Yes, it’s personal
The one continuous message many Presbyterian leaders have sent in the run-up to this week’s votes in Pittsburgh to divest from companies doing business in Israel and to brand practices of the region’s only democracy as “apartheid,” is that it’s nothing personal.
After all, they say, the Presbyterians are only keeping faith with their religious brethren in the Holy Land, that they really have a deep respect for the Jewish community and that they hope these measures will promote a lasting peace.
Sorry, but we don’t buy that — not if they adopt these resolutions.
To lay the blame for the failed peace effort squarely at Israel’s feet is to ignore way too many facts on the ground, not to mention facts of history.
And to banter the word “apartheid” around, when the term clearly bears no resemblance to what’s happening in Israel and the Palestinian territories, is nothing more than incitement by the Presbyterian Church USA — a regrettable step for such a historic denomination.
The PC (USA) is holding its 220th General Assembly this week at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Downtown. There’s much on its agenda, but nothing so provocative as the divestment and apartheid resolutions.
To hear the Presbyterians who favor these measures — many Presbyterians do not — speak of them, it sounds as though they have no other choice. As Chronicle Staff Writer Toby Tabachnick reported in our June 21 issue, “The PC (USA) claims it has ‘done its best to reason with these companies,’ but they are still unwilling to cease selling goods to Israel, so proponents of divestment may now feel they have no better alternative than to divest.”
She was quoting the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s outgoing community relations director, Jeffrey Cohan, who has been following this issue for years.
Well, they haven’t done their best, not as long as they give the Palestinian leadership a free pass to demonize Israel through its media, by naming public squares in honor of terrorists and to speak to the Arab world in a completely different way than they speak to Israeli and western news sources.
Even Jeremy Ben-Ami, director of J Street, has told the Chronicle in a face-to-face interview, “I think the leadership of the Palestinian people, and certainly the leadership of the broader Arab community, has done the Palestinians an enormous disservice by failing to really own up to the fact that those refugees are not going back to those homes, and that’s going to be a very hard pill for that community to swallow. There hasn’t been adequate preparation [for peace] done among the people and by the leadership.”
Israel, on the other hand, ceded the Sinai Peninsula in a peace treaty, withdrew from southern Lebanon, mapped out an ambitious peace plan at Camp David and physically evicted its own people from the Gaza Strip.
Then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who ordered those evictions, said in 2003, “If we [are to] reach a situation of true peace, real peace, peace for generations, we will have to make painful concessions. Not in exchange for promises, but rather in exchange for peace.”
There was a right-wing Israeli PM preparing his people for the prospect of peace, which is far more than his counterparts in the Palestinian leadership have done.
To be sure, both sides have made mistakes in the long-stalled peace process. And yes, there’s even blood on the hands of both peoples.
But with these resolutions, the PC (USA) is ignoring an entire category of facts that support the Israeli position. Maybe passage of these measures will endear the church to Palestinian Christians, but it will disqualify it as a credible player in the peace process.
This is personal to the Jewish world, and the PC (USA) needs to know that.