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.