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June 24, 2014 12:11 pm

The Presbyterian Church and the Ku Klux Klan

avatar by Kenneth L Marcus

Presbyterian Church Assembly. Photo: Screenshot.

At their General Assembly on Friday, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to divest from three companies that supply Israel with equipment used in the West Bank and in the blockade of Gaza. Enemies of the Jewish community are rejoicing.  Former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke exulted, “Bravo to the Presbyterian Church for standing up to Jewish racism and supremacism!”  Duke is right to praise the Presbyterian divestment vote, which supports what the Ku Klux Klan stands for.

David Duke’s endorsement will undoubtedly embarrass the Presbyterian Church, since it underscores the anti-Semitic character of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement.  Regardless of the Presbyterian delegates’ intentions, they have made common cause with a global movement that aims to marginalize and delegitimize the Jewish state.  In this sense, the BDS movement continues longstanding efforts to marginalize and delegitimize the Jewish people.

The connections between BDS and anti-Semitism have not been lost on the Presbyterian Church.  The divestment resolution (Resolution 04-09contains an unusual formal comment by the Church’s Advocacy Committee for Racial and Ethnic Concerns (ACREC).  In this statement, ACREC addressed the anti-Semitism charge explicitly, endorsing the unusual argument the Jewish community should “suspend their campaigns against anti-Semitism indefinitely” in order to focus exclusively on the Palestinians.  In other words, their official position is that it does not matter whether their resolution is anti-Semitic, since anti-Semitism is not as important as Jewish organizations say it is.

This extraordinary argument is taken from American-born Israeli journalist Larry Derfner, whom ACREC quotes as arguing last year:

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The ADL [Anti-Defamation League] goes after anti-Semitism with a fist, it goes after Israeli racism with a sigh. As a matter of fact, the ADL and the entire American Jewish establishment should suspend their campaigns against anti-Semitism indefinitely and take a look at what’s going on in Israel.

It is not hard to see why this would be appealing to David Duke, but it is disappointing to see it adopted by a mainline Protestant denomination.  This argument, coming from within the Jewish community, supports Duke’s efforts to convince people to tolerate anti-Semitism. Derfner may not be a household word, but if he is known for anything, it is that the Jerusalem Post fired him a few years ago after he tried to justify terrorist attacks on Israelis, writing, “I think the Palestinians have the right to use terrorism against us.” Derfner has apologized for his apparent defense of terrorism, which may be explained by his tendency to write hyperbolically.  Unfortunately, the Presbyterians have taken his arguments literally.

What is remarkable is that the Presbyterian Church would find it necessary to adopt Derfner’s argument about anti-Semitism as part of a resolution that does not purport to address anti-Semitism at all.  But the connection makes sense.  After all, the Church delegates must have felt some discomfort at advancing the BDS movement in light of that movement’s unsavory aspects. Derfner’s argument gives them the blessing they need, even if it comes from a man who seems to have tried to justify terrorism against the Jewish people in the past.

This argument, if taken as literally as ACREC appears to take it, is that Jews exaggerate the extent of anti-Semitism in order to diminish the suffering of other peoples.  This is an example of what is called “anti-Semitism denial,” because it mimics the logic of Holocaust denial.  The global resurgence of anti-Semitism is now well-established.  Those who deny the existence of global anti-Semitism, or argue that it is greatly exaggerated, do not merely express an erroneous opinion. Rather, their position is that Jews abuse their power to intimidate governments and major institutions, deceiving others in order to gain unfair advantage. This argument would be entirely implausible, except that it relies on deeply entrenched anti-Semitic stereotypes, that even well-meaning Presbyterian delegates have apparently found convincing.

There is no reason to assume that the Presbyterian delegates were aware of Derfner’s prior expression of sympathy for anti-Israeli terrorists.  On the other hand, it must be acknowledged that the Presbyterians’ action could be construed as opposing Israeli efforts to address terrorist attacks.  As Tom Wilson has pointed out in Commentary, the Presbyterians are specifically divesting their holdings in Motorola and Hewlitt Packard based on their support for Israeli anti-terror efforts.  Specifically, Motorola provides surveillance technologies to protect West Bank civil communities, while HP provides materials used to prevent arms smuggling into Gaza.

David Duke is right to be gleeful.  He and his cohorts are the true victors in the Presbyterian vote, more so certainly than the Palestinian people whom are its supposed beneficiaries.

This article first appeared on the Brandeis Center Blog.

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