Last week, delegates to the Presbyterian Church USA’s (PCUSA) General Assembly in Birmingham, Ala., voted to undo their hateful 2004 anti-Israel divestment resolution. Understanding its significance requires a crash course in obscure acronyms.
The first is BDS, which stands for boycott, divestment and sanctions. It is the cornerstone of the Palestinian lobby’s strategy to delegitimize Israel.
The next is WCC, the Geneva-based World Council of Churches — an international umbrella group of mainline Protestant denominations, including America’s Presbyterian, Lutheran, Episcopalian and Methodist Churches. The WCC’s monomaniacal animus toward Israel is reflected in a moral crusade promoting such measures as economic boycotts and demanding the dismantling of its life-saving anti-terrorism barrier.
And then there was the United Nation’s WCAR, its World Conference Against Racism, which proved to be the launching pad for labeling Israel as the apartheid state of the 21st century. Israel’s friends have had a difficult time counteracting this campaign, which has wide support in Europe, on campuses and in some U.S. churches.
All this reflects the three D’s — demonization, double-standard and delegitimization — Natan Sharansky’s litmus test dividing acceptable criticism of Israel and outright anti-Semitism.
The WCC demonizes the Jewish state by issuing a tsunami of resolutions against Israel, far more than all trouble spots around the globe combined. Israel is a greater problem than genocide in Sudan, concentration camps in North Korea, prosecution of converts to Christianity in Muslim nations and the suppression of Tibet, to name a few.
Meanwhile, Protestant denominations demanding the dismantling of Israel’s security fence — without ever suggesting an alternative to protect against suicide bombing — constitutes a chilling double-standard. Demands are made to no other country to give free access for terrorists to mass murder in buses and restaurants.
And in the name of peace, Protestant denominations partner with organizations like Sabeel, whose answer to Israel’s “occupation” is a one-state solution (i.e., populated by an Arab majority) that delegitimizes Israel by insuring that it will not remain a Jewish state.
The BDS people want Americans to equate Israel with apartheid and come to treat it as an illegal, pariah vestige of European colonialism.
Last week, a group of Presbyterian activists had enough. They engineered a major setback to the well-oiled divestment machine.
The language of the 2004 PCUSA resolution — which had spurred similar talk and action in all of the other mainline Protestant denominations — was replaced with new language that spoke of investment in peaceful enterprises, rather than divestment. It included an apology to Jews for the hurt that the old “flawed” measure had caused.
While critical of some parts of the security fence, it asserted that it “does not believe that the Presbyterian Church (USA) should tell a sovereign nation whether or how it can protect its borders or handle matters of national defense.”
Delegates approved the new resolution with a 94 percent vote, after defeating two attempts by their own leadership to water it down. They then broke new ground by voting overwhelmingly to condemn all suicide bombings as crimes against humanity and to urge other churches and the United Nations to adopt a measure that would empower victims of terror to legally pursue those who incite and sponsor the real scourge of the 21st century.
The battle is hardly over. The highly politicized elements embedded in the PCUSA administration and in other mainline denominations will not roll over and play dead. Boycott efforts continue in Europe (as in continuing calls in Britain for academic boycott) and in Canada (where the largest public sector labor union recently voted to boycott Israeli goods).
But if Birmingham is not a final victory, it does provide the Jewish community an opportunity. We now know that rank-and-file Protestants are supportive of Israel’s struggle, even if that support has been weakened through years of one-sided propaganda fed by their churches’ administration.
We know that Jewry has dedicated Presbyterian friends within, who have worked tirelessly to put an end to the unfair targeting of the Jewish state. We have been reminded that fair-minded people are open to hear Israel’s narrative.
We recently accompanied 11 Presbyterians on a trip to Israel, where they met people never seen on the official trips organized by PCUSA leadership. We traveled to Birmingham to dialogue with delegates and to testify before the crucial Peacemaking Committee.
We were honored to present to the assembled Presbyterian leaders Dr. Judea Pearl, father of the Wall Street Journal reporter who was brutally slain in Pakistan with the words, “I am a Jew,” on his lips. With great dignity and clarity, Pearl rose above the din of the likes of Norman Finkelstein and other imported anti-Zionist Jews to tell delegates that divestment did not aid a single Palestinian, was not supported by the Israeli peace lobby and only succeeded in strengthening those who aid terror.
Finally, we also confirmed that there is a direct correlation between popular Presbyterian support for Israel with the quality of contacts they had with their Jewish neighbors.
Bottom line: We can neutralize corrosive anti-Israel propaganda with one tool — the truth. The only effective way to convey that truth is personal contact. Christians should hear from Jews why Israel is important and that there is more than one narrative about the Holy Land.
To achieve that goal, every neighborhood synagogue and temple has the potential to serve as facilitators of Israel’s hopes and aspirations, and along the way give our non-Jewish friends a chance to understand why Israel is so precious to us.
The destruction of Israel’s moral position will only be achieved if the lies repeated over and over again go unchallenged. Telling the truth over and over again is the only antidote. We can only do this by sitting together.
In 1963, the KKK dynamited the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, killing four black girls attending Sunday school. Civil Rights leaders used the event to galvanize support from fence-sitting moderates and help transform a nation.
Time will tell if Jews turn their Birmingham moment into a wider effort to reach out to millions of decent Americans targeted by an insidious campaign to make Zionism a dirty word and to cripple Israel’s ability to defend herself.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the center’s director of interfaith affairs.