PM to Presbyterians: Israel a vibrant democracy

PM to Presbyterians: Israel a vibrant democracy

At Taglit event, Netanyahu advises critics to go to Syria, Iraq and see 'Christians prosecuted and minorities butchered'

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Taglit-Birthright Israel event in Caesarea on June  24, 2014 (Photo credit: Asaf Lev)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Taglit-Birthright Israel event in Caesarea on June 24, 2014 (Photo credit: Asaf Lev)

After speaking harshly against the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its decision to divest from three Israeli companies on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday continued to jab at the religious group while speaking to Jewish youths touring Israel.

Referencing the church’s decision to divest from three companies which it says benefit from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Netanyahu said “Israel is a vibrant, free and prosperous democracy that respects human rights. I suggest to those who are against Israel to go to Libya, Syria and Iraq. They will see Christians prosecuted and minorities butchered.”

The premier was speaking at the Taglit-Birthright Israel Mega Event in Caesarea, on Israel’s Mediterranean coast.

Netanyahu also said that Israel would not rest until it returns three teens kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists on June 12 and brings their abductors to justice.

The Birthright program — which promotes a connection among young Jews to the state of Israel as well as to their Jewish identity with a free, 10-day educational tour of the country — was celebrating the milestone of reaching 400,000 participants from 66 countries since its inception in 1999. The event was attended by MKs, American billionaire Sheldon Adelson and other donors and Jewish dignitaries, as well as thousands of Taglit participants from the US, UK, Canada, France, Brazil and Argentina.

On Sunday Netanyahu criticized the “disgraceful” decision by the US Presbyterian Church to divest from three companies that provide supplies to Israeli forces and settlers in the West Bank.

“It’s so disgraceful,” Netanyahu said in an interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press” news program. “Most Americans understand that Israel is a beacon of civilization and moderation.”

On Friday, a group of church elders and ministers voted 310-303 to pull financial investments from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions — a total of about $21 million, according to reports. The church has stressed that it has not divested from Israel as a whole, only from those companies which it said were gaining from Israel’s continued presence in the West Bank.

In a statement ahead of the vote, Presbyterian Church USA had said it was considering divestment in Caterpillar because the company provides bulldozers “used in the destruction of Palestinian homes” to make way for Israeli settlements.

Hewlett-Packard, it said, “provides electronic systems at checkpoints, logistics and communications systems to support the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, and has business relationships with illegal settlements in the West Bank.”

And Motorola Solutions “provides military communications and surveillance systems in the illegal Israeli settlements.”

The three companies said they regretted the Presbyterian move and reaffirmed their belief in human rights and a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The 1.8 million-member church became the most prominent religious group in the US to endorse divestment in a sign of protest against Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. It rejected a similar proposal two years ago.

Netanyahu told Meet the Press that while much of the Middle East was “riveted by religious hatred, by savagery of unimaginable proportions,” Israel is “the one democracy that upholds basic human rights, that guards the rights of all minorities, that protects Christians.”

Netanyahu advised the Presbyterians to “fly to the Middle East, come and see Israel for the embattled democracy that it is, and then take a bus tour, go to Libya, go to Syria, go to Iraq, and see the difference.”

“I would give them two pieces of advice — one is make sure it’s an armor-plated bus, and second, don’t say that you’re Christian.”

AFP and AP contributed to this report.

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