News / USA

US Presbyterian Church Considers Sanctions Against Israel

US Presbyterian Church Considers Sanctions Against Israeli
Jerome Socolovsky
June 16, 2014 11:19 PM
One of America’s oldest Protestant denominations is holding its biennial assembly this week, and high on the agenda is a proposal to divest from companies that do business with Israel. A vote on the measure is set for Friday. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports that if approved, the Presbyterian Church USA would be the largest religious organization in the United States to impose sanctions on Israel.
One of America’s oldest Protestant denominations is holding its biennial assembly this week, and high on the agenda is a proposal to divest from companies that do business with Israel.

If approved, the Presbyterian Church USA would be the largest religious organization in the country to impose sanctions on Israel.

During Sunday worship at the Western Presbyterian Church in Washington, interim pastor Beverly Dempsey offered a prayer for her Protestant denomination’s leaders gathering this week in Detroit.

“As the general assembly moves into full swing, there are many issues that threaten to tear the PCUSA apart,” she said from the pulpit.

“In the end, we may or may not wholeheartedly agree with the position that the denomination is taking on marriage equality, or divestment, or immigration reform, or the mandatory registration of guns, or any of the key issues of our day.”

Like many other mainline Protestant churches in America, this once influential denomination has been hemorrhaging members. It now has around 1.75 million. And, while the debates have divided those still in the pews, several proposals to sanction Israel for the lack of progress in the Middle East peace process may prove to be the most controversial.

One calls for Israel to be branded an “apartheid” state. Another calls for the church to withdraw investments from three U.S. companies whose products are used by the Israeli military in the occupied territories.  A similar measure came within a few votes of passing at the last assembly in 2012.

A vote on the divestment proposal is scheduled for later this week. If it goes through, it would be a major victory for the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, movement. The movement wants to isolate Israel with sanctions like those applied to apartheid-era South Africa.

Reverend Susan Wilder of the Presbyterian Israel/Palestine Mission Network, which has backed the divestment motion, says the aim is not to delegitimize Israel.

“But we do need to shine a spotlight on Israel’s-on bad policies,” she says. “This isn’t about good guys and bad guys, or being against Israel, or wanting to isolate Israel or even punish Israel, this is about wanting to shine a spotlight on actions that are harming everyone.”

She says she doesn’t want to “profit from someone else’s pain.”

“For us,” she adds, “this is a matter of living out our faith and it's a matter of our stewardship of our financial sources. It's a matter of getting our investments in line with our values.”

Earlier this year, the Israel/Palestine Mission Network published a congregational study guide called Zionism Unsettled. Critics say it demonizes Israel by calling Zionism a “false theology” and blames it for the entire Middle East conflict.

Rev. John Wimberly, retired pastor of Western Presbyterian Church, says Christians should think twice before imposing sanctions on Israel.

“There is a 2,000-year history of economic sanctions being used by Christians aimed at Jews and it's a bloody, nasty history and that is kind of my bottom line opposition right there,” says Wimberly, who is now on the steering committee for Presbyterians for Middle East Peace.

He says he doesn’t agree with Israel’s settlement policies. But he argues that the BDS movement ignores Palestinian attacks on Israel, while the divestment proposal has been pushed by lobbyists from outside the denomination.

“This divestment thing has come up ever since 2004 and at every general assembly, and every general assembly the Presbyterian Church, which is kind of a progressive body, has defeated it,” he says. “So Israel has lots of friends in the mainline churches.”

But Israel’s supporters fear a "yes" vote could prompt other churches to follow suit.  That could leave it with fewer friends among left-leaning Protestant Christians and more dependent on support from largely evangelical Christian conservatives.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

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Comment Sorting
by: Joan from: Caledon
June 18, 2014 8:23 AM
No wonder the PCUSA is losing members. In which middle eastern country is there such freedom or thought, sexuality and religion as there is in Israel. These people have to be brain dead if they accept this resolution to boycott Israel. thank God I got out of this madhouse when I was thirteen and began to think for myself. And that was sixty years ago. It seems that this church hasn't learned a thing in sixty years. Palestinian people subjugated? Give me a break. The rest of the world dumps cash into them to let them live a life of luxury.
In Response

by: Yaakov from: Jerusalem
June 18, 2014 11:55 AM
No one in Israel is aware or cares about what Christians think or do.

by: grandestgrandma from: brooklyn ny
June 17, 2014 8:22 PM
First Israel is Israel not Palestine as you wish to know it
Israel has policy's and so do other countries not all are to our liking but who is anyone to come and instigate against a country, that has every right to build and construct and civilize their country yes there country Palestinians are more than glad that they are under Israel's rule because if the Hamas Fatah call them whatever you like will rule it will look more like Iraq Iran should I continue the list I believe you get the picture that is only if you care to know the truth the Palestinians look for jobs that are offer thru Israelis rather than their brethren's for they don't know if they will get paid or come home alive which THEY DON'T fear working for Israelis so why do you want to hurt the Israelis that feed the Palestinian's wake up People are People NOT created equal some are good and some are bad it's not religion that is bad it's the person so look in the mirror and ask yourself who inspired your thoughts your hating part of you for if you really love you wouldn't be saying what you do.

by: Paul
June 17, 2014 10:49 AM
Susan suggest you aquaint yourself with the history of Israel before supporting such action and "shine a spotlight on Hammas".

by: henry mkalira from: malawi
June 17, 2014 7:04 AM
Very sad for a church to do such sanctions. End of times

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
June 17, 2014 3:06 AM
So why does the PCUSA need the publicity? Oh yeah, membership is falling. If PCUSA truly cared about their own financial involvements, then why the hype? Oh yeah, membership. I wouldn't be so quick to jump on the "3 cheers" wagon until the PCUSA allowed us all to see where there investments are. Why not, they (PCUSA) decided to make this a public/political issue. My former church banned us from patronizing Busch Gardens/Williamsburg when it was owned by Busch, because, it makes and distributes alcoholic beverages. Alcohol is bad, m'kay! But my former church sponsored trips to King's Dominion/Richmond, owned by Paramount. Really? Alcohol is bad, but a lot of the filth/anti-christian movies are OK? So we can patronize KD, but not BG? Turned out that my FORMER church had investments in KD. It was one of the largest churches in my city. But since the 'exposure' of hypocracy, that church no longer exists. Hmmmm, wonder why. If PCUSA really cared about the sufferings caused by weapons, whether by militants or opressing governments, then PCUSA should be petitioning all faiths to stop supporting any businesses that help bring about the suffering. PCUSA should have rebutted the 'no Israel investments' vision. If PCUSA had adamantly expressed that this action is not a slight to Israel, then I would be giving PCUSA more than "3 cheers", maybe 4! But they haven't, so Israel and the rest of the non-bandwagon-jumping people have no choice but to view this as anti-Israel.

by: Valentine from: Nigeria
June 17, 2014 2:02 AM
Its not a surprise that this kind of sanction against Isreal will come from a Church in the US.
The US is arguably the most civilized n advanced nation, yet heading into moral n religious doom.
In Response

by: 1worldnow from: Earth
June 17, 2014 8:02 AM
That's because the message of faith is becoming less important, so churches everywhere will start sectarian policies and becoming more political because a simple message of faith is not filling their offering plates like it used to. Believe me, I don't think the Israelis are in a mad panic "OMG, PCUSA is backing out of our financial markets!" I think the Israelis are more likely saying "PCUSA?....hmmmm....let me Google that."

by: SAS from: Pittsburgh
June 16, 2014 10:37 PM
Three cheers to the Presbyterian church for taking a courageous stand against Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people.
In Response

by: Puck from: San Diego
June 17, 2014 7:12 PM

You exhibit a case of selective morality -- a case of highly selective morality. Strapping on bomb vests loaded with metal shards designed to inflict maximum damage to human bodies, and targeting buses, cafes, markets, airports, that is, places where you will find ordinary men, women, children you claim is entirely acceptable. A government that takes steps to thwart attacks upon its unarmed citizens you label label oppressive actions. Reading your post, Jesus would likely have said, "The hypocrites rule the world." Three cheers to the Presbyterian church indeed.

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