Don't disinherit Israel: Presbyterians should invest in peace, not disinvest in Israel
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Jeffrey Siker of Loyola Marymount College is an associate professor of theology and an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). More than 20 years ago he wrote a book entitled "Disinheriting the Jews: Abraham in Early Christian Controversy" in which he traced the alienation of the early Christian Church from Judaism. He argued that this resulted from historical circumstance, not from radical differences in ideology.
Today, Mr. Siker might well write a book entitled "Disinheriting Israel: The Jewish State in Modern Christian Controversy." This is the perception of many in the Jewish community as the Presbyterian Church (USA) meets here in Pittsburgh for its General Assembly. One critical issue on which Presbyterians will vote is whether to selectively divest from American companies that do business in Israel.
This policy would remove church funds from companies whose products and services are seen to help the Israel Defense Forces suppress terror emanating from the West Bank and maintain order. Some in the Presbyterian Church (USA) argue that Israel is not interested in maintaining order but in expanding Israeli settlements.
Israel has had to battle for its life since it was founded. It fought three wars against enemies who wanted to push it into the sea. The conflicts of 1948, 1967 and 1973 produced horrifying casualties among soldiers and civilians.
Later, the intifadas of 1987 and 2000 used terror against civilians to advance the Palestinian cause. In recent days, Hamas in Gaza has rained more than 100 deadly missiles down on civilians in the southern part of Israel.
Our friends in the Presbyterian Church (USA) have argued that Palestinian suffering and long-term commitments to missionary work in the region compel them to support Palestinian rights and national aspirations. I have heard this position shared in respectful dialogue between our communities.
I agree with our Presbyterian friends. But only to a point.
For many in the Jewish community, including me, the goal of Mideast diplomacy is clear: Two states for two worthy peoples. Israel for the Israelis. Palestine for the Palestinians.
But achieving this goal is very hard, and not only because of the threat of terror. Hundreds of thousands of Jewish settlers now live in some areas of a future Palestine. Should they just be evacuated to Israel's pre-1967 borders? Would that finally make for peace?
It seems doubtful. Israelis had high hopes when 10,000 settlers were forcibly removed from the Gaza Strip in 2005. They expected a stable border and thought a peaceful Gaza would provide the blueprint for further evacuations of settlers from the West Bank.
But the border with Gaza was never quiet. Hamas undertook to launch thousands of missiles against Israeli civilians, continuing to this day. This led to war between Israel and the Hamas rulers of Gaza in 2008.
The bloody price of withdrawal without peace has been burned into Israel's psyche. This is especially evident as Israel is called to withdraw from most or all of the West Bank. Even liberal Israelis fear that any territory evacuated will simply become a staging area for more attacks on Israel.
So the occupation of the West Bank continues. And many good-minded people want it to end. Good-minded Jews, Muslims and Christians. Including me.
It will not end, however, by demonizing Israel as the only guilty party in the conflict. Some opponents of Israel want to weaken it militarily, economically and diplomatically. They claim this will hasten a Palestinian state into existence.
One of their methods is promotion of the BDS movement. This stands for boycott, divest and sanction. These activists want American organizations, especially faith institutions, to withdraw investments from companies that do business with Israel, especially those whose products help the Israeli military secure contested territory.
BDS supporters want to isolate Israel. Similar tactics turned South Africa into an international pariah before the apartheid regime stepped down.
We are concerned that our Presbyterian friends will be considering a resolution on selective divestment at their convention this week. Those who support this resolution seem not to accept that there is culpability on both the Palestinian and Israeli sides for the suffering in the West Bank.
Will divestment from companies like Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard promote peace? It will not. It will simply increase mistrust among Israelis who understand the BDS movement's purpose as delegitimizing Israel as an independent, Jewish state.
There are those in the Jewish community like myself who support peace through the removal of Israeli settlements from the West Bank. But virtually all Jews reject the tactics of the BDS movement. We see it as part of an ongoing attempt to delegitimize and isolate Israel. This is unacceptable.
Israel is not an apartheid state like South Africa, where a brutal minority ruled a majority against its will. No, the majority of the population in Israel is Jewish. They live by the same democratic institutions we do here.
Yes, there are problems and there is discrimination. But Israel is certainly not a rogue state, especially in comparison with some of its neighbors.
We urge our friends in the Presbyterian Church (USA) not to start "disinheriting Israel" like the early Christian Church did to Judaism so long ago. We will not stand by quietly and be delegitimized. We will not accept comparisons to genocidal regimes that murder entire populations as part of state policy. We reject the terms "racist," "Nazi" and "apartheid" regarding Israel as hate speech.
We want justice and peace for the Palestinians, but not at the expense of Israel's right to exist as a democratic, Jewish state.
We encourage our Presbyterian friends to sponsor more investment, not less. There are many organizations that promote peace through intergroup cooperation and shared business initiatives deserving of such support.
Divestment risks driving Jews and Presbyterians apart. This is a shame because we are natural allies on so many other issues of critical importance to both our communities. We urge the Presbyterian Church (USA) to reject the BDS movement and work with us on more constructive approaches to justice and peace in Israel and Palestine.
First Published July 3, 2012 12:00 am