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Singled Out

The Presbyterian church votes to pull funds from companies that do business with Israel

Friday, July 30, 2004

[This article appeared orginally at the following link.]

Opinion Journal

By the overwhelming vote of 431-62, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) recently adopted a resolution calling for a divestment campaign from corporations doing business with Israel. Thus a major American religious denomination, whose American roots date back to the Rev. John Witherspoon, the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence, has called divine authority into service for a biased attack on Israel in the name of peace.

In contrast to the action taken by the Presbyterian Church this month, the Roman Catholic Church has recognized that one-sided criticism of Israel can at times be so grotesque that there is no name to describe it other than anti-Semitism. And in a document ironically signed the same week as the Presbyterian General Assembly, the Catholic Church equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.

A more nuanced standard, and one that properly recognizes that legitimate criticism of Israel is perfectly appropriate, was articulated last year by Natan Sharansky. A member of the Israeli cabinet who for years had been a prisoner of conscience in the Soviet gulag, Mr. Sharansky defined one current expression of anti-Semitism by three features: the application of double standards to Israel, the demonization of Israel and the delegitimization of Israel.

The recent action by the Presbyterian Church sadly satisfies Mr. Sharansky's test. The church has singled out Israel, alone among all the nations of the world, for divestment. It has demonized Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, and it has delegitimized Israel's right to self-defense.

The church is not calling for divestment of its $7 billion portfolio from China, despite China's denial of the most basic political and religious rights and its particularly harsh treatment of followers of Falun Gong. It is not condemning Russia, even though Russia's policies in Chechnya are by any human-rights standard atrocious. It is not even calling for economic sanctions against Syria or Iran, whose human-rights records for their own people are egregious and whose Jewish citizens are denied the basic civil rights and liberties afforded to all Israelis, including its Arab citizens, some of whom even serve in the Knesset.

Beyond the question of whether the divestment resolution is anti-Semitic, the resolution ignores the fact that Israel is one of America's strongest and most dependable allies in the war on terrorism. Though it is far from perfect (as its own free press regularly makes clear to its citizens and its own Supreme Court recently declared to the world), Israel is the only true democracy in the region, save for the fledgling U.S.-supported Iraqi government. And like the U.S., Israel is a target of choice for terrorist attacks on civilians by the jihadists, with more than 1,000 murdered Israeli men, women and children in the past few years. So when the Presbyterian Church singles out Israel for condemnation, it offers support to those whose ideology of hatred is directed against two of the most democratic nations in the world.

There is no reason to believe that most of America's 2.5 million Presbyterians even know about the divestment resolution, much less support its lack of balance or fairness. Surely for many the church's 1987 statement, in which it committed itself "never again to participate in, to contribute to, or (insofar as we are able) to allow the persecution or denigration of Jews," remains church policy, and they would be perplexed by the recent resolution. But while the general membership of the Presbyterian Church should not be blamed for the divestment vote, the 431 members of the General Assembly who supported it should be called to account.

If we have learned nothing else from the ideological wars of the past century against Nazism and communism, it is that political orthodoxies are potent and deadly weapons. And religious crusaders, whether of the right or left, whether well meaning or not, may be even more dangerous than their secular colleagues, because they drape themselves in the mantle of God.

Mr. Lefkowitz is a lawyer in Washington and New York.

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