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Church Boycott Resolutions Not Consistent With Tradition Of Peace

By Kenneth Waltzer
Professor Kenneth Waltzer, Director-Jewish Studies, Michigan State University, developed the following briefing paper to counter divestment motions and anti-Israel activism at the Presbyterian 221st General Assembly, to be held from June 14 to June 21, 2014 at Cobo Arena, in Detroit, MI.  Professor Waltzer is also a founding member of the Academic Advisory Council of The Third Narrative.


·        RIGHT OF SELF DETERMINATION AND SELF DEFENSE. The Presbyterian Church has long been on record in support of the right of Jewish national self-determination in Israel as well as in support of the creation of a Palestinian state; the right of national self-determination properly involves activities to permit military coordination, keep order, and police a border. The Presbyterian Church should NOT support motions to divest in companies that do business in Israel.  Such companies permit the Jewish state to engage in national defense and security activities that are required and appropriate by any nation state, including military and naval coordination, border policing, and protecting the lives of Israeli citizens.

·        OPEN ENDED, UNSPECIFIED ACTION WITHOUT END. The Presbyterian Church should NOT support motions to divest in companies that do business in Israel where such motions identify no criteria by which the anticipated outcomes will be assessed and which fail to indicate when and how divesters will know the goal has been achieved.  Is this open ended action?  Why? What will bring such action to a close – an end to occupation?  An end to Israel?

·        POLARIZING PARTISAN IDEOLOGICAL ACTION. The Presbyterian Church is known for its positive peace stance and its position “equally affirming the creation and security of the State of Israel and the validity and necessity of a Palestinian state.”  Support for divestment pushed by the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment (BDS) movement instead will put the Church on one side in the conflict.  BDS leaders have stated they support a single bi-national state; the Presbyterian Church has long advocated for a two state solution.  As Dr. Christopher Leighton writes, divestment will polarize Presbyterians, disrupt relations with Jews, and undermine the Church’s credibility.  Divestment turns the Church from a peace-making force toward polemics, partisan ideology, and one-sided isolating radical action.

·        SPONSORS ANTI-PEACE DELEGITIMIZING ACTION. The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement aims not at peacemaking or at promoting a negotiated compromise between the two peoples, Israelis and Palestinians; it instead aims at waging an ongoing war of mind designed to scar the Jewish state as a special malignancy or pariah state in broad public opinion. Israel, and Israel alone, is the target of the proposed action (s), and not any other states infringing on human rights or holding territory, like Russia, China, Syria, North Korea, Pakistan, or Sudan.  As such, divestment motions bear closer linking to boycotts aimed against Jews, and Jews alone, in the 1930s than to boycotts involving South Africa in the 1980s.

·        REINFORCES PARTISAN ONE SIDED NARRATIVE. The document Zionism Unsettled, distributed as a study document to help Church members think about Israel/Palestine and about such issues as disinvestment, paints a totally one-side portrait of the Israeli-Palestinian-Arab conflict.  It offers a narrative of Zionist/Jewish expansionism and of Palestinian victimization in which only Jews act and oppress. Palestinians appear as mere objects and victims of Jewish actions.  The actual reality of Jewish-Palestinian interactions, moves and countermoves, responses and counter-responses, is erased and omitted; Palestinian rejectionism is downplayed; and Palestinians are not given the respect to be viewed as subjects in their own history, making decisions, taking strategic choices, taking actions for good or ill.

·        MISTAKEN UNDERSTANDING OF ZIONISM OUT OF KEEPING WITH PRESBYTERIAN VIEW SINCE 197th GENERAL ASSEMBLY ON RELATIONS BETWEEN CHRISTIANS AND JEWS. Further, Zionism Unsettled erroneously places all blame for the conflict on the idea of Zionism and Zionism alone, purporting to find in Jewish nationalism a doctrine of ethnic supremacy and theological election.  This indicates a basic misunderstanding and historical/political revision of Zionism.  In truth, Zionism is not a monolithic doctrine, many Zionisms exist, and nothing in Zionism in general is necessarily or immutably supremacist.  Nor does anything in Zionism prevent accommodation with a Palestinian state or Palestinian neighbors.  Such accommodation was envisioned when partition was proposed as a solution to the problem under the British mandate – two states for two peoples.  Such accommodation was rejected not by Zionists in fact but by others. Such accommodation continues to be rejected by some Palestinians. Zionism Unsettled demonizes Jewish nationalism, suggesting that it is distinct and different from other nationalisms, like Arab nationalism, and that Jews are different from others, skirting close to anti-Semitism.  Such a document is a dance with the restoration of replacement theology, the foundation of historic Christian anti-Semitism. As the 197th General Assembly made clear, which must be restated, we are all elect, people of all the different traditions, in the eyes of God.

…“the PC(USA) has an extraordinary negative focus on Israel that borders on the obsessive; the PC(USA) provides information to both Presbyterians and the non-Presbyterian world that does not tell the whole story; and the PC(USA) chooses to uncritically repeat one perspective only – even when that perspective has extremely problematic elements…”

-Will Spotts, The PC (USA) on Palestine/Israel, March 17, 2014.

“These backers of divestment want to return their church to a place of retrograde anti-Jewish theology, hostility to mainstream Jews and, of course, a blind eye to the responsibility of Hamas and Hezbollah in the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the steps Israelis are forced to take to defend themselves.”

-Ethan Felson, vice president & general counsel of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs

“The Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) and their allies have once again mounted initiatives that advance an extremist posture with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli impasse. Their agenda threatens to polarize our community, betray relationships with our Jewish colleagues, and ultimately undermine our credibility as “peacemakers.”

-Dr. Christopher Leighton, Director of the Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies

“An Open Letter to the Presbyterian Church,” Feb. 6, 2014.

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