Presbyterian divestment vote a Pyrrhic victory

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Logo of Presbyterian Church (USA)

Logo of Presbyterian Church (USA)

Logo of Presbyterian Church (USA)

It’s understandable that the organized Jewish community would be angry and dismayed at last Friday’s narrow vote by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to divest from three U.S. companies that, in the church’s view, aid in the repression of Palestinians in territories occupied by Israel after the 1967 war. For years, advocates for the Palestinian cause have been pushing a divestment resolution, and Jewish groups have labored long and hard with with in the denomination to stop it.

The 310-303 vote came after the most intense battle ever — one that included a speech to the Assembly by Rabbi Rick Jacobs, leader of the Reform movement. After the vote, managing director Geri Palast of the Israel Action Network, which coordinated the opposition, declared:

It is troubling and tragic to see the Presbyterian Church (USA) choose to reject partnership in favor of partisanship…The publication of “Zionism Unsettled,” an anti-Jewish and anti-Israel congregational guide, connected the dots between this church action and efforts to eliminate the Jewish state of Israel. The only path to a just peace is a two-state solution. Divestment and BDS are the tools of division and a one-state movement.

In fact, however, the resolution specifically dissociates itself from the international BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement against Israel. It affirms Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation. It acknowledges “the pain suffered and inflicted by policies and practices of both the Israeli government and Palestinian entities.” And it embraces a two-state solution “in which a secure and universally recognized State of Israel lives alongside a free, viable, and secure state for the Palestinian people.” 

It is important to consider the relationship of the resolution to “Zionism Unsettled,” which on my reading represents not just an attack on Zionism but on Judaism itself. Published in January, this study guide is still promoted and available for purchase on the PCUSA website. Yet last week, the Assembly in a separate action passed a resolution saying that it is not official church policy. With its provisos, the divestment resolution, far from connecting the dots, states official church policy that amounts to a rejection of the study guide. 

To be sure, a subsequent General Assembly could could sign on to the BDS movement and revoke its support for a two-state solution. My guess is that won’t happen. By building a wall a separation between selective divestments and the larger cause of delegitimizing Israel, the resolution serves to deny the anti-Israel forces the real object of their victory.

  • Lles Nats

    Zionism in its current form is extremist. Murderous fundies openly oppressing society in the name of a god mandate. When america is no longer supporting these israeli terrorists, then I will again begin to entertain the idea that we are a nation of values.

  • Susan

    Zionism is the belief that Jews need a state of their own. Anyone who thinks that a Jewish state should exist is a Zionist.

  • Geoffrey Riggs

    Mr. Silk is ignoring something big that happened right at the General Assembly. — No, not the narrow vote for divestment, but the whopping majority — by over 400 — by which the GA passed a San-Francisco-introduced overture, 04-01, calling for a revaluation of Presbytery’s previous support for a two-state resolution! This San Francisco overture was so clearly aimed directly at whittling down any two-state support that it puts the lie to the palliative in favor of two states that was fig-leafed on to the divestment measure.

    As a Presbyterian myself, I’m appalled that this San Francisco overture passed by such a huge margin, and I think it shows more clearly than the divestment passage just where most of those at the Assembly were really “coming from”. For reasons related either to appalling naivete, sheer stupidity, or a growing animus against any Jewish state, those at the Assembly are readier today to jettison the two-state idea altogether than ever before. For anyone with an ounce of sense, that would spell the doom of any Jewish state of any kind. Thanks a lot.

    Geoffrey Riggs