Netanyahu and the Presbyterians: Calls for divestment, ‘Zionism Unsettled’ demonstrate complicated relationship between PCUSA and Israel


Benjamin Netanyahu

“Give peace a chance,” the adage goes, but in reality, some have become so enamored with the fighting that efforts to produce peace are thwarted.

Speaking to some 14,000 people at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Polity Conference held recently at the Convention Center in Washington, D.C., the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that peace would not only be good for Israel and the Palestinians, but the world.

Many Arab leaders today already realize that Israel is not their enemy, that peace with the Palestinians would turn our relations with them and with many Arab countries into open and thriving relationships.

“The combination of Israeli innovation and Gulf entrepreneurship, to take one example – I think this combination could catapult the entire region forward. I believe that together, we can resolve actually some of the region’s water and energy problems. You know, Israeli has half the rainfall we had 65 years ago. We have 10 times the population. … And which country in the world doesn’t have water problems? Yep. Israel.

“Why? Because of technology, of innovation, of systems. We could make that available to our Arab neighbors throughout the region that is not exactly blessed with water. We could solve the water problems. We could solve the energy problems. We could improve agriculture. We could improve education with e-learning, health with diagnostics on the Internet. All of that is possible. We could better the lives of hundreds of millions. So we all have so much to gain from peace.”


Stirring the pot

And yet the Presbyterian Church (USA) is demonstrating to the world an interest in stirring the proverbial pot instead of working toward a peace the preserves both the Israeli and Palestinian presence in the region.  At issue is a study guide for congregations called Zionism Unsettled and business before the denomination’s General Assembly calling for divestment from three companies whose business pursuits in Israel are considered non-peaceful by the PCUSA.

Although there have been calls to “Repair the breach” and attempts by the denomination to distance itself from the material, it is still being sold on the denomination’s web site and openly anti-Semitic comments are being allowed to stand in the follow-on to the original press release.

Some are seeking to restore relations between the PCUSA and the Jewish community, but there is also persistent support for Zionism Unsettled among recognizable Presbyterian leaders including the former stated clerk, Clifton Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick is quoted in the press release saying, ““I encourage pastors and congregations to take advantage of this new publication,” he said. “Zionism Unsettled provides a valuable opportunity to explore the political ideology of Zionism. Our congregations need to understand not only the humanitarian crisis or the specific policies involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but also to examine the basic framework that lies behind these policies and crises.”

If you Google Zionism Unsettled you can read the firestorm currently raging between Jews and Presbyterians. You will see that anti-Semites like David Duke have applauded the study guide – revealing that you if, in fact, you go far enough to the extreme left you will find your friends on the extreme right.


The issue of BDS

The conversation happening at the extremes is not only related to the publication and distribution of Zionism Unsettled but the ongoing calls for divestment from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett Packard.

Divestment is part of a larger strategy called BDS: boycott, divest, sanction. Netanyahu said of the BDS movement, “How can anyone fall for the BS in BDS?” and then affirmed that his highest aspiration is a peaceful two-state solution.

“Peace is Israel’s highest aspiration. I’m prepared to make a historic peace with our Palestinian neighbors, a peace that would end a century of conflict and bloodshed. Peace would be good for us. Peace would be good for the Palestinians. But peace would also open up the possibility of establishing formal ties between Israel and leading countries in the Arab world,” Netanyahu asserted.

And then he addressed the threat to the prospect of peace fomented by the BDS movement.

“Most people in the BDS movement don’t seek a solution of two states for two peoples. On the contrary, they openly admit that they seek the dissolution of the only state for the Jewish people. They’re not seeking peace, they’re not seeking reconciliation. But some of their gullible fellow travelers actually do believe that BDS advances peace.

“Well, the opposite is true. BDS sets back peace because it hardens Palestinian positions, and it makes mutual compromise less likely.

“But I think these are all important points, but not the critical important. The critical thing is that BDS is morally wrong. It turns morality on its head. This is the main point. And I can tell you, it’s not that Israel, like all states, is not beyond criticism. We have a boisterous democracy where everyone has an opinion. And believe me, no one in Israel is shy about expressing it – about anything. In Israel, self-criticism is on steroids.

“But the BDS movement is not about legitimate criticism. It’s about making Israel illegitimate. It presents a distorted and twisted picture of Israel to the naive and to the ignorant. BDS is nothing but a farce. Here’s why, listen: In dozens of countries academics are imprisoned for their beliefs. So the universities of which country does BDS want to sanction and boycott? Israel – the one country in the Middle East where professors can say, write and teach what they want.

“Throughout the Middle East, Christians are fleeing for their lives. So which country does BDS want churches to divest from? You got it – Israel, the one country in the Middle East that protects Christians and protects the right of worship for everyone.”


Concerns for humanity

The prime minister did not deny that there are legitimate humanitarian concerns on all sides. He did not deny the right of those who speak with critical tones about the government of Israel.  Nor did he give a free pass to those critics when they fail to levy similar criticism against human rights violators like North Korea, Iran and terrorists targeting Israelis from Gaza.

Senator Charles Schumer raised similar concern in his comments at the AIPAC Conference. “I believe that those who call for boycotts of Israel without calling for boycotts of other neighboring nations whose human rights records are in fact reprehensible are practicing, whether they know it or not, whether they admit it or not, a modern form of what we call anti-Semitism,” Schumer said.

That was language that the prime minister also levied, saying:

And from antiquity to the Middle Ages to modern times, Jews were boycotted, discriminated against and singled out.

“Today the singling out of the Jewish people has turned into the singling out of the Jewish state. So you see, attempts to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, the most threatened democracy on Earth, are simply the latest chapter in the long and dark history of anti-Semitism. Those who wear – those who wear the BDS label should be treated exactly as we treat any anti-Semite or bigot. They should be exposed and condemned. The boycotters should be boycotted.

“Everyone should know what the letters B-D-S really stand for: bigotry, dishonesty and shame.”

Which brings us back to the unsettling heart-truth behind Zionism Unsettled. This is not an effort to bring peace. Quite the contrary, this is an effort to erode the land from beneath the feet of the Jewish state.  That is not where the PCUSA’s mutually agreed upon Social Witness Policy stands and yet some Presbyterians are taking their stand against the legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel.

Discussion of these matters will be writ large at the General Assembly meeting of the PCUSA, June 14-21 in Detroit, Mich.



Video of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech

Other videos from the 2014 Polity Conference

Carmen Fowler LaBerge