Presbyterian Church Reconsiders Boycott Against Israel

Presbyterian Church Reconsiders Boycott Against Israel

Jewish groups that have been working to head off “divestment” against Israel by mainline Protestant churches are all focused on Birmingham, Ala., where the Presbyterian Church (USA) will gather for its General Assembly on June 15.

The Presbyterians, who started the divestment bandwagon rolling two years ago with a decision to pursue “selective divestment” against the Jewish state, will consider a host of resolutions, including several calling for ending the divestment process.

Most likely to pass is a resolution creating a special task force to conduct a study of divestment and oversee the entire divestment process within the church. If passed, the other “overtures” on the subject — resolutions initiated by local presbyters — would be referred to the new panel, which would
decide which to bring up at the next General Assembly in 2008.

That is limited good news, said Kean University political scientist Gilbert Kahn, who has been active in the anti-divestment fight.

“The fact they may send it back for further study suggests that despite serious efforts by church staff and others to push divestment forward, calmer minds may be prevailing,” he said. “If we can get that done, we will have done well.”

He commended the “extraordinarily strong, courageous, articulate people” within the church who have fought divestment.

Last week a group of anti-divestment leaders in the church completed a five-day mission to Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. One, Dr. John H. Cushman of the Christian Leadership Conference for Israel, termed divestment a “one-sided, negative and counterproductive policy that threatens to cause great harm to both Israel and the Palestinians while creating unnecessary polarization within our own denomination.”

Rabbi Eugene Korn, Jewish affairs director for the American Jewish Congress, said referring the issue to a new committee is not enough.

“As long as divestment remains on the table, it will be a serious problem in Jewish-Presbyterian relations,” he said.

Church leaders, Korn said, have been shocked by the reaction from anti-divestment Presbyterians, but “they are trying to manage two contradictory, irreconcilable positions. It’s been very divisive within the church and very divisive in terms of Jewish-Presbyterian relations.”

Officials with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs termed the resolution calling for a new task force “problematic,” and expressed concern that it will continue a high-profile process that will just encourage other anti-Israel acts — including academic and campus boycotts.

The group is hoping Presbyterian leaders will at least suspend the divestment process while the new task force on the issue conducts its study.

Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, inter-religious director for the Anti-Defamation League, said that the relentless focus on divestment may be deflecting attention from the real issue, which he said is “how to deal with the structural anti-Semitism that still exists in segments of the church that allows for divestment and for this de-legitimization of Israel.”

Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor said the proposal to appoint a special committee to study the issue could be a step forwar

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