Wednesday, June 18, 2014

18-Jun-14: Sharing some thoughts with Christian advocates of an Israel boycott

Click for the video page
Presbyterians for Middle East Peace [website] asked two Israelis whose lives, in the group's words, have been forever changed by senseless violence to speak about their experience, the importance of reconciliation, and their hopes for the future.

They are Arnold Roth and Kay Wilson. Their two testimonies are online here in video clip form.
"For those of who truly care about peace, and I see them wherever I go in this country, we know that what's needed is to build bridges and not to blow them up." [Arnold Roth, speaking in the video clip]
The background is described today in a Commentary Magazine piece by Jonathan Mark: "Will the Presbyterian Church USA Vote for Divestment (and Irrelevance)?"
The Israel-Palestine Mission Network was formed by the PCUSA General Assembly in 2004, the same year in which it passed a resolution calling for “phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel.” While the Assembly was at it, it claimed that the “occupation” was “at the root of evil acts committed against innocent people on both sides of the conflict” and lectured Israelis on the importance of making peace with the Palestinians... In 2012, they almost persuaded the Assembly to disinvest from Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, and Motorola for “profiting from non-peaceful activities in Israel-Palestine.” They lost 333 to 331. Encouraged, they are back at it again at this year’s General Assembly, which is meeting this week... Those members of the General Assembly who are merely foolish, rather than hostile to Jews, may vote for the resolution, which is admittedly much narrower than the one passed in 2004, thinking it relatively benign. That is the BDS strategy. Get what you can get, then publicly marvel at your momentum, even if what you got is less than what you were able to get ten years ago... The more likely result, momentum-wise, is even more departures from the church... Presbyterians may notice that they have leaders, and that these leaders are, increasingly, radicals and fools. Even devoted churchgoers can’t be blamed for leaving a church when it starts to smell this bad.
Jewish clergy from right across the political spectrum have paid attention, and are expressing themselves about as clearly and unitedly as independent-minded leaders ever do: see "Jewish leaders from every state urge Presbyterian Church to choose partnership and reconciliation over divestment and division" (via Religion News tonight), and the forcefully expressed "Enough! Why we won’t be at the Presbyterian General Assembly" (Jerusalem Post today).

A Christian journal, The Layman Online, says that
"Since 2004 the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been second only to sexuality issues in generating controversy at PCUSA assemblies. And judging by the volume and ferocity of the overtures advanced this year, the intensity of the anti-Israel activists will again almost match that of the same-sex marriage champions... These measures will create the impression of a popular groundswell of Presbyterians demanding that their denomination rebuke the Jewish state. In fact, however, the overtures come from a handful of presbyteries that have a record of pro-Palestinian advocacy. PCUSA members in general are more moderate, and more divided, on Israeli-Palestinian issues."
If the boycott Israel campaign decision does pass, Presbyterian Church (USA)a mainline Protestant Christian denomination, would be the largest religious organization in the country to impose sanctions on Israel, writes the religion correspondent at Voice of America. He quotes the Rev. John Wimberly, a retired church pastor, urging Christians to think twice before imposing sanctions on Israel. “There is a 2,000-year history of economic sanctions being used by Christians aimed at Jews and it's a bloody, nasty history and that is kind of my bottom line opposition right there..."  The proponents of BDS ignore Palestinian attacks on Israel, he observes, while the divestment proposal at the church's General Assembly has been pushed by lobbyists from outside the denomination. Wimberley, by the way, is now on the steering committee for Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, the people who posted the Arnold Roth video.

Jonathan Mark's observation about a dwindling church membership is supported by numbers we saw today over at Wikipedia. There were 1,760,200 members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 2013 according to PCUSA's own data. There had been 3.1 million of them in 1984. The decline since 2000 (by our calculation) exceeds 30%. 

While being boycotted by Presbyterians (if that turns out to be their decision this week) is no great honour, we expect the State of Israel will somehow survive it. 

We do wonder though about the future of a mainline church in steep decline which puts its name to a publication like "Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study Guide", promoted via the church's online bookstore, and aimed at "advocating for the human rights of Palestinians under military occupation". The editors at CAMERA point out that it promotes some serious lies: that Zionism and Israel have been sheltered from debate, particularly in mainline churches in the US; that Jews were well treated in Muslim countries in the Middle East until Zionism arrived in the region in the 19th century; and that Israel is singularly responsible for the suffering of the Palestinians. 

CAMERA also notes that the Presbyterian booklet is endorsed by James M. Wall (of whom we wrote here: "18-Jul-13: When he lionizes child killers, is James M. Wall speaking for mainstream Christians") which, for us, pretty much speaks for itself.

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