Does War Make All Things Clear? – The Savior Generals

31 Jul

Victor Davis Hanson, one of the most insightful military historians writing today, had an interesting piece the other day analyzing the current Gaza campaign and its fallout.

While his piece is primarily political (Hanson is also a commentator for National Review), words that readers of his military histories will find familiar are contained in what might seem like a throwaway line on page 2: “human nature remains constant,” a sentiment that sums up the beliefs of those ancient Greeks whose stories serve as the foundation for his understanding of military (and human) history.

In this case, the part of human nature he sees on display among Western critics of Israel’s recent actions – those parts that are “opportunistic, fearful and fickle” – are likely to lead those critics to give a final tut-tut and move on if Israel successfully deals Hamas a crippling blow.  But if Israel retreats in the face of international “anti-war” pressure those critics are working so hard to generate, that is likely to push anti-Israel hysteria into new and unprecedented heights.

In a way, this is the “strong horse/weak horse” argument that we have heard since Osama bin Laden used that line to describe why the Arab masses would flock to his banner if he could demonstrate strength and power by, for example, flying planes into skyscrapers in New York City.  Which they did until this strong horse ended up demonstrating his own weakness by going to ground for close to a decade before being taken out by an allegedly weak horse who turned out to have some fight in him still.

But as the post “Arab Spring” world detonated, we have returned to the unchanging human condition understood by the ancients – not a world where the “law of the jungle” rules, but one where actors make decisions regarding war and peace based on a careful calculation of who is strong (and should be avoided) and who is weak (and should be conquered).

But the Greeks had more than opportunism and fear in mind when they talked about the constancy of human nature.  For while technology and tactics might have changed astonishingly over the centuries, the nature of those who start wars and those who fight them has remained remarkably consistent.

Those with the power to trigger a conflict, whether they are named Xerxes, Caesar, Napoleon or Hitler, make rational calculations regarding whether they have the forces, resources, morale and leadership to gain more than they lose by letting slip the dogs of war.  But these same leaders tend to make the same errors of overreach when they are winning and panic when they are losing that makes them vulnerable to those who defend against them.

By coincidence, I was reading Hanson’s latest book, The Savior Generals, when the Gaza war broke out.  This book is a follow up to another book he wrote called The Soul of Battle which highlighted three generals (Epaminondas of Thebes who defeated Sparta, Sherman who broke the Confederacy, and Patton who smashed the allegedly invincible Nazis) who demonstrated the stupendous power of democratic armies led by the right type of general.

Sherman also appears in Savior Generals alongside Themistocles (who routed the Persians at Holy Salamis), Matthew Ridgeway (who ended the Korean War), David Petraeus (who figured out how to win against an insurgency in Iraq), and my personal favorite general of all time: Flavius Belisarius (who nearly re-conquered the Roman Empire in real life as well as defeating aliens allied with Indians in a series of bad but delicious sci-fi novels).

What makes these four military leaders saviors is the fact that they were able to win wars that everyone but they knew were lost.  And whether you’re talking about Themistocles determining that the Persians were vulnerable at sea or Ridgeway who understood that a million-man Chinese army relied on vulnerable supply lines when the front extended well down the Korean peninsula, all the Savior Generals had a grasp of on-the-ground reality that many of their superiors (military and political) lacked.

Most of them were also soldier’s generals who lead from the front (rather than issuing orders from luxury hotels), exposed themselves to the same hardships their men faced, and routinely made decisions that would minimize casualties on their own side.

This grasp of reality and concern for the troops lead to a type of informed conservativism on the battlefield.  So while other generals desperately sought pitched battles where the clash of thousands might lead to a decisive victory (or a glory-filled defeat), the Savior Generals focused on strategies and tactics that maximized their own advantages, refusing to be goaded into battle where and when territory and timing was not to their liking.  And they had a keen understanding of war as an extension of politics, best exemplified by Sherman’s thrust into Georgia timed in a way to ensure the re-election of Abraham Lincoln.

Since human nature is unchanging, the nihilism of Hamas is no more undefeatable than the fanatical Communist zeal that motivated North Koreans and Chinese in the Korean War or the Bushido cult that supposedly made the WWII Japanese warrior unstoppable.  Such fanaticism can certainly be a factor in maintaining morale among the troops, but it also tends to put into power leaders who can be counted on to make predictable errors (notably fighting beyond their resources).

And, at least for now, Israel’s political and military leaders seem to be making decisions designed to not allow the enemy to define the battlefield.  This includes not retaking territory that Israelis have no desire to control.  But it also involves finally taking the propaganda component of the century old “War against the Jews” seriously.

As I’ve noted before, those marching in the streets insisting that everyone treat them as part of a peace movement are no less instrumental in someone else’s war plans than munitions and troops.  The reason they stay home when Hamas fires rockets (or Syria butchers thousands) but roar to life once Israel shoots back is not simply hypocrisy (although they are loaded to the gills with that).  Rather, their role is to minimize Israel’s military options (by demanding an immediate ceasefire only when shooting is two-way) while maximizing the options (or ensuring the survival and continued military potential) of her opponents.

So condemning a BDSer for his or her hypocrisy makes about as much sense as screaming at a tank for only shooting at the enemy.  But accepting their self-characterization as fighters for peace is even more ludicrous.  Which is why our job is to keep up the battle on this front by continually exposing their lies and pretensions, while those who fight make decisions (hopefully informed by the history of the savior generals) in order to win on the ground.


24 Jul

One of the arguments often made at BDS-related debates is that the Middle East conflict is too complex for student senators or food coop members or church delegates to understand well enough to take a meaningful stance on the matter.

“Nonsense,” the BDSers sneer.  For, according to them, the issues are unbelievably simple.  Here is a photo of a dead Palestinian baby (with a grieving mother wailing over the body), and here is another picture of a fully armed Israeli soldier standing next to a frightening bulldozer or some piece of heavy military equipment. And with these simple premises in place, their conclusion is equally simple: “Do what we say!”

To a certain extent, our argument for complexity is actually a reaction to the other side’s specific over-simplified narrative.  But it also represents an effort to avoid over-simplifying narratives of our own, such as one that points out that the Middle East consists of dozens of Arab nations – all corrupt dictatorships of one stripe or another – that have built their politics around eternal enmity towards the Jewish state.

According to this narrative, the Middle East not only consists of more than Israelis and Palestinians but the very Israeli-Palestinian conflict the BDSers decry is the result of the actual cause of suffering in the region: what Ruth Wisse calls “The Arab War Against the Jews.” (something the boycotters faithfully ignore).

The thing is, this less-than-complex story that Israel’s supporters tend to avoid is far closer to the truth than anything that comes out of the mouth of those advocating for boycott, divestment and sanctions.  And never more has such stark simplicity been clear than in the recent and unfolding conflict in Gaza.

Perhaps an errant rocket or two per year could be blamed on forces outside the control of governing Hamas forces in the Gaza Strip.  But when Hamas itself boasts of firing thousands of missiles, mortars and rockets over weeks and months and years, then the subjecting of a sovereign nation to a modern version of the London Blitz cannot be seen as anything other than an act of war, requiring a military response.

The FACT that Hamas hides within and fires its missiles from civilian areas is also not open to debate, which is why those who challenge a reality backed up by countless photos, videos and live testimony choose to either ignore or deny this fact without actually providing evidence or arguments against its unquestionable veracity.

And then you’ve got those miles and miles of tunnels built with cement and other building supplies that countless people insisted Gaza desperately needed to rebuild an above-ground infrastructure devastated by the last wars Hamas started.  The fact that Hamas instead used that material (as well as aid money) to construct a different underground infrastructure for their fighters (leaving civilians to fend for themselves above) can only be denied by those born without eyes or those who have chosen to shield themselves from the truth at the cost of their humanity.

I can understand why simple narratives of good vs. evil tend to rub those of us with modern sensibilities the wrong way.  After all, even Israel’s most ardent supports can (and do) provide a long list of errors the Jewish state has made over the course of seven decades of siege.  And when the Jewish people produce a Baruch Goldstein or those responsible for the murder of Mohammad Abu Khdeir (killed in last month’s revenge attack for the kidnapping/murder of three Israeli youths) we are both shocked and called to question whether the cause we fight for might have contributed to the creation of such monsters.

But this kind of self-questioning, appropriate for anyone who values facing up to moral complexity (the mortal equivalent of wrestling with God), carries the risk of becoming a variant on the common error of letting the perfect become the enemy of the good.  For if one side in a conflict is ready to face (and fess up to) its own shortcomings while the other side will never admit responsibility for any error, crime or violation of moral norms under any circumstance, then we are actually abdicating moral responsibility when we respond to the other side’s perpetually pointing finger with confessions of our own flaws.

It’s been interesting to note that Israel and its supporters, usually all over the map with regard to messaging whenever a conflict such as this summer’s Gaza war arises, has been remarkably on-point this time around.  To a certain extent, this is because the points to be made are so glaringly obvious that little else needs to be said.

Hamas has chosen to shoot at Israeli civilians while hiding behind Palestinian ones.  Hamas leaders have enriched themselves and now sit comfortably in five star hotels in Qatar while others do the fighting and dying.  The organization’s genocidal designs are available for all to see in their charter and countless pronouncements made before, during and after their takeover of Gaza (and transformation of the area to an armed camp).  And the lies (including absurdly transparent use of fake images) demonstrate not just their cynicism but their contempt for everyone they hope will carry out the propaganda component of their current campaign.  Given all this, what else is there for Israel and its supporters to talk about?

Perhaps this is why PlanetBDS must suffice with their ghoulish count of the dead (which follows the Hamas talking point that anyone killed in Gaza is an “innocent civilian”) coupled with throwing Molotov cocktails at synagogues and screaming and tweeting a wish that Hitler had finished the job.  For without any actual facts or arguments to fall back on, shrieking ever louder (and accompanying those screams with violence) is all they have left.

Which means that those of us dedicated to fighting this scourge needs to brace for one hell of an ugly year to come.

The Presbyterians’ Gradye Parsons On Gaza

22 Jul

I recently reloaded a Tweetdeck App I used when tracking activity during last month’s Presbyterian GA, where a tweet informed me that Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk for PCUSA, released a statement on July 16th calling for an end to the conflict currently underway in Gaza and in the skies over Israel.

Now normally, I might be tempted to critique this statement, making note of the Mr. Parson’s choice to devote a quarter of his document to list every Palestinian victim by name, the use of the passive voice (are Hamas rockets “indiscriminately fired” or does Hamas indiscriminately fire them – and at who?), or the tendency to trace all conflict back to that metaphysical entity: “the illegal Israeli occupation.”

But given that PCUSA decided to add calls for an end to rocket fire and suicide bombing (or, at least in the latter case, their condemnation – although an end to those would kind of be good too), I’ve decided to lay off a line-by-line analysis in favor of seeing just how widely this call has been listened to now that the church decided to make its moral voice heard through last month’s divestment votes at the 2014 General Assembly.

I began with a Google news search which allows me to sort by date to see if any news sources had picked up on what the Stated Clerk no doubt felt was an important and newsworthy statement from an institution that made all kinds of news just a few weeks ago when they passed their divestment policy.  Strangely, nothing seemed to show up regarding news coverage of the church’s Gaza statement.

Knowing full well that such an online search was just a starting point, I repeated my search with other search engines (Bing, Yahoo and the meta-search engine Dogpile).  But even here, no media coverage seems to show up (even in papers that covered divestment with at least one story).

Undaunted, I went directly to the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, CNN and Boston Globe web sites and did individual searches there.  Again, nothing.

Finally, I went back to Google which allows you to search the entire Internet with a date range to see if anyone picked up on the story.  And, outside of the Presbyterian publications Presbyterian Outlook and The Layman, not one non-Presbyterian media outlet seems to have noticed the church taking a stand on what they have decided is their A #1 top international priority: the Arab-Israeli conflict.

How can this be?  After all, the church has decided to put at risk its relationship with every Jewish organization in the nation – secular and religious – outside of Jewish Voice for Peace in order to establish its moral bone fides on this issue.  Supporters of the churches old/new divestment policy have spent days on end congratulating the organization for its moral courage and insisting that last month’s votes put the group on the right side of history. So shouldn’t someone take heed of what a group on that right side has to say about the very topic they decided was the most vital of the day?

Unless, of course, last month’s GA choices simply generated a week of “man-bites-dog” stories, after which the public fell into the default mode of ignoring the pontifications of a church that seems more interested in listening to anti-Israel partisans outside its ranks than to its own membership (which, you should recall, voted down divestment four times before finally giving those partisans the answer they wanted).  And, perhaps calls to stop raining rockets down on Israeli cities might have had more impact had they been made when the Presbyterians were all together making statement after statement and passing resolution after resolution about the region, rather than waiting for Israel to return fire before finding something to say after a near decade of rocket fire/war crimes directed against the Jewish state.

To be fair, perhaps this statement was directed at the parties to the conflict, rather than the press.  In which case, I think Israel’s Prime Minister succinctly expressed a view of church political opinion shared by not only his countrymen but a majority of American Jews and Christians (including Presbyterians).

And if Israel’s supporters now look at PCUSA as an organization that cannot be trusted, the Palestinians know it can be trusted – to only take action in support of their positions, offering everyone else generic prayers, Zionism Unsettled, and demands that their open partisanship be treated as acts of love.

So, after a decade of demanding that divestment must be the policy of the organization, PCUSA finds itself distrusted by one side in the conflict, taken for granted by another, and utterly ignored by everyone else as they slide their way towards physical oblivion that matches their non-existent moral footprint on the world stage.

The Brain on BDS

17 Jul

The sheer amount of reality that must be ignored to maintain a BDS mindset can sometimes seem staggering.

Middle East commentator Max Boot lists the number of obvious truths that must be denied in order to portray Israel as the sole or primary aggressor in the most recent clash between the IDF and Hamas in Gaza, including:

  • That Israel gave up “land for peace” with its 2005 Gaza withdrawal and received nearly a decade of war as a consequence
  • Thousands of missiles fired indiscriminately by Hamas to maximize civilian casualties vs. highly targeted attacks by Israel designed to minimize them
  • That Israel accepted a cease fire which Hamas rejected (and continued firing missiles)
  • That Hamas deliberately locates its weapons among civilians in hope of protecting their arms or, even better, causing casualties among their own population which they can exploit in a propaganda war

But this list only covers the most recent outbreak of violence.  To the list of unquestionable facts that must be ignored to maintain the BDS mindset one could easily add:

  • The numerous land deals Israel offered both Arafat and Abbas which were rejected since they carried the price tag of genuine peace
  • The role played by powerful state actors (such as Iran) in arming and financing those Palestinian factions most ready and willing to pull the trigger, not to mention the various propaganda campaigns (including BDS) carried on by powerful nation states who continue to be at war with the Jewish state
  • The terror campaigns (euphemistically called Intifadas) which required the security measures (such as a separation barrier) those with the BDS mindset protest so loudly

For some reason, however, pulling the usual levers does not seem to be as effective this time around.

Perhaps BDS-style propagandists have gotten lazy, anticipating that a gullible media and public will swallow their propaganda whole, regardless of its transparency.

In the past, #GazaUnderAttack imagery tried to slip in a few faux images into a stream of otherwise genuine (although context-free) photos of Palestinian suffering.  But this time around, the trend seems to be to just grab any photo of an explosion or dead Arab (whether they come from previous conflicts with Israel, from conflicts that don’t involve Israel – such as Syria, or from Photoshop).  When even the BBC has gotten tired of being played for saps, it’s clear that even those with no love for the Jewish state will eventually react to being treated with this level of contempt.

As Western nations and the media have shown less inclination to do the bidding of the BDSers and their allies, whatever remains of the old “anti-Israel not anti-Jewish” mask has quickly dropped to the ground.  Thus the physical attacks that were the exception (at least outside the Middle East itself) are now the rule at anti-Israel protests.  And with the rise of hashtags along the lines of #HitlerWarRight dominating “anti-war” discourse, the notion that protests are just “criticizing Israel policy” has moved from questionable to ludicrous.

At the center of all this pathology is the sociopathic BDS mindset I’ve described on this site several times over the last five years.  It’s one thing to have biases (which are common to all mankind), and the phenomenon of shielding yourself from information that contradicts pre-conceptions is a sad but common malady in the era of customized news (i.e., reality) feeds.  But to cut yourself off from so much obvious truth and shout down or beat up anyone insisting you face it represents more than an extreme version of the common desire to avoid confronting things that contradict existing beliefs.

No, these behaviors only make sense once you realize that the boycotters and their fellow travelers have, in effect, created their own fantasy world filled with brave knights (themselves), damsels in distress (Palestinians) and wicked sorcerers and dragons (Israel and its supporters).

Within this fantasy world, any action is justified to vanquish evil (as defined within the BDSers own universe) and anyone who does not fall into the category of knight, damsel or monster has no purpose other than as a prop or extra in the drama going on in the boycotters own heads.

I’ve often highlighted how the majority of true evil in the world was carried out by those absolutely convinced in their own unshakable virtue.  And as rockets fire from Gaza, “human rights” activists fight for a “cease fire” (to give their allies the chance to rearm), and Molotov Cocktails are thrown in Paris, we are all witness to this sad phenomenon bracing to blanket the entire globe.

Things Fall Apart

10 Jul

Every couple of years, we are given a reminder of how much the choices of both pro- and anti-BDS campaigners are constrained (if not driven) by geopolitical forces beyond the control of even the most effective, thoughtful and successful activist individuals and organizations.

Going all the way back to 2001, the pre-cursor to today’s BDS “movement” originated at the Durban II conference (a UN event which, by definition, makes it a conference of state actors).  While the original agenda for that event was supposed to be the fight against global racism, that goal was quickly abandoned in favor of supporting racism, notably, the racist campaign to brand Israel as the inheritor of Apartheid South Africa (the so-called “Apartheid Strategy”).

An associated Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) conference, which consisted of organizations under the sway of those aforementioned state actors (demonstrated by their following the lead of the nation-states making decisions at the adjoining main conference), helped distill that “Apartheid Strategy” into a set of tactics that involved recruiting civic organizations (such as schools, churches and municipalities) – by any means necessary – into embracing a position we today refer to as BDS.

That strategy laid fallow for several months as the world’s attention turned to 9/11 and its aftermath (the defining geopolitical events of the 21st century). But once another quasi-state actor (Yasir Arafat, whose source of authority was always the nation-states of the Arab world which declared his PLO to be the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”) decided to unleash a terror campaign on Israel, another state actor (Israel) was forced to respond.

It was this response that led to global street protests, part of a galvanization of domestic political activity directed at Israel and its supporters, activity that had post-Durban blueprints ready to follow.  But that agenda might never have been activated (and our counter-activity never needed) had state actors and other powerful geopolitical forces not created the war-and-peace framework to which all of us had to respond.

Since then, the same game has played out every 2-3 years: in Lebanon (’06) and Gaza (’09, ‘11 and today), with either Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza choosing to start a war (through kidnapping, bombing or missile-launching campaigns), triggering an inevitable Israeli response.  But Hezbollah and Hamas were and are not grassroots organizations working on their budgets during the day and firing rockets at night, but forward military allies of those from whom they receive their weapons and money – notably nation-states like Iran.  And even if geopolitical alliances might change from year to year, the reason Hamas receives multi-million dollar arms shipments and checks while Tibetans must endure with bumper stickers is that the former has friends in the capitals of powerful nations, while the latter does not.

As the street protests we saw in ’02 repeated themselves in ’06 and ’09, they quickly morphed into an extension of the wars they were allegedly protesting.  Put simply, those claiming the title of “peace activists” (who are ready to shriek in your face or punch your lights out if you refuse to acknowledge them as such) pretty much have nothing to say when missiles fly from Lebanon or Gaza into Israel.  But once weapons start firing in two directions, suddenly these once-somnambulant peace warriors roar to life, taking to the streets to demand an immediate cease fire, followed by war crimes trials of any Israel who dared to return fire.

These choices make no sense whatsoever if we were dealing with a genuine peace movement.  But if you realize that these activists (and the BDS tactic they re-committed themselves to in 2009) are part of the arsenal of war, then all the facts fall neatly into place.

For war is not just fought with guns, missiles, tanks and planes.  It is also fought with propaganda.  And the goal of propaganda arm of the anti-Israel war movement is to limit Israel’s military choices while maximizing those of the Jewish state’s weapon-wielding enemies.  So the reason you never see pressure applied to Hamas in response to kidnapping murder and missile attacks – while Israel’s response triggers immediate calls for a cease fire – is that those demanding a halt to two-way (vs. one-way) war want to ensure groups like Hamas are not so degraded that they aren’t free to rearm and restart their war another day.

While I promised to give the Presbyterians a rest, I’ll use them as an example of the dynamic I’m talking about.  For during an entire week allegedly dedicated to praying and thinking and talking about peace in the Middle East, did PCUSA ever make their devotion to the Palestinian cause conditional on an end to kidnapping and rocket fire, or threaten some put their divestment program on hold until kidnapped boys were released and missiles stopped landing in Sderot?  Nope.  Instead they offered generic prayers for peace while directing all condemnatory resolutions with teeth at the target of kidnappings and rocket fire.  In short, their choices made them part of a war project, which is why so few people inside and outside their organization take their self-characterization as peacemakers the least bit seriously.

The difference between earlier eras of joint military-propaganda operations and those taking place today is that the entire region is now aflame after an Arab Spring turned from Islamist Winter to a pan-Middle East war of all against all.  And as nations rise and fall and new organizations and alliances emerge to fill various vacuums, geopolitical actors with money, arms and power continue to be the decision-makers regarding what happens next.

In a way, this Arab civil war has precedent in the 1950s and 60s when the monarchs who ruled the region either lost their heads or fought to the death against secular dictators who hoped to redraw the map of the Middle East in their favor (with the global superpowers playing their role by arming and supporting an ever-shifting set of allies).

Today, as those remaining monarchs and aging dictators (or, more specifically, their sons) find themselves in a new death match against religious fanatics, the major difference is that nations which spent three generations justifying limitless violence, a violation of every norm of war and peace, and the weaponization of the vocabulary and machinery of human rights in their fight against Israel now find themselves on the receiving end of the same weapons (including propaganda weapons) they originally hoped would be targeted at the Jews alone.

While some of the geopolitical actors creating facts (and corpses) on the ground have different names than earlier tyrants, all past and present wannabe dictators and Caliphs are joined in representing the latest variant on mankind’s oldest enemy: ruthlessness.

Long-time readers will recognize what I’m talking about when I use that term (and, if not, you can grab a cup of coffee and read this series on the subject).  But for purposes of this discussion, we need to keep in mind that when the next BDS proposal gets made by people brandishing photos of dead Gazans (including those that are just recycled pictures of dead Syrians), those pushing for such proposals are not grassroots peace activists but weapon systems that both support and are supported by equally militant geopolitical actors.

This does not diminish the need to fight against such propaganda efforts everywhere and always.  But as we do so, we need to maintain a humble understanding that the ultimate decisions over whether there will be war or peace are – as always – in the hands of those holding the reigns of power, hands that will either pull or not pull triggers based on things other than what we do or say or write.

Reverend Ufford-Chase’s Faux Dialog

8 Jul

It’s now officially time to call it quits on the whole Presbyterian issue and move onto other vital matters, such as the disintegration of the entire Middle East (or at least those portions rarely mentioned in discussions of a “Middle East Conflict” that seems to include Israel, the Palestinians and precious little else).

But before saying goodbye to this topic, I have to mention this article written by Rick Ufford-Chase which provides techniques and talking points to anyone who must engage in interfaith dialog between Presbyterians who support the church’s return to their 2004 divestment position and the vast majority of Jews who were justifiably appalled by that decision.

Like Reverend Clifton Kirkpatrick, Reverend Ufford-Chase is one of those PCUSA leaders whose fingerprints can be found all over the PCUSA divestment project.  The moderator for the 2004 General Assembly where divestment was first voted in (as a last-minute decision, with barely any debate), Ufford-Chase seems to have dedicated the last decade to undoing every “No” vote taken against divestment (in ’06, ’08, ’10 and ’12) in order to once again get his pet cause made PCUSA policy.

The first problem Ufford-Chase is likely to run into is finding someone to take his advice, given that many (probably most) Presbyteries were either (1) unaware that the divestment issue was once again going to throw the church onto the front pages (and create new rifts with the Jewish community) or (2) were actively hostile to the leadership’s divestment obsession all along.

But for those clerical and lay leaders who do want to explain church policy to alleged interfaith partners, Ufford-Chase recommends a format for organizing one’s talking points, one which puts a central argument in the middle of a triangle (in his case, that “Presbyterians are committed to bringing about peace for all Israelis and Palestinians”), then putting statements that support this main thesis on the corners of the triangle, with each statement supported by stories or further statements.

In this case, Ufford-Chase’s corners are filled with talking points with which anyone who has followed this debate will find familiar (“Presbyterians do not invest in companies that violate human rights,” “The Occupation must be dismantled and Settlement expansion must be brought to an end,” “Presbyterians seek both an internationally recognized State of Israel and a viable Palestinian State”), with evidence (interestingly) consisting not of facts but of stories that can add a human face to statements being presented as true.

While this might seem like a useful technique for organizing an argument, I could just as easily draw my own triangle which focuses on a different characterization of the PCUSA’s decision such as “A minority within the church has been committed to dragging the Middle East conflict into the organization for over a decade,” and then support my characterization with statements about how PCUSA leaders (including Ufford-Chase) have betrayed principles of Presbyterian governance, broken promises to the Jewish community, and suppressed dissent in order to get their way.  And, again, each of my statements could be well supported by stories and evidence (starting with detailed research, like the work of former PCUSA member Will Spotts).

Now one way genuine interfaith dialog could proceed from such an exercise would be for Rev. Ufford-Chase and I to swap our triangles and attempt to find common ground between them or, failing that, to agree to disagree.

But given how much church leaders have banished Presbyterian voices challenging their preferred (and highly truncated) presentation of facts over the last decade, what are the chances that a church member trying to engage critics outside of the church will be willing to listen to those critics’ legitimate concerns?  In which case, Rev. Ufford-Chase’s Techniques and Talking points become not a means for engaging in a genuine (and challenging) conversation, but a way to ensure any conversation is always brought back to a preferred set of talking points – ones which require an interlocutor to accept their opponent’s assumptions in advance or be accused of refusing to engage in “dialog.”

As I mentioned previously, I’ve reached out to a couple of people who claimed to thirst for the chance to engage with those who disagree with church divestment policy, and while my sample size is pretty trivial, I have noticed increasing discomfort whenever the conversation veers towards questioning PCUSA’s self-characterization as loving, unbiased, peace-makers.

Even keeping in mind the fact that Jews and Christians are destined to come at these issues from different vantage points (a challenge eloquently described in Rabbi Poupko’s Looking at Them Looking at Us), there is a difference between genuine dialog that involves people trying to find common ground and faux-dialog in which one side will only continue if their central premises go unchallenged.

Remember also that there is another audience for Rev. Ufford-Chase’s message: those fellow Presbyterians who warned that a return to 2004 would mean a return to the rifts and acrimony that followed PCUSA’s original divestment vote.  For this group, a call for interfaith dialog (just with Jews, by the way, not with the church’s Palestinian peace partners who are using PCUSA divestment policy as their latest propaganda weapon) is meant to imply that church leaders are holding an outstretched hand which the Jews refuse to grasp.

Perhaps a strategy based on faux dialog masquerading as the real thing will convince some uninformed souls of PCUSA’s sincerity.  But given the number of people within Ufford-Chase’s own organization who are reaching out to apologize to their Jewish partners for PCUSA behavior (rather than try to explain it away), I suspect Ufford-Chase and other BDSbyterians will have a hard time convincing many members of their own church that this move represents anything other than an attempt to gorge on their divestment cake without suffering any consequences.