Jewish groups decry fresh Presbyterian divestment efforts
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Jewish groups decry fresh Presbyterian divestment efforts

ADL, B'nai B'rith say series of measures protesting Israel's West Bank policies serve to 'demonize' the Jewish state

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Graffiti sprayed on a roadblock in the West Bank city of Hebron reads 'Boycott Israel' (AFP Photo/Hazem Bader)
Graffiti sprayed on a roadblock in the West Bank city of Hebron reads 'Boycott Israel' (AFP Photo/Hazem Bader)

Two major US Jewish groups have expressed disappointment at the American Presbyterian Church for endorsing a series of resolutions aimed at intensifying pressure against Israel over its West Bank policies at their biennial General Assembly last week.

The Anti-Defamation League and B’nai B’rith International in a statement Monday both charged the measures voted in by an overwhelming majority at the June 24 meeting served to “demonize” the Jewish state.

The new resolutions come two years after the Presbyterian Church USA ordered denominational divestment from three major US companies it said had profited from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Among the Israel-centered measures passed at the biennial assembly was a report titled “Israel-Palestine: For Human Values in the Absence of a Just Peace,” that suggested the church consider alternatives to the two-state solution given “Israel’s policy trajectory of continued settlements and brutal occupation,” which it blamed for the stalemate in peace talks with the Palestinians.

Some church delegates critical of the “pugnaciously flawed” report argued at the meeting its language questioned the right of Israel’s existence as a Jewish homeland, and urged officials to “add content that acknowledges and offers a corrective to the ways anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism complicate global discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

The Presbyterian Church USA logo
The Presbyterian Church USA logo

After an amendment affirming Israel’s right “to exist as a sovereign nation” was added to the text, the General Assembly endorsed the report with a 429-129 majority vote.

The General Assembly also passed, by a much wider margin of 407-146, another resolution calling on Presbyterians to “prayerfully study the call from Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel.”

While the 2014 meeting approved the divestment from Caterpillar, Motorola, and Hewlett-Packard, an amendment to that resolution explicitly rejected support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions umbrella movement which advocates a much broader divestment strategy against Israel and rejects its existence as a Jewish state.

Titled “Standing for Reconciliation and Ending Affiliation with Divisive Coalition,” the text urged the punitive measure be taken against Israel “until it complies with international law and universal principles of human rights.”

A number of objections to the resolution were addressed by the addition of amendments advising church members that they could also consult “resources that oppose this BDS movement” if they wished.

Denominational publications online noted the objections by dozens of Presbyterian clergy and laypeople ranged from accusations of disproportionate focus on the Jewish state to anti-Semitism.

Several attendants of the Presbyterian General Assembly in Detroit form a prayer circle and sing for Israeli-Arab peace. Two are seen wearing shirts which read: "Another Jew supporitng divestment." (Photo credit: Youtube screen capture)
Several attendants of the Presbyterian General Assembly in Detroit form a prayer circle and sing for Israeli-Arab peace. Two are seen wearing shirts which read: “Another Jew supporting divestment.” (screen capture: YouTube)

On Monday, the ADL released a statement denouncing the newly passed resolutions.

“We are deeply disappointed with the Presbyterian Church’s decision to embrace motions which forward arguments in favor of a bi-national state and of the anti-Israel BDS campaign,” said ADL Director of Interfaith Affairs Rabbi David Sandmel.

“The efforts by some in the church to vilify and demonize Israel, rather than promote dialogue and reconciliation, are particularly disturbing,” Sandmel said. “Especially egregious was a video that compared Israeli security checkpoints to the Nazi cattle cars that transported Jews to concentration camps.”

The ADL also praised efforts by delegates who voiced opposition to the resolutions during the meeting.

“We note with gratitude that, despite the efforts of a hostile leadership and activists within the church, rank and file members insisted on reasserting favorable language countering those views which was supportive of Israel’s legitimacy, the Jewish right to self determine and the promotion of Jewish-Christian relations,” Sandmel added.

Meanwhile, the Jewish advocacy group B’nai B’rith slammed the Presbyterian Church for “again display[ing] a stunningly overt preoccupation with demonizing just one side of one complex conflict.”

“By showing disregard for facts, nuance and fairness, ideological activists in the PCUSA have continued to make the denomination an agent of division, wholly irrelevant to promoting genuine peace and reconciliation,” the statement said.

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