After Presbyterian Win, BDS Advocates Trumpet Divestment as Path to Two States

With Peace Talks Dead, Boycott Pressure Gains Allure

Presbyterian Protest: Demonstrators calling for action against Israel confront Rabbi Rick Jacobs at the Presbyterian Church’s recent convention.
Presbyterian Protest: Demonstrators calling for action against Israel confront Rabbi Rick Jacobs at the Presbyterian Church’s recent convention.

By Nathan Guttman

Published June 24, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Advocates for Israel may be confronting a new kind of boycott, divestment and sanctions push.

But the effort to frame the pressure tactic into a weapon for attaining a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians is being rejected by most Israel defenders as a distinction without a difference.

The June 21 vote by the Presbyterian Church (USA) to sell off its stock in three American companies seen as bolstering Israel’s occupation of the West Bank marked more than a new level of success for those advocating economic gestures to pressure Israel politically. The measure succeeded in gaining approval from the large mainline denomination in part by reframing the very nature and purpose of the divestment tactic.

For years, divestment has been wielded as a cudgel by those whom Israel’s supporters view as opponents of the very existence of a Jewish state. But the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel — or BDS, as it is known — got short shrift in the language ultimately passed at the Presbyterians’ June 21 gathering in Detroit. The church’s resolution instead explicitly reaffirmed Israel’s right to exist, endorsed a two-state solution to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and disavowed any “alignment with or endorsement of the global BDS movement.”

That movement, composed of pro-Palestinian activists, supports a 2005 manifesto issued by a coalition of civil society groups in the West Bank and in Gaza calling for BDS of Israel worldwide. The manifesto’s demands include recognition of “the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194” — an action that Israel and its supporters say would effectively mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state.

The Palestinian refugee population, which includes those expelled by Israel or those who fled during the 1948 war that established the state, plus many of their descendants, is now estimated at almost 5 million.

Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, strongly rejected the notion that the Presbyterians’ efforts to distance themselves from this movement meant anything.

“It’s just not possible at this moment and in this climate to be able to, in a sense, reinvent this as a new strategy,” argued Jacobs. The Reform leader, whose own movement officially supports a two-state solution and opposes Israel’s policy of establishing Jewish settlements on the West Bank, denounced the idea of a “kinder, gentler form of BDS” as “false.”

Jacobs heads American Judaism’s largest religious stream and spoke for pretty much the full spectrum of organized Jewry’s mainstream in voicing this view.

But the consensus could be starting to erode. Americans for Peace Now, while not welcoming divestment, expressed understanding of the Presbyterian Church’s move as “explicitly and emphatically grounded in commitment to and concern for Israel.”

“Anti-Israel forces were quick to claim PC (USA)’s decision, passed by a very narrow margin, as a victory for their odious cause, but that does not make it so,” APN averred in a statement.

Outside the mainstream tent, some Jews see the new approach at the Presbyterian convention as one that could be used elsewhere with similar success.

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • "Everybody is proud of the resistance. No matter how many people, including myself, disapprove of or even hate Hamas and its ideology, every single person in Gaza is proud of the resistance." Part 2 of Walid Abuzaid's on-the-ground account of life in #Gaza:
  • After years in storage, Toronto’s iconic red-and-white "Sam the Record Man" sign, complete with spinning discs, will return to public view near its original downtown perch. The sign came to symbolize one of Canada’s most storied and successful Jewish family businesses.
  • Is $4,000 too much to ask for a non-member to be buried in a synagogue cemetery?
  • "Let’s not fall into the simplistic us/them dichotomy of 'we were just minding our business when they started firing rockets at us.' We were not just minding our business. We were building settlements, manning checkpoints, and filling jails." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: 10,000 Israel supporters gathered for a solidarity rally near the United Nations in New York yesterday.
  • Step into the Iron Dome with Tuvia Tenenbom.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.