Way Too PC


The delegates to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly, by a 310-303 vote, on Friday approved a resolution to divest $21 million in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions equity to protest the companies’ actions in the Palestinian territories.

The claims by the Assembly members who supported the divestment resolution? That Caterpillar’s equipment destroys Palestinian homes, H-P’s technology supports the Gaza naval blockade, and that Motorola provides systems for surveillance and other military purposes in Israeli settlements.

Church leaders have tried to placate Jewish and other leaders by indicating there is no intent of hostility toward Israel, only toward the allegedly illegal settlements and their propagation. But the vote comes on the heels of publication of “Zionism Unsettled,” a highly nasty study guide prepared by the church’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network, and there is little question of that paper’s tendencies.

Katherine Henderson, President of the Auburn Theological Seminary, wrote that “Zionism Unsettled” is:


… a polemic that reduces the complex and multiple narratives of Israelis and Palestinians through a single lens: the problem of Zionism. The premise of the document appears to be that Zionism is the cause of the entire conflict in the Middle East and the root of all its problems. For its authors, Zionism functions as the original sin, from which flows all the suffering of the Palestinian people.

When the vote of the PCUSA is taken in conjunction with that radical manifesto, it’s evident there are forces within the church that choose to demonize Israel as a nation.

The response of the Jewish community to the PCUSA vote – other than fringe groups that themselves either reject Zionism or lay similar blame squarely on Israel’s shoulders – has been one of emphatic disappointment. What has been an effort to maintain even fragile lines of communication during the last decade-plus of anti-Israel rhetoric issuing from PCUSA delegates has been reduced to an attempt at tamping down the smoldering ashes.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who leads the Union of Reform Judaism, hardly a hotbed of conservatism, implored the PCUSA delegates prior to Friday’s vote to reject divestment as a tool. According to the Times of Israel, Jacobs, speaking at the PCUSA assembly in Detroit, “warned that the BDS [Boycott Divestment Sanctions] movement ‘is an effort to delegitimize the very existence of Israel’ and said to attendees that although ‘we may disagree with specific policies of the Israeli government, we are deeply committed to Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people.’ ”

It’s important to remember that the decision by the church majority is far more symbolic than pragmatically significant. The church has about 1.8 million members, roughly one-third of the estimated number of Jews in America and about one-half of 1 percent of the overall U.S. population. And it has lost about 200,000 members, or 10 percent of its participants, in the past two years, along with several hundred congregations, due to votes on various social issues ranging from same-sex unions to abortion.

The real fear isn’t even that the vote will serve as kindling to ignite divestment from other mainstream Christian denominations. There’s hardly a sign of widespread fire and, in fact, many of those other movements are ardent supporters of Israel and denouncers of the violence perpetrated by Palestinian leaders.

The fears are really twofold: that the mischaracterizations spawned by the vote and clearly anti-Zionist “Zionism Unsettled” will serve as fodder for the BDS movement, itself a clear effort at dismantling the Jewish State and supported by numerous anti-Zionist, militant Palestinian voices.

Second, the sad reality is that relations between Jews and a large swath of the Presbyterian community have been seriously impaired. Because the presumption by many Jews is now that Israel’s existence, safety and security are not of critical importance to the majority of PCUSA delegates, it will be that much harder to create and engage in constructive dialogue between the groups.

The delegates who supported the divestment resolution undoubtedly did so believing there was a moral imperative to speak out against the settlements. What they have done instead is force mainstream voices and groups to retreat to their corners, making discussion, negotiation and lasting peace all the more difficult. 

If PCUSA, in whole or in part, believes that the resolution will help bring folks together, then they have not been listening to anyone but themselves  over the past decade.