This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
It isn’t time for an evaluation of the recent victory among Presbyterians in the BDS struggle. After all, the after-glow of victory should be enjoyed for at least week or two. But the kidnapping of the Jewish teenagers and the subsequent invasion of Palestine has cast a pall over everything bright and sunny.
Time passes all too quickly in the disenchanted (unholy) land that stretches between Tel Aviv and the Jordan River. Who even remembers John Kerry’s solve-the-issue-once-and-for-all peace plan that dissolved only months ago?
The commentators are a having field day on the Presbyterian divestment vote. Most are rehashing the same scenario but it seems that a major point is absent from the discussion -the unintended consequences of the BDS victory a few days ago may move in a very different direction than the winners hoped for.
Victory is a victory and, though a squeaker, the Presbyterians did vote for divestment from three companies that profit from the occupation of Palestinians. But to say that the Presbyterians have signed on to divestment is disingenuous.
Two years ago, the Presbyterians narrowly defeated a similar measure. We can be sure that the issue will be revisited at the next assembly in 2016. Like many Christian denominations, the Presbyterians are split down the middle on the issue.
But the divestment victory has come at a cost. The cost is simply put. If you look at the hem’s and haw’s of the passed resolution and the comments by Presbyterian officials during and after the vote, the victory is parsed as a supportive measure for a just Israel as, in the Presbyterian’s view, Israel was and could be again. Support for Palestinians, while stated, is secondary. The love expressed toward our “brother and sister” Israelis and Palestinians is further subordinated to the relationships that the Presbyterians have cultivated with American Jews.
If all politics is local, the local Rabbi is much more important – and closer – to most Presbyterians than the local Imam or Palestinian – if either is even in the neighborhood. Another way of putting it: Israel is all over the Presbyterian prayer cycle; Mohammed and Islam aren’t.
The unintended consequences of the Presbyterian vote are important. They include drawing closer than ever to Israel as a Jewish state precisely when the BDS movement is questioning the very possibility of such an Israel embracing a just peace with the Palestinian people. By divesting from three corporations, the Presbyterians affirmed once again the two-state solution and, at the same time, excused from culpability other corporations who benefit directly or indirectly from profiting in the occupation. In actuality, this means any corporation doing business with Israel since in one way or another almost every Israeli corporation participates in and benefits financially from the occupation.
At the same time, the Presbyterians drew the line on BDS. They were explicit: In no way was their action to be interpreted to show support for the BDS movement. At least implicitly, they support the view that one of BDS’s goals is to undermine the legitimacy of the state of Israel.
Again, a victory is a victory. But if I were in the Israeli government I would think twice about pouting. Unlike the Presbyterians, Israel has an army which it was using as the votes were tallied. The re-invasion of Palestine is telling as are the limits of the Presbyterians on what really counts in the ongoing – and intensifying – struggle in Israel-Palestine.
When the chips are down, the Presbyterians are on Israel’s side. As they have been.
At this point, what more could Israel ask for?