Presbyterian Reversal Doesn’t End the Battle

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The expected shift by the Presbyterian Church USA this week away from an extreme anti-Israel position is significant for a number of reasons.

The General Assembly of the church is expected to vote this week to sidestep support for divestment from Israel and to alter its position from one of outright hostility to the Jewish state to neutrality. A compromise that appears to have the support of a majority of Presbyterian leaders would do away with the church's 2004 vote that called for a restriction on investment in companies that do business with Israel. Instead, they will bar participation in economic activity in Israel and the territories that is not a "peaceful pursuit."

Though the meaning of that phrase might be subject to debate, we are still mindful of the fact that such a stand is a clear reversal of a landmark in the campaign to undermine the Jewish state.


With the campaign to support divestment still going strong and academic boycotts aimed at cutting off all ties with Israeli scholars also attracting some support, the Presbyterians apparent decision to back out of this untenable position is appreciated. So too should be the efforts of those Jewish communal organizations that have expended so much effort to convince the Presbyterians of the error of their ways.

Having been foisted on the church by a left-wing anti-Israel clerical elite, this move illustrates the fact that efforts to rouse the rank-and-file Presbyterian clergy and laity to action was vital. Though the issue was often framed as one of Jews versus Presbyterians, few ordinary members of the church understood the 2004 decision by the church hierarchy. Even fewer really supported it.

The Presbyterians weren't merely wrongheaded. Divestment is a form of economic warfare. It is nothing less than a boycott aimed at strangling the subject nation and isolating it from the world. Support for divestment was, in a sense, a church declaration of war against the Jewish people.

But by telling Presbyterians that, so long as they backed divestment, no business could be done between them and Jewish groups, a key principle was established: You cannot pretend to be friends with your Jewish neighbors in this country while you oppose efforts to save Jewish lives elsewhere in the world.

But having said that, a closer examination of the proposed text of the new Presbyterian resolution also shows just how badly pro-Israel forces having been losing the war of ideas.

While the Presbyterians are no longer opposing the existence of the security barrier, they are calling for it to mirror the 1949 armistice lines rather than reflecting the existing demographic reality of the country.

Presbyterians also still seem beguiled by the false notion that Arab Christians are "oppressed" by Israel rather than understanding that the rise of Palestinian Islamic fundamentalism is what dooms that community, not Israeli self-defense.

The resolution also still wrongly speaks of "occupation" rather than Palestinian terror as the reason for the continued conflict, as well as the plight of the Palestinians themselves.

As much as we should be happy about the church's change of heart, the debate is still being influenced as much by anti-Israel propaganda as it is by the truth. Real support for peace means opposing mainstream Palestinian support for an unending war whose aim is the destruction of the Jewish state, not Israel's attempts to defend itself.

Now is not the time to celebrate. What groups and individuals who care about Israel must do now is to redouble their efforts to inform our neighbors about the reality of the Middle East.

 

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