I recently joked on Twitter (that most serious of places) that I tend to lose my audience once conversation turns to the Presbyterian Church.
Such flight is understandable, given that grasping Church politics requires navigating a sea of individuals and an alphabet soup of committees, some with intentionally ambiguous relations with the official organization. It also requires enough familiarity and comfort level with the language in which religious discourse takes place to know when phrases like “bearing witness” are being deployed as words of comfort or weapons of war.
But I also suspect some Divest This fans might miss a little of the rough-and-tumble they’ve come to expect from this site whenever a BDS bully comes to call. After all, I’ve had no problem highlighting Omar Barghouti’s role as a BDS huckster, or sending him and a representative from Jewish Voice for Peace back and forth in time in order to generate some cheap laughs at the boycotters’ expense.
The trouble is that when you use the word “Presbyterian,” you are actually describing both foes and friends of Jewish peoplehood. After all, it is members of the Presbyterian Church who have seized key decision-making bodies related to Middle East policy-making (such as the Israel Palestine Mission Network) and used them to churn out endless propaganda of the ugliest variety. And if there’s anyone you could assign the label “Presbyterian” to, surely it would include the leadership of the Church (which enables all the anti-Israel excess we’ve seen over the last two decades).
At the same time, Presbyterians are also at the helm of groups like Presbyterians for Middle East Peace which has done such a good job battling for reason within the denomination. And let’s not forget the fact that the General Assembly members who have voted down divestment time and time again over the last four PCUSA GAs are both Presbyterians and friends (or at least not enemies) of the Jewish state.
But then it dawned on me, why should we continue to let the BDSniks continue to brandish the “Presbyterian” label, just because they work so hard to try to stuff their opinions into the mouth of every other man, woman and (if there are any left) child in the denomination? After all, just as the leaders of the American Studies Association (who have demonstrated a readiness to destroy the reputation of the organization they purport to lead over the “right” to boycott their Israeli colleagues) are BDSers first, academics second, so too the Presbyterianism of the people I talked about last week clearly takes a back seat to their primary identity as anti-Israel activists.
Which is why I am proposing a new term: “BDSbyterian” (pronounced bee-dee-ess-bah-teer-ean) to describe those who have made it their life work to get the PCUSA to say “Yes” to divestment, regardless of how many times actual Presbyterians keep saying “No.”
Now if you want a sense of what a BDSbyterian looks and sounds like, I can think of no better example than Reverend Mark Davidson who proudly shares his story of how his church’s “witness activity” (which involved working with anti-Israel Christians, anti-Israel Jews and anti-Israel Muslims to plaster some of those egregious “Be with Us” ads on the side of busses in Chapel Hill) succeeded in “bringing Jewish-Christian relations in our community to an unexpected deeper and more substantive place.”
And how did a political campaign that has appalled Jewish and non-Jewish Israel supporters around the country generate such deep and substantive Jewish-Christian relations?
Apparently, beyond the Jewish Voice for Peace types Reverend Davidson was able to import (including Jeffrey Halper of ICAHD fame – who also appears on the bus ad simply as a grandfatherly Israeli), the response from the local Jewish community consisted of entirely predictable condemnations. These were accompanies by the usual calls to have such ads banned, and it was the Jewish community’s decision to rejecting banning Davidson’s deeply offensive political speech that the Reverend decided represents some form of constructive dialog.
Adding to that, someone apparently vandalized Davidson’s Church after the ads ran and while (as far as I know) the perpetrators were never caught, the Jewish community in Chapel Hill did the right thing by joining with other religious leaders to condemn such a stark example of hatred – in spite of (not in support of) the offense Davidson’s political activity was causing the community.
In other words, after having their face slapped by an alleged interfaith partner, Davidson’s Jewish neighbors chose not to turn to the law to shut down his campaign. They then turned the other cheek when an act of vulgar vandalism created common cause with the Davidson’s church, only to have the good Reverend say “thank you very much” while continuing to let ads condemning Israel as a nation of racist murderers and its supporters a bunch of apologists for Apartheid (but only in the nicest possible way) drive past their houses of worship on a daily basis.
So now we know what passes for “interfaith dialog” among the BDSbyterian set. In fact, this particular BDSbyterian is so proud of his success that he is urging other churches to follow his lead, no doubt hoping that the whole church voting to divest from that bigoted, Apartheid-y Jewish state will create the greatest opportunity for interfaith dialog yet!
As you might guess, this kind of behavior is welling up the snark in me. And now that I have something to call these people other than the Presbyterian title they crave but do not disserve, it’s time to finally get around to that BDS musical number I’ve been sitting on for a couple of years, especially now that I have someone’s mouth to put it into.