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July 4, 2014 11:01 am

Presbyterians Must Tell Their Leaders to End Support for BDS

avatar by Herbert London

Opinion

Presbyterian Church Assembly. Photo: Screenshot.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) is in full damage-control mode, and it isn’t going well. The protestations of Church spokespeople aren’t working: Presbyterians and Jews alike are appalled that a tiny group of activists has commandeered the Church into a troubling alliance with a global pro-Palestinian movement, whose stated objective is to isolate Israel as an “apartheid state.”

After a 10-year struggle, the governing body for one of the Nation’s largest Protestant denominations ultimately let the haters win. By a vote of 310-303, the PCUSA General Assembly voted to divest the church’s holdings in American companies that Rev. Walt Davis said“continue to profit from Israeli human rights abuses and non-peaceful pursuits.”

Another Israel boycott advocate, Rev. Larry Grimm, said Jews should leave Israel altogether, since America is really their “Promised Land.”

It has fallen upon the newly-elected Presbyterian Moderator, Heath Rada, to defend the indefensible.

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“In no way is this a reflection for our lack of love for our Jewish sisters and brothers,” Rada said following the vote, a sentiment he repeated on CNN’s “New Day.”

Confronted with the words of Sid Batts, a teaching elder commissioner in the church, that “divestment has the symbolic power to humiliate our Jewish friends in this country,” Rada looked like a deer in the headlights. “We have 650 elder commissioners,” he managed to say, claiming that Batts’ views were “not representative of what I saw and heard.”

Later in the interview, Rada attempted to distance the church from “Zionism Unsettled,” a church-produced booklet that asserts that the right of a Jewish state to exist in the Holy Land is based on bad theology. The book’s introduction, in fact, proclaims that “put simply, the problem is Zionism.”

“We do not support the statements that are contained in ‘Zionism Unsettled,'” Rada asserted.

“It still is a teaching guide on your website; I looked at it this morning,” countered CNN “New Day” host Victor Blackwell. The booklet has since been removed.

Rada and other church elders are now hearing from their constituents – loud and clear. Lay Presbyterians are sickened to learn that by a margin of just 7 votes, their church has formed an unholy alliance with Israel’s enemies.

The so-called “Boycott, Divestiture and Sanctions” movement, or “BDS,” is a well-funded, highly organized campaign to demonize – and ultimately, delegitimize – the State of Israel through a worldwide boycott of its financial institutions, industries, and universities.

BDS has already gained significant traction on a few American college campuses but, as Al Jazeera gleefully noted, the Presbyterian General Assembly’s decision was “a vote heard halfway around the world in Israel.”

Responsible lay Presbyterians and leading church theologians are having none of it.

They know that Israel is not perfect; no country is. Nevertheless, these men and women of faith and goodwill realize that this tiny sliver of land remains the only democratic, free, and open society in the Middle East. They know it to be the single place in the region where Arab women can be educated and prosper and a country whose economy thrives on the ingenuity of its people – and not the oil below its surface.

They appreciate, too, that seeking a just and lasting peace will require engagement and interaction, not boycotts, divestiture, and isolation.

The courageous efforts of these responsible Presbyterian laypersons and theologians to set straight this outlier decision should be applauded – but more Presbyterians need to make their voices heard.

The elder leadership of the Presbyterian Church (USA) must be made to realize that the vote of the General Assembly is not just a public relations problem: rather, it is a serious wrong that must be reversed.

Dr. Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, and is co-author with Jed Babbin of “The BDS War Against Israel.”

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