Watershed moment

Watershed moment

If you think the Jewish world dodged a bullet when the Presbyterian Church (USA) rejected by the narrowest of margins a proposed resolution to divest from companies doing business with Israel, think again.

As you know, the PC (USA), at its 220th biennial General Assembly last week in Pittsburgh, voted 333-331 with two abstentions against a divestment resolution. That resolution, which was hotly opposed by Jewish leaders, targeted three companies: Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions. Its proponents claimed Caterpillar supplies the bulldozers and earth-moving equipment used by the Israel Defense Forces to clear Palestinian homes and orchards; that Hewlett-Packard provides biometric monitoring at checkpoints and information technology to the Israeli navy; and that Motorola supplies surveillance equipment to “illegal settlements” in the West Bank, and communications equipment to “occupation forces.”

The commissioners also voted 463-175 against labeling Israeli policy toward the Palestinians “apartheid.” The Middle East committee opposed the label, saying that while the policies were wrong, they did not fit the United

Nations race-based definition of apartheid.

Instead of those resolutions, the church commissioners opted for an alternative measure emphasizing positive investment in enterprises that would help grow the Palestinian economy. It passed by a 369-290 vote with eight abstentions.

What isn’t as well known is this: The church voted overwhelmingly, Friday, July 6, one day after the divestment debate, in favor of a resolution boycotting “all Israeli products coming from the occupied Palestinian Territories” and for “all nations” to prohibit settlement imports.

The resolution, which the G.A. passed by a 457-180 vote, singles out Ahava, a skin care company, and the Hadiklaim Israel Date Growers, which both have factories in West Bank settlements.

Make no mistake about it; this is just as big a victory for the BDS (boycott, divestment, sanctions) movement as the divestment resolution would have been. It’s not being seen as such — yet — in the Jewish world only because so much energy was expended opposing the divestment resolution.

But to the BDS movement, whose ultimate goal is to delegitimize Israel by any means available, a boycott measure against two Israeli companies is just as good as a divestment measure against three American companies.

The PC (USA) commissioners who opposed divestment on the grounds it would harm Presbyterian-Jewish relations clearly weren’t as vocal on the boycott vote.

We’ll let others debate why, but we’ll say this much: There is a cancer in the PC (USA). As we report in this week’s issue, the debate over divestment included some vicious — and fallacious — attacks on Israel, including the charges that the Jewish state is engaged in “ethnic cleansing.”

We’re not saying everyone in the church believes that; indeed, Israel has many sincere and active supporters in the PC (USA).

But we are saying that more responsible members of the church should have refuted those accusations immediately and loudly. They did not.

This G.A. was a watershed moment in Presbyterian-Jewish relations. If nothing changes to correct the growing anti-Semitic sentiment within the  church, then sadly enough, relations between the two faith-based groups may never be the same.