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The Presbyterian Church’s Israel Divestment Is A Lot Uglier Than You Think

The Presbyterian Church has allied itself with Hamas. Sorry that’s the choice you make when you single out one side for censure.

There are so many fantastic writers over at the American Conservative that it’s a bit jarring when you trip over one of its more unpleasant paleo offerings. And Scott McConnell’s post regarding the recent divestment efforts of The Presbyterian Church USA (and, of course, the ubiquitous menace of the The Israel Lobby) certainly qualifies as one.

Now, it’s not exceptionally concerning that the Presbyterian Church has allied itself with Hamas – and sorry, that is the choice the church is making when it singles out one side for censure. The church has every right to encourage its flock to offer moral support to people who in the past two weeks alone have kidnapped three students (one of them an American citizen) and indiscriminately fired missiles into civilian populations, murdering a three-year-old Arab child. If throwing your unconditional support behind illiberalism is what your God demands of you, so be it.

But PCUSA is not striking as big a blow against injustice as it might imagine. The General Assembly voted (by a slim 310-303 margin, true) to rid their fund of Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola shares, companies that do nothing to harm Palestinians but do happen to employ thousands of Americans. Financially speaking, it won’t matter one whit to anyone in Israel, or those companies, or even the Palestinians, who everyone hopes will one day choose to make peace. And though pro-Israel groups lobbied the group hard, it won’t matter much symbolically either. PCUSA boasts around 1,760,000 members. Between the years 2000 and 2013, it lost 765,000 people, nearly 30 percent of its membership. (It should be noted, that during the same time Israel gained 1.7 million citizens.)

Pointing out this denominational shrinkage is what upset McConnell. And he’s right on some level. Simply because an institution is hemorrhaging followers doesn’t necessarily make it irrelevant. What makes this institution – one that recently voted down a measure to impel members to care for babies born after botched abortions – irrelevant is that it has completely lost its moral bearings.

Let’s take this bit of wishful thinking via McConnell’s kicker:

They are fewer than 2,000,000 now, but they are generally well educated, and have both activist skills and a strong penchant to combat injustice. They are a smaller group than two generations ago, but the Israel lobby obviously cared enough about them to make a major effort to defeat the divestment vote. The Israel lobby failed, suffering a significant public defeat. Presbyterians made themselves more visible and relevant than they’ve been in decades.

According to McConnell, American Jews (henceforth known as “The Israel Lobby”) have the clout to hold the world’s only superpower hostage, but are thrown into despair when a small denomination wags its finger at them. And never once does he lay out the reason why The Israel Lobby might want to protect an authoritarian regime. Nothing about self-defense. Nothing about security. Unlike their wiser and gentler PCUSA brothers and sisters, who are allegedly in the midst of an “emotionally wrenching” and “glacial” process on the topic, The Israel Lobby is driven to irrationally repress Palestinians and Presbyterians. The latter, it should be pointed out, has been targeted by the Jewish community with something called “dialogue.”

What McConnell and other admirers of divestment fail to mention is that Presbyterian Church isn’t only concerned with the perceived injustices of an “illegal” occupation. It isn’t merely crusading for a judenfrei West Bank, like so many others. Many in church, and particularly those in power it seems, oppose the idea of Jewish homeland altogether. And that opposition is not new.

The vote for divestment wasn’t a standalone: a church’s advisory committee is also preparing a general assembly vote on whether it should do away with its already absurd commitment to a two-state solution and create a study guide “that will help inform the whole church of the situation on the ground in Palestine.” Ten years ago PCUSA had voted to divest but changes course at the last minute. Presbyterians have laid the doctrinal groundwork for this.  And in “Zionism Unsettled,” an official church pamphlet, Zionism has already been characterized as “a struggle for colonial and racist supremacist privilege.”  So, in other words, language a bit harsher than the infamous United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3379, which declared Zionism “a form of racism and racial discrimination.”

Here’s a deeper dive from Jonathan Marks in the Wall Street Journal:

In a postscript to “Zionism Unsettled,” Naim Ateek, a Palestinian priest and member of the Anglican Church, explains the meaning of the charges in the pamphlet. “It is the equivalent of declaring Zionism heretical, a doctrine that fosters both political and theological injustice. This is the strongest condemnation that a Christian confession can make against any doctrine that promotes death rather than life.”

“Zionism Unsettled” goes into all kinds of well-worn anti-Zionist banalities; it scolds the Catholic Church for reconciliation with Jews; it denies Jews the moral right to self-defense while simultaneously rationalizing the use of terror.  Well, for starters. It sounds a lot like a theological doctrine refitted to adhere to an ideological one.

PCUSA’s divestment is a lot harsher than a Buchananite pundit might lead you to believe. On a practical level, of course, the idea that divestments could “pressure” Israel into allowing a state to exist that threatens its  security or is governed by Hamas – and as far as I can tell, the PCUSA efforts do not make any distinctions between terror groups and others — is preposterous. To constantly single out Israel, in world where ethnic and religious violence claims thousands, is also preposterous. To compare the situation there to apartheid-era South Africa, as the PCUSA has, shows ignorance or a disdain for history. Divestment is an attack on the legitimacy of Israel’s existence. So let’s stop pretending otherwise.

Follow David Harsanyi on Twitter.

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