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CULTURE DIGEST: Israel boycott launched by Presb. assembly Aug 11, 2004
By Erin Curry

[This item was available originally at the following link.]

Baptist Press

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--In a move targeting Israeli policies toward Palestinians, leaders of the Presbyterian Church (USA) have approved a resolution to divest investment funds from companies doing business in Israel.

The denomination's 216th General Assembly, which met in Richmond, Va., June 26-July 3, called for the corporate witness office of the Presbyterian Church to begin gathering data to support a selective divestment of holdings in multinational corporations doing business in Israel, similar to the way U.S. churches helped end apartheid in South Africa in the '70s and '80s, according to a PCUSA news release.

Before the vote, commissioners heard from a Lutheran pastor from Bethlehem who said for too long churches have simply issued statements, and that is not enough. PCUSA's liaison to the Middle East, Victor Makari, also supported divestment.

"I think the issue of divestment is a very sensitive one with Israel," Makari said. "... If nothing else seems to have changed the policy of Israel toward Palestinians, we need to send a clear and strong message."

But Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein of The Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles voiced his concern in response to the resolution, saying it is morally offensive and counterproductive.

"The resolution implies that Israel, the only democracy in the region, and a country that allows unrestricted freedom of worship to Christians, should be stigmatized as apartheid," he wrote in a column that appeared on ChristianityToday.com.

Alan Dershowitz, a professor of law at Harvard University, also spoke out against the resolution, saying it "blames the Israelis for Palestinian slaughter of civilians by asserting that the occupation is the 'root' of terrorism."

"The Presbyterian resolution effectively calls for the end of Israel by insisting on 'the right of [Palestinian] refugees to return to their homeland,'" Dershowitz wrote in a Los Angeles Times column. "This is a well-known euphemism for turning Israel from a Jewish state into another state with a Palestinian majority. (Jordan is the other.)"

What is more disturbing to some is that the divestment resolution seems to be largely out of step with the majority of the 2.5 million Presbyterians in the United States. Alderstein said he has picked up multiple indications of large-scale discontent within the Presbyterian community, just by monitoring from his listening post at the Wiesenthal Center.

"Gregg Meister, an ordained PCUSA minister who heads up Interlink Media, told us that 'the actions of the Presbyterian Church's General Assembly do not accurately reflect the beliefs and convictions of the people in the pews,'" Alderstein wrote, continuing to quote: "'We share with Israel belief in the same God and the same democratic system. No Arab state does. I am confident that the majority of people in our denomination strongly support Israel's right to exist and to defend itself.'"

Alderstein added that an ad-hoc group of volunteers called Los Angeles area Presbyterian churches, selected randomly from the phone book, to ask their opinion about the divestment resolution. Nine out of 10 expressed discontent.

PROGRESSIVE BAPTISTS PROTEST IRAQ WAR -- Leaders of the Progressive National Baptist Convention passed a resolution against the war in Iraq in January 2003, and now they've approved a measure calling for the immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq.

About 6,000 representatives met in Houston for the convention's annual meeting, and instead of keeping troops in Iraq, they said the United States should deploy forces to Sudan to stop the killing of black Muslims by Arab militias.

The Progressive National Baptist Convention, which grew out of the civil rights movement, represents more than 1,100 black churches. Jesse Jackson addressed the group Aug. 5, criticizing President Bush for getting America into a "tragic losing predicament" in Iraq.

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