I must admit to being somewhat stunned by the amount of effort Team BDS is putting into the whole Methodist vote taking place this month in Tampa and the likely equal amount of resources they plan to put into the Presbyterians during their upcoming June meeting in Pittsburgh.
Anyone who has followed BDS activity for more than a few years understands the centrality of the Mainline Protestant churches to the BDS story. For back in 2004, when divestment advocates were struggling to get any traction (given that their project was not making any headway in their primary target of colleges and universities), their “movement” gained new momentum when the US Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) passed a divestment resolution at their bi-annual General Assembly. And with that victory, divestment spread like a virus to cities and towns, unions and gained renewed energy on college campuses.
But if the Presbyterians can giveth, they can also taketh away. Which is why when church members met again in 2006 and voted down their previous divestment stance by a margin of 95%-5%, the air went out of the BDS balloon (which led to the divestment virus lying dormant until 2009).
Why the Presbyterians (as well as other Mainline churches like the Methodists) flirt with these anti-Israel divestment motions in the first place is a long and involved affair. And a Website I set up two years ago to deal with this issue when it came up (again) with the Presbyterians in 2010 contains a number of documents worth reading for anyone who wants to be fully briefed on this complicated and intriguing tale. (I especially recommend Rabbi Puopko’s Looking at Them Looking at Us and Will Spotts’ Pride and Prejudice – both longer, but hugely worthwhile reads.)
While these monographs explain why the churches got started down the divestment road in the first place, they don’t explain why divestment continues to be on their agenda every two years (for the Presbyterians) and every four (for the Methodists) ever since. For the reasons behind this ongoing drama has less to do with the churches themselves and more to do with the nature of BDS.
You see, in addition to their skill in utilizing new media communication techniques, BDS advocates also have one other important talent: the inability to ever take no for an answer.
If the Methodists rejected BDS unanimously in 2008 and the Presbyterians reiterated their anti-divestment position in votes taken in 2008 and 2010, what does that matters to the boycotters? In their minds, their only goal is to keep bringing this issue back to the churches again and again until they vote “correctly.”
And what if this causes enormous rifts within these churches, creating division and rancor inside institutions struggling with hosts of other issues (some of them potentially existential)? To a BDSer, mentioning such matters would trigger nothing but blank stares.
For in the mind of divestment champions, the Methodist and Presbyterian churches are not organizations made up of human beings with their own needs, history and hopes for the future. Rather, they are simply stepping stones to a hoped-for re-energized BDS “movement,” one which can try to sell its wares to a new group of institutions by starting each conversation with the claim that “The Methodists and Presbyterians agree with us that Israel is an Apartheid state, which is why you should divest as well!”
The sad thing is, if divestment gets voted in at either of these churches, that will be the last any Methodist or Presbyterian sees of those “friends” currently wining a dining them, handing them slick literature printed in multiple languages, or inundating them with calls and letters. For if a church ever passes such a vote, the BDSers will immediately fan out across the globe using the name and reputation of the Methodist or Presbyterian Church (claiming to speak in the name of every man, woman and child who has ever been part of either church) to push an agenda that bears no resemblance to what they were saying when divestment was being sold in Tampa or Pittsburgh.
And once that happens, the churches will be left behind to deal with the wreckage their votes have caused in terms of ongoing conflict under their own roofs and increased alienation from a Jewish community that’s been asked to put up with these ongoing (and seemingly endless) slaps in the face every two or four years.
To date, the membership of these churches have always ended up doing the right thing (often against the wishes of church leaders), voting down divestment by overwhelming margins and pleading with BDS champions within their ranks to take into consideration the needs of someone other than themselves.
Time will tell if this year’s story ends up so positive.