If Jewish people are used to anything, they are used to double standards. A friend remembers growing up in the U.S. and being invited to go swimming at her friend’s country club. At age 12, she was very excited for such an adventure. However, when she arrived at the club, she was told that she could not swim there. Christians were ok. But Jewish folks? No way.
Jewish folks are also used to economic boycotts, after suffering from them for thousands of years. Whether in Europe, Asia, the Middle East or Africa, Jewish communities throughout history have always suffered from economic violence; lands stolen from them, possessions confiscated, homes seized usually followed by expulsion.
They are also used to outrageous analogies being drawn about them. As recently as in the last month, the Foreign Minister of Russia asserted that President Zelensky of Ukraine was as bad as Adolph Hitler (and then asserted falsely that Hitler was half-Jewish). Modern day blood libels are professed on the left and right of the political spectrum.
For the past two decades, in an attempt to achieve justice for Palestinians, some pro-Palestinian advocates in the PCUSA have too often resorted to double standards, economic boycotts and outrageous analogies. PCUSA members have demanded of Israel what they don’t demand of nations like Saudi Arabia, China or even the Palestinian leaders. Saudi Arabia has laws greatly limiting the freedoms of every woman in the country; China imprisons Uyghurs not in refugee camps but concentration camps, and Palestinian leaders celebrate as martyrs of the faith individuals who commit acts of clear terrorism.
We haven’t heard any pro-Palestinian advocates arguing for an economic boycott of China because of their deadly persecution of the Uyghurs. We haven’t heard them applaud Israel for the powerful role women play in Israel’s economy and government. We haven’t heard them respond to South Africans who denounce the apartheid accusation of Israel as an insult to the very unique South African struggle for justice. And we certainly have not heard pro-Palestinian advocates and denomination leaders note that for the first time an Arab party is in the ruling coalition of the Israeli government, or for the first time an Arab Muslim is serving on the Supreme Court of Israel.
Presbyterians for Middle East Peace shares some of the criticisms directed at the Israel government’s treatment of Palestinians and even its own Arab citizens. We are concerned about the expansion of settlements, the inequality in education and economic opportunities between Israeli Jews and Arabs and the lack of movement in the peace process. However, we will not subject Israelis to the type of double standards the PCUSA has routinely endorsed, economic boycotts like Boycott-Divest-Sanction (BDS) that explicitly seek to end Israel’s existence as a Jewish state or over-the-top slurs such as Israel is an apartheid state.
These are not the way thoughtful, faith-filled Christians work for justice. In Strength to Love, Dr. King repeatedly reminded us of the importance of being gentle, unbending, loving and unrelenting advocates for justice. The pro-Palestinian advocates in the PCUSA certainly have many correct criticisms to make of Israel’s policies. But applying double standards, slanderous analogies, and economic boycotts aimed at destroying a nation are not worthy of our denomination.
Since the General Assembly voted to divest and pursue actions supported by the BDS Movement, the situation has worsened, and we have lost credibility. As examples of the deterioration while the PCUSA passes anti-Israel overtures: the Palestinian leadership is in total disarray and lacks credibility, the terrorist organization Hamas has expanded its influence from Gaza to the West Bank, many Arab nations have ceased supporting the Palestinian cause because of the corruption and inability of the Palestinian leadership to take even the most modest steps to move the process forward. At the same time, the political right in the State of Israel dominates the public discourse. It is time to admit that our policies and statements have failed to achieve any kind of progress, unless our goal is to encourage extremists on both sides as progress.
As the General Assembly commissioners prepare for their work this summer, we pray for and with them that they may seek a better way to address the injustices the Israelis and Palestinians inflict upon each other. Let us leave behind double standards, economic boycotts and appalling analogies. After all, none of them have worked, have they? Instead, let us find constructive ways to achieve peace for both Palestinians and Israelis alike.