycott participation in conferences with erstwhile Israeli colleagues; some minor Protestant groups adopt a disinvestment posture. When the American Studies Association voted to boycott Israeli academics late last year, the blowback from U.S. college presidents was swift and decisive.
Despite this, Israel thrives.
Last week’s Presbyterian action, no matter the church’s effort to portray the divestment resolution as separate from the BDS movement, inevitably raises BDS to a higher level; its proponents will undoubtedly present the vote as a BDS success, despite the fact that the Presbyterian resolution reaffirmed Israel’s right to exist, endorsed a two-state solution, encouraged interfaith dialogue and travel to the Holy Land and instructed the church to undertake “positive investment” in endeavors that advance peace and improve the lives of Israelis and Palestinians.
Whether the Presbyterian move will result in the passage of similar anti-Israel resolutions by other church groups is open to question, according to leaders of Jewish organizations in this week’s story (see page 1).
But news about a vote against Israel is certainly not good news for Israel.
Israel, as even its defenders will assert, is not a perfect country. Its politicians, its religious leaders, and even its soldiers, make mistakes. But to focus on the Israeli army’s conduct — or alleged misconduct — in the West Bank, while overlooking the well-documented human rights violations that take place on a regular basis elsewhere, especially in Israel’s Middle East neighbors, is a gross miscarriage of common sense, a glaring double standard that makes the Presbyterian Church a party to hypocrisy.
Since its founding in 1948, Israel has fought for its existence on the military, political and public relations fronts. Its enemies continue to find new weapons.
When hostile Arab or Islamic nations that find a Jewish presence in their midst unacceptable try to seek Israel’s eradication, that is disturbing, but historically predictable. Centuries of physical attacks and second-class status as dhimmis (“protected ones”) made clear to Jews that they were grudgingly tolerated in lands not their own.
But when an organization in this country — under the banner of religion — chooses to selectively condemn Israel, that is deeply troubling and must be condemned.
Get The Jewish Week Newsletter
The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.