Presbyterian BDS – What to Do?

I was watching my youngest son perform in one of my least favorite musicals while the Presbyterians were debating whether or not to hand their reputation over to Omar Barghouti and his friends for another two years. And given that my kid’s shows (and associated ice-cream based socializing) can go well into the night, it wasn’t until this morning that I had time to digest yesterday’s decision-making at the 221 Presbyterian General Assembly.

I’ve actually had two years to prepare for a PCUSA divestment squeaker that went the boycotters’ way, given that I had fully expected the strategy chosen by the BDSers and their enablers in 2012 (and repeated this year) to work for them the last time around.

Just as a reminder, that strategy started with ensuring that every committee that would in any way touch the issue of Middle East politics was completely and utterly under the domination of pro-divestment forces, ensuring that the uncommitted would be subject to a barrage of anti-Israel sentiment with alternative views relegated to the margins and facts that might confound a black-and-white storyline already dumped down the memory hole.  And that was exactly how things played out in Detroit as Committee 4 made decisions after an egregious (and fully intentional) lopsided “debate” on the subject.

As in 2012, the foreordained outcome of such a fixed process was a pro-divestment measure sent to the floor that was characterized as having arisen from thoughtful input and careful discussion (rather than a process marinated in bias) in hope that General Assembly members unfamiliar with the issues (and unwilling to believe that the church they loved could behave as corruptly as it has) would not reject divestment yet again.  When this hardball set of tactics was rolled out in 2012, there were still enough Presbyterians in the room able to see through the stink to defeat divestment one more time.  But in a church losing between 50-100,000 members between every GA, it was inevitable that the remaining rump would eventually concentrate the power of radicals enough to drag BDS past the finish line (in this case, by less than ten votes).

The only thing I found interesting about this year’s debate was the portion I did watch yesterday afternoon when amendment after amendment was proposed (and many accepted) meant to blunt the impact of what the Presbyterians seemed about to do.  One of those amendments even tried to put distance between the church and BDS, despite the fact the only reason they were having this debate was at the behest of that very movement.

The boycotters did very little to sabotage such amendments since they fully understood that once news went out regarding any pro-divestment vote, all such subtlety would be lost (just as it would be ignored in the BDSers own press releases) in favor of the only thing they were ever truly after: newspaper headlines that simply state: “Presbyterian Church divestment from Israel.”

For Presbyterians who have not yet realized that they were only ever means to the boycotters ends, those little caveats are supposed to help when they visit their Jewish interfaith partners to insist that what they did was small, qualified, and well-intentioned (even as other interfaith BDS partners blanket the planet with the very Israel = Apartheid message PCUSA allegedly rejected).  But chances that Jews outside the JVP fringe will be interested in the kind of dialog I experience recently – in which all our legitimate concerns are ignored in favor of being told that we are still loved (presumably in spite of our support for a murderous, racist state) – would likely have been higher in the 12th century than the 21st.

So for reasons of self-respect alone, it’s time to follow the Wiesenthal Center and say goodbye to this abusive partner, ideally in a public manner that makes it crystal clear that while individual Jews and Presbyterians and even synagogues and churches can continue to work together on issues of concern that this does not mean (and should not be presented as meaning) a continuing interfaith relationship between the Jewish community and the everything Presbyterians mean when they refer to “Louisville.”

As for the rest of us, I think our choice of how to treat this recent decision by the church is also pretty clear: we should ignore it the same way 99.99% of the rest of the world ignores everything else that comes out of PCUSA General Assemblies year after year.  If you doubt my statistic, keep in mind that divestment was just one of dozens (if not hundreds) of political matters the church voted on over the last decade. Yet can anyone think of a single one of these decisions that made news (outside, perhaps, of those related to gay marriage where PCUSA might have been part of a story regarding much larger trends)?

Of the 1.6 million+ Presbyterians who were not in Detroit this week, many will wake up today appalled that their church has decided to accept a divestment policy they rejected four times, while others will just roll their eyes and tell us that this is just more nonsense originating from Louisville.  So given how little many Presbyterians care about their leadership’s choice of priorities, should Jews take those choices any more seriously?

Finally, the BDSers have given us the clearest lesson in how we should treat this matter having ignored vote after vote by previous GAs calling for balance, fairness and an end to divisive divestment battles within the church.  And if they are free to ignore Presbyterian No votes on divestment, it’s not clear why we should treat Yes votes any differently – even if people are screaming in our faces insisting that we must.

15 Responses to Presbyterian BDS – What to Do?

  1. Herb Glatter June 21, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

    National Presbyterian Church hypocrites on their way to Israel Sunday, here is their itinerary:

    • DivestThis June 21, 2014 at 5:34 pm #

      I didn’t notice Sdarot on their itinerary.

  2. fizziks June 21, 2014 at 5:55 pm #

    Sure enough, the NPR story was entitled “Presbyterians vote to divest from Israel” not “Presbyterians vote to divest from three American companies” as would have been technically accurate.

    But this is the same NPR that that weirdo who was commenting here a while back insisted was run by Jews.

  3. Anonymous June 21, 2014 at 9:52 pm #

    The reason I find it hard to totally ignore this vote is summed up well in this headline:

    “AJC: Presbyterian Divestment A Breach with Jews, Undermines Israeli-Palestinian Peace”

    We can rest assured that the vote will have no effect whatsoever on either the policies of Israel or the policies (or stock price) of the three companies in question. But it will affect relations (such as they are) between the Jewish community and “Louisville,” and, much more important, it will be used to convince the BDS true believers that they’re on their way to total victory, which sadly does undermine the chances for peace.

  4. Mike Harris June 21, 2014 at 10:55 pm #

    I’m not quite sure what you meant in your suggestion that the “rest of us” (by which I assume you mean those of us who don’t represent Jewish community institutions and organizations)ignore the Presbyterian GA vote. Now I don’t have any friends who belong to a PCUSA church, and if I did I certainly wouldn’t break off the friendship because of this. But as an active member of the Jewish community, and a donor to many of its institutions, my role would be to make sure that my synagogue, my local JCRC, etc don’t continue to interact with PCUSA member churches in a “business as usual” mode. Of course, if any PCUSA member church had its leadership speak out against the divestment (just as 49% of them voted against it), then of course they shouldn’t have their membership held against them.

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out at a grassroots level.

    • DivestThis June 22, 2014 at 2:01 am #

      With regard to individual Jews (or Israel supporters) deciding whether to maintain their relationships with Presbyterians or even synagogues deciding how to deal with the local PCUSA church with whom they’ve had relationship in the past, I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to tell them who they should or should not involve themselves with. All I’m saying is that those who maintain official interfaith connections with Louisville should take the obvious steps necessary to follow up on this kind of statement: and call that relationship quits (while also making it clear that no relationships that continue at the individual or synagogue-church level should imply a continuation of official interfaith connections).

      With regard to those of us who have to deal wit the BDSers shouting though bullhorns that the Presbyterians are on their side in the Israel = Apartheid propaganda campaign, we should simply not treat that claim any more seriously than they treated Presbyterians rejection of divestment in ’06, ’08. ’10 and ’10. Come to think of it, now that the boycotters have insisted that BDS become a permanent agenda item on every GA, doesn’t that mean that BDS is now 2 and 4 with regard to winning vs. losing PCUSA votes? Which means that they really can’t claim victory until they’ve won three more votes on the matter. So perhaps they can call us in 2020 and then we’ll take their claims seriously.

      Just a thought.

  5. Lynn B. June 22, 2014 at 2:15 am #

    Sorry. Did not intend (above) to be “Anonymous.”

  6. Zionist Blonde June 22, 2014 at 6:58 am #

    The blatant anti-Semitism of their debated hymn changes (contained in the same resolution) is just disgraceful.

  7. Annabel June 22, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    I’m a member of PCUSA, and there is no way the 310 votes reflect the majority in the pews (most Presbyterians have been blissfully unware of BDS and their influence in our church). The church where I hold my membership already voted last month to leave the PCUSA (for a number of reasons not related to this vote), and I’m so thankful I’m spared the hurt of having to leave my church family, who have blessed my life. I intend to boycott all organizations who support BDS, and I’ve contacted various church leaders whom I hope will speak out against this vote. I was shocked to see support from JVP and some rabbis at the general assembly, and I have a question (or challenge) for Mike Harris…..will you also speak out against those in the Jewish community who support BDS and give the Presbyterian church this false sense of validation and solidatrity with Jewish friends? They are part of the problem.

    • DivestThis June 22, 2014 at 2:13 pm #

      Hi Annabel – A powerful testimony and thanks for sharing it. I’ll let Mike speak for himself, but I can’t think of anyone who has done more to expose and fight against JVP than he and his allies on the West Coast (where that organization originates). You can read several things about the organization by typing “JVP” or “Jewish Voice for Peace” in the search box on this site, or by visiting the extremely important Pro Israel Bay Bloggers site at


      • Annabel June 22, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

        Thanks for sharing the link. Very cool. I think I recognise Mike from other forums. I came to the BDS fight late, and likely would not have understood the implications of this movement if not for a very dear Jewish friend. And I want to stress again, I don’t personally know any Presbyterians who support this vote (or many of the other political overtures put forward by the general assembly this year), which is a good reminder that PCUSA does not always speak for the local church.

    • DivestThis June 22, 2014 at 2:27 pm #

      Just out of curiosity, what is actually involved when a church leaves the PCUSA organization? Do you affiliate with a different Presbyterian group (or a different denomination)? And what becomes of the property of a church where the community decides to leave the mother ship?

      • Annabel June 22, 2014 at 3:26 pm #

        I can’t speak for all churches leaving PCUSA (hundreds so far), but our church is joining ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, which as far as I can tell, is about getting back to basics (the ten commandments). If the church body is in agreement, the leaving can be peaceful with a payout to the PCUSA (not sure how that is determined). If the congregataion is divided, lawsuits may ensue over property rights (I haven’t really followed the battles in other churches). Many Presbyterians are not happy with the PCUSA, and it is no easy thing to leave a church family, as most of us want to worship with a community of believers. Now that there is a viable option (ECO), I expect we’ll see more churches leaving the mother ship.

    • Mike Harris June 23, 2014 at 1:33 am #

      Annabel, I couldn’t agree more. They are a HUGE part of the problem, and I’ve been speaking out against them for years. Here’s links to a few pieces I have written (at least I wrote most of these) (and of course there are even better pieces found at ProIsraelBayBloggers!). In addition, I played a role in the creation of a specific policy which prevents JVP and other BDS-supporting groups from being supported by our local Jewish Community Federation: (See here: for the details of that role, and while that specific event was not about BDS, it was the same cast of characters that appears in every BDS resolution.)
      Yitzhak Santis, of NGO Monitor, quite rightly calls out JVP for essentially “Jew-washing” BDS for church groups.
      So please be assured that I blame those in our own community who provide cover for BDS far more than I blame the sometimes unknowing, sometimes gullible people outside our community who take JVP’s word for it. Those in the Presbyterian church charged with making these choices may or may not know better. The people in JVP know exactly what they are doing.

  8. will spotts June 22, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

    David Duke has endorsed the PC(USA)’s divestment actions.

    I’m sure that will come as a great surprise to everyone.

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