In the midst of the divestment debate at the Presbyterian General Assembly, Huffington Post ran an article full of Israel lobby propaganda against divestment, including the suggestion that the Presbyterian Church is anti-Semitic.
The article, “Presbyterians: Help Prevent Injustice Against Israel,” by Jonathan Miller, harshly condemned the church for considering divestment from three companies (Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett Packard) that sell equipment used for military purposes in maintaining and expanding Israeli’s occupation of Palestinian land. The article ignored the fact that the church has a longstanding policy of divesting from companies that sell military equipment, and implied instead that the church’s action to divest was really a “statement against Jews.”
The only proof offered for this alleged anti-Semitism was a misleading claim that, “a recent church forum in Louisville about the divestment proposal – one of a series that were held across the country prior to the General Assembly – belied the notion that Zionists shouldn’t take offense. Neither Jewish nor pro-Israel leaders were permitted to deliver a presentation.”
That is a misrepresentation of what happened at the Louisville church forum (which I attended.) The facts reveal quite the opposite.
Jewish leaders have had many opportunities to meet with Presbyterian Church leaders and to make presentations at Presbyterian gatherings to argue against divestment. But the Louisville church forum described in the Huffington Post was an internal Presbyterian event that had been scheduled so Presbyterians could talk among themselves and share their concerns in a free and open manner. Only Presbyterian ministers and church officials were invited as panelists.
A Presbyterian leader who is opposed to divestment was invited as a panelist, so all sides would have a fair hearing. Fair, honest, and open discussion is a time-honored tradition in the Presbyterian Church.
Because this was to be an internal church discussion, only Presbyterians were invited to be in the audience. Jewish leaders from the extremely pro-Israel Louisville Jewish Community Federation (JCL) found out about it, talked with the event organizers, and asked to come, or somehow managed to get invited. Even though it would change the character of the event, the Presbyterians kindly and graciously said Federation folks were welcome to attend. They did not want to exclude Jews.
The Jewish Community Federation leaders then traversed the bounds of propriety and asked to be put on the panel to make a presentation. The Presbyterians politely declined, but encouraged them to come and be in the audience.
When my Presbyterian friends told me that the Louisville church forum had been opened to non-Presbyterians, I decided to attend. I identified myself as Jewish and was allowed to speak at length during the discussion period after the panel presentations. The five pro-Israel Jewish leaders from the Federation who were there had the same opportunity to speak during the discussion period. They did not “deliver a presentation” because they were not panelists, but they did have a chance to express their views.
Bear in mind that the Federation had held an event in Louisville the week before, in which they had invited Presbyterians and lobbied them against divestment. No Presbyterian made a presentation at the Federation event, and no opposition panelist was allowed. In contrast to the fair-mindedness of the Presbyterians, the Federation has a standing policy of excluding any speaker who supports divestment. Speakers who support divestment are officially banned from Federation property, even if they are Jewish. For the Federation or its allies to accuse the Presbyterian Church of not allowing alternative viewpoints to be heard is completely false and utterly hypocritical.
The Huffington Post article misrepresented what happened at the Louisville church forum and used it as the basis for a false accusation of anti-Semitism. Huffington Post owes the Presbyterian Church an apology.