On June 20, the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) voted 310 to 303 to divest its financial holdings in three American companies which do business in Israel because they "profit from non-peaceful pursuits." I was at the GA, which was held in Detroit, and heard the debates.
The close vote might have been tipped by a spirited and articulate argument in favor of divestment by Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow of Stockton, California, the Moderator of the 218th General Assembly -- the youngest person to hold that leadership position.
Tonight I asked Rev Reyes-Chow if the church held investments in other companies which "profit from non-peaceful pursuits" outside of the Middle East. He replied "I believe that we do," and affirmed his faith in the church's Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee.
It can be plausibly argued that churches ought not to have investments that profit from "non-peaceful pursuits" at all. That would be consistent, were the church pacifist. But the PCUSA isn't pacifist. Presumably, most Presbyterians believe that "non-peaceful pursuits," although not pretty, can be justified, at least in some circumstances.
But if this principle is not applied across the board -- if profiting from non-peaceful pursuits is legitimate in some countries, but not in others, then we may conclude that the PCUSA maintains that some countries are justified in having security infrastructures and some are not. Or that perhaps every country is justified in having a security infrastructure, but that some might abuse it in such an egregious manner as to require divestment.
The church did not vote to divest from any other country.
Therefore, we can conclude that of all the countries in the world -- or at least the ones in which the PCUSA invests -- the only one which is not justified in having a security and defense infrastructure is Israel.
In other words, Jews are expected to be the world's only good Christians and to turn the other cheek.
At the same GA, the church debated if the word "Israel" should be deleted from its liturgy in order to make a distinction between ancient Israel and modern Israel. (The resolution was defeated.)
The GA also struck language from a resolution which would have required the study guide "Zionism Unsettled" to be removed from the church's website. Subsequently, the guide was removed from the church's online store, but is still available from the Israel Palestine Mission Network, an official organ of the church, which benefits from the church's text exempt status and is linked to the main church website. The study guide places the entire responsibility for the conflict on "apartheid" Israel and has been widely condemned by Jewish organizations. It has been said that the study guide had been removed from the PCUSA online store because there had been "confusion" that the document, which a "hateful screed," might be construed as an official position of the church. There is no confusion. It is an official statement of a mission created by, and supported by and encouraged by the PCUSA.
The GA affirmed the church's commitment to a two state solution, but omitted referring to Israel as a "Jewish" state. It also launched a "discernment process" to report back reviewing the plausibility of a single Palestinian state in place of Israel.
The church affirmed its respect and love for its "Jewish brothers and sisters."
Rabbi Kenneth L. Cohen is the founding Executive Director of the Vine and Fig Project, an interfaith educational venture in Bethesda, Maryland. www.vinefig.org