Presbyterians Meet To Debate Israel Divestment

Will BDS Debate Damage Ties To Jews?

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By Ron Kampeas

Published June 04, 2014.
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(JTA) — Which way will Presbyterians go this time?

That’s a question Jewish groups and their Presbyterian allies are nervously asking as they work to head off divestment efforts within the church targeting Israel. The fear is the efforts could pass this time after a narrow defeat two years ago.

A successful divestment vote at the biennial Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly this month could precipitate a rupture between the mainline Protestant denomination and the Jewish community, they warn.

Jewish-Presbyterian relations already were strained severely following the publication by a church-affiliated group of a document, “Zionism Unsettled,” that depicted Zionism as a false theology.

“The publication of ‘Zionism Unsettled’ by the very voices backing divestment in the PC (U.S.A.) revealed an agenda that is not about church investments,” said Ethan Felson, the vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. “These backers of divestment want to return their church to a place of retrograde anti-Jewish theology, hostility to mainstream Jews and, of course, a blind eye to the responsibility of Hamas and Hezbollah on the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the steps Israelis are forced to take to defend themselves.”

Delegates to the General Assembly, taking place June 14-21 in Detroit, will consider at least five resolutions, or “overtures,” that would advance divestment from companies that deal with Israel’s military and one that would reconsider whether the church supports a two-state solution.

Church officials organizing the assembly declined to comment directly on the resolutions.

At the 2012 church assembly, delegates rejected a divestment initiative by the slimmest of margins, 333-331.

Such resolutions have become commonplace at mainline Protestant churches in recent years. But other mainline Protestant churches have been less receptive, defeating them by solid margins.

Jewish communal officials and their allies worry that divestment proponents could find success at this year’s Presbyterian assembly.


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