By Sean Savage/JNS.org
Leaders of Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) are set to decide on whether or not to support an anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution at their upcoming biennial general assembly in Detroit from June 14-20. But as one of America’s smallest Christian denominations, and with a sharply declining membership base, do their efforts even matter?
The latest effort represents the third Presbyterian biennial in a row that a pro-BDS resolution will appear at the denomination’s general assembly, as BDS supporters who make up part of PCUSA’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) have gained momentum following a narrow two-vote loss (333-331) for a boycott measure at the 2012 biennial.
“The anti-Israel activists narrowed their margin of defeat in the last assembly, so they could pull it off this time,” Dexter Van Zile, Christian media analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), told JNS.org.
Similar to past BDS resolutions, the current one calls on PCUSA to label Israel as an “apartheid” nation, while calling for divestment from major companies such as Motorola, Caterpillar, and Hewlett-Packard who “participate in the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”
“Over the last decade, numerous divestment and boycott resolutions uniquely and solely aimed at Israel have been brought by a small minority of anti-Israel activists in the Presbyterian Church. They in turn are partnered with the global BDS campaign to demonize and delegitimize Israel,” Yitzhak Santis, chief programs officer and “BDS in the Pews” project director at the watchdog group NGO Monitor, told JNS.org.
The IPMN’s efforts inside the church culminated in its January release of a virulently anti-Israel document, “Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study Guide.” Pro-Israel groups blasted the guide, with the American Jewish Committee calling it “a devastating distortion of Jewish and Israeli history, aimed at nothing less than eradicating the state of Israel.”
Santis said pro-BDS groups specifically target churches, seeking to twist their Christian morality to fit their own anti-Israel agenda.
“BDS leaders have specifically targeted the churches for co-optation they hope to capture the churches’ moral voice to act as a stalking horse for their cause, which is to dismantle the state of Israel,” he said.
Yet there have been efforts by some Presbyterian leaders to gain a more balanced education on the Arab-Israeli conflict. In February, a delegation of more than a dozen Presbyterian lay leaders visited SodaStream’s factory in the Israeli West Bank city of Ma’ale Adumim. The factory’s location has made it the target of BDS attacks, but it is also touted as a unique model of Israeli-Palestinian cooperation since it employs nearly 500 Palestinian workers alongside Israelis.
CAMERA’s Van Zile thinks the Presbyterian lay leaders’ efforts may be futile.
“[The BDS resolution] might pass this time despite heroic efforts on the part of responsible adults within the denomination,” Van Zile said.