BDS the End of Israel? A Jewish and Presbyterian Response to Rabbi Marans

BDS the End of Israel? A Jewish and Presbyterian Response to Rabbi Marans June 15, 2014

Dear Subscribers,

I’m off to the Presbyterian General Assembly today. This OpEd written by Rev Jeff Deyoe and me is the first in a number of pieces I’ll be sending about the important vote the Presbyterians will be taking this week and the issues it raises.

[intro note:] Things have been heating up in the media discourse as the Presbyterians prepare to vote, once again, on divesting their pension funds from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett Packard because of those company’s involvement in the illegal occupation of Palestine.  Predictably, the institutional Jewish community as well as voices within the churches have hauled out the usual arguments:  the intention of BDS is to destroy Israel;  Presbyterians are well meaning but are being drawn into an anti-Semitic project; and “can’t we just keep talking about it?”   Rev. Jeff Deyoe of the PC(USA) Israel Palestine Mission Network and I wrote this response to an OpEd that appeared last week in a mainstream Jewish e-zine, JTA: The Global Jewish News Source, titled, “Presbyterians, BDS and Israel — Here We Go Again.”  Rabbi Noam Marans of the American Jewish Committee, like many others in the leadership of major Jewish advocacy organizations and religious denominations, as well as some prominent Protestant leaders, are panicked that this time the Presbyterians will pass the resolution (it failed by a hair two years ago), unleashing the flood of similar actions by other mainline Protestant denominations and turning the BDS tide irrevocably in the direction of boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning Israel. “While the  BDS minions are harming the Presbyterian-Jewish relationship, it is not yet beyond repair,” pleads Marans in the OpEd.  “Jews and Presbyterians can still prevent a minority of Presbyterians from using the ignominious demonization and delegitimization of Israel from driving an irreparable wedge between the two religious communities.”  It’s the old song:  “We thought you were our friends!”  Braverman, Deyoe and others working to get the resolution passed are hoping that the voters at the General Assembly will not be drinking the kool aid this year.  But all agree it’s too close to call.  

JTA refused to run our response.  But you can read it here:

BDS the End of Israel?  A Jewish and Presbyterian Response to Rabbi Marans

Rabbi Noam Marans’ OpEd in the May 30th issue of JTA is the latest in a series of public statements from Jewish organizations in advance of the Presbyterian Church’s upcoming vote on divestment at the General Assembly. It’s the same card that the Jewish establishment has been playing since 2004 when the Presbyterians began to consider divesting their pension funds from companies profiting from the occupation of Palestine. Citing, from what source or authority it is not clear, what he terms “the norms of American interreligious comity,” Maran’s message to Presbyterians is clear: your commitment to the unwritten rules of the Christian-Jewish relationship trumps following your consciences, and in this case your own denominational principles and official recommendations, in supporting justice and human rights. The Jewish establishment has made it clear that any Jew supporting BDS – the 2005 call from Palestinian civil society for boycott, divestment and sanctions – is outside the pale, that participating in this form of nonviolent action amounts to a betrayal of Jewish allegiance to the State of Israel. Marans’ organization, the American Jewish Committee, can try to speak for all Jews in drawing that line (unsuccessfully — look at the revolt of Jewish students on campuses and a growing number of rabbis, Jewish scholars and Israeli journalists and academics who support BDS). But we object to him dictating to Presbyterians.

Rabbi Marans has seized on the recent publication of the Presbyterian’s Israel Palestine Mission Network, “Zionism Unsettled,”as proof positive that support for BDS is motivated by anti-Semitism and the wish to “delegitimize” or otherwise bring down the State of Israel. “Zionism Unsettled” is not anti-Semitic nor does it call for the destruction of Israel. Marans grossly misrepresents the booklet, pulling out words intended to horrify readers and raise the specter of a resurgent anti-Semitism. Marans does not mention that 80% of the critiques of Zionism covered in the booklet are by Jews, including Israelis. Here are some examples: the term “racism” is taken from a quote from a U.S. rabbi, who asks the question:  “At the end of the day, how can you have a Jewish state that does not somehow treat non-Jews as “other”?…That does not, on some level, create a system of institutional racism that privileges Jews over non-Jews?”  “Pathology” is a word that sounds damning indeed, but it is Akiva Eldar, noted Israeli author and Haaretz columnist and chronicler of the abuses of occupation, who makes the point about the pathology inherent in Zionism that drives the conflict when he writes that “the fact that Israel sees itself as a victim justifies its aggression and injustice.”  Similarly, words like “evil,” “heretical” and “false theology,” quoted from Palestinian Christian theologians protesting the use of the Bible to justify the denial of their rights in their own land are strong words to be sure, but are appropriate and necessary when challenging how theology is used to justify the dispossession of a people.

But let’s put aside Marans’ objection to “Zionism Unsettled” – he is free to disagree with the authors’ views on Zionism. What we must not allow is what Marans and others are trying to do in their campaign to influence the Presbyterian vote by changing the subject from human rights to combating anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism exists and must be opposed, as should any form of racism or bigotry. And a conversation about Zionism is overdue after a seven-decades embargo on the discussion since the establishment of the State of Israel. But to confuse the conversation about Zionism with the vote on divestment is a blatant attempt to intimidate Christians by conflating two very different things. The issue before the General Assembly is not Zionism, and is not anti-Semitism. It is divestment of shares in three companies complicit in home demolitions, segregation, and protection of stolen land, activities that according to Presbyterian rules cannot be supported by the denomination.  Similarly, the overture calling for a critical look at U.S. support for a two state solution is a responsible and appropriate attempt to examine the three decade-old policy of the Presbyterian Church that was first established when the facts on the ground were dramatically different.  The subsequent deterioration of Palestinian living conditions and human rights has resulted, not in progress toward two states living side by side in peace and security, but in the building of a system of annexation and control that reduces Palestine to a collection of captive bantustans. Is it anti-Semitic to take action to free Israeli Jews from a future of ruling over a subject non-Jewish population?  Is it out of hatred for the Jewish people or a desire to destroy Israel that Presbyterians seek to join the global movement that according to an increasing number of people and governments worldwide has the best chance of bringing true peace and security to the citizens of Israel?

Do Marans and others from the Jewish as well as Christian “pro-Israel” camps expect people to believe that Presbyterians, in betrayal of the hard work of decades to correct for church anti-Jewish doctrine and action, have suddenly embraced unabashed anti-Semitism?  People around the world are awakening to the grim and sad reality that all is not right with the State of Israel and that their faith requires them to respond with nonviolent direct action, actions that have been in effective in the past in the case of South Africa and Jim Crow, not only for the sake of the suffering Palestinians but as a sign of their friendship with and love for the Jewish people. Marans ignores the reality of those Israelis who have seen their dream of a democratic, egalitarian society which expresses their commitment to Jewish values turn into a nightmare, and are pleading with the world to come to their aid through BDS and advocacy with their governments. Marans, however, asks us to leave Israel to its fate, rather than intervene to save it, as the world did in the case of South Africa. The action of the global church to support sanctions on South Africa was nothing less than an act of love; which is what the Presbyterian vote this year, which we hope will correct the razor-thin defeat of two years ago, will be. If Rabbi Marans wants to talk about Christian-Jewish friendship, he should stop looking backwards at the “historic alliance” and think about what we – Jews and Christians alike – will be able to say about where we stood when the history of these times is told.

Mark Braverman, Jewish Voice for Peace, Kairos USA

Rev. Jeffrey DeYoe, Israel Palestine Mission Network, PC(USA)

(For an excellent review of the history of this vote and the issues, check out Rabbi Brant Rosen’s recent blog posting, “All Eyes on Detroit!”)

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