BDS strategy won’t create a path to peace

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

In a panel discussion last weekend at Congregation Kol Shofar, Israel studies professor Eran Kaplan of San Francisco State University made the point that many people, especially students, have never heard of the BDS movement.

In this case, ignorance is not bliss.

People in favor of the boycott, divestments and sanctions campaign against Israel are all around us, and it’s hard to deny that the movement has built momentum. Locally, yet another student resolution urging university divestment from certain companies that do business with Israel recently was taken up — but thankfully denied, albeit on a technicality — at U.C. Santa Cruz. Nationally, the heavily spotlighted divesture vote was passed last week by the Presbyterian Church USA.

The June 22 panel discussion in Tiburon proved to be quite timely, coming only two days after the Presbyterian leaders’ 310-303 vote in favor of divestment at its biennial general assembly in Detroit.

This marked the sixth time since 2004 that church leaders staged an unhealthy confrontation between pro- and anti-Israel voices. Still, a minority within the denomination was finally able to convince the church’s voting body that Israeli-Palestinian peace can be prodded along by divesting from a handful of companies that do business with Israel and labeling Israel an “apartheid state.”

Many who voted for the resolution apparently were swayed by the virulently anti-Israel document “Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study Guide.” Published by the church’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network — an entity, by the way, that church leadership should rein in — the document makes it clear that any argument with Israel is not about a territorial dispute with the Palestinians, but rather about Zionism and Israel’s very existence.

Aside from what it’s doing to Jewish-Presbyterian relations, the Presbyterian vote is scary on at least two levels.

First, it shows that the strategy by pro-BDS groups to specifically target churches, seeking to twist Christian morality to fit their anti-Israel agenda, has had some success.

And second, it raises the question: Could passage of a divestment resolution signal other churches to move forward on a similar front?

At the BDS panel, Andy David, the S.F.-based consul general of Israel, said he suspected the resolution passed because many Israel supporters have left the church in recent years, upset over all of the anti-Israel shenanigans.

David also pointed out that many of the leaders who voted in favor of divesting and labeling Israel an “apartheid state” have never met an Israeli or been to Israel.

Those shouldn’t be prerequisites to doing the right thing; Presbyterians should ally with Jews on issues of mutual interest, including Israeli-Palestinian peace, rather than tearing Israel asunder with BDS measures and false labels.