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Presbyterians' Shameful Boycott

August 04, 2004|Alan M. Dershowitz | Alan M. Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard and author of "America on Trial" (Warner, 2004).

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has committed a grievous sin. The General Assembly of that church has voted to divest from only one country in the world. No, it was not China, which has occupied Tibet for half a century and continues to deny basic human rights to its own citizens. No, it was not Iran, which threatens nuclear holocaust, executes dissenters and denies religious freedom to Christians and Jews. No, it was not North Korea, Libya, Russia, Sudan, Cuba or Belarus. It was -- you guessed it -- Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East and America's most reliable ally in a troubled part of the world.

The way it will work is simple: A blacklist will be prepared for the church's leaders, showing companies that earn more than $1 million annually from investments in Israel or that invest more than $1 million a year in Israel. The Presbyterians plan to divest from any company on the list -- with a handful of exemptions for companies that deal in education, social welfare programs and construction.

How did the church come to such a ludicrous, wrongheaded position? Just look at the resolution itself, which bursts with bigotry and ignorance.

It effectively blames the Israelis for Palestinian slaughter of civilians by asserting that the occupation is the "root" of terrorism. This canard ignores the reality that the Palestinian leadership opted for murder and violence as the tactic of choice well before there was any occupation, and that the leaders of Hamas, Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad have vowed to continue murdering Jews after the occupation ends, as long as the Jewish state exists.

The Presbyterian resolution effectively calls for the end of Israel by insisting on "the right of [Palestinian] refugees to return to their homeland." This is a well-known euphemism for turning Israel from a Jewish state into another state with a Palestinian majority. (Jordan is the other.)

The Presbyterian resolution also condemns Israel's military actions taken in defense of its civilians. It claims, without an iota of proof and against all the available evidence, that Israel commits "horrific acts of violence and deadly attacks on innocent people" when the truth is that Israel, like the United States, goes to extraordinary lengths to avoid killing innocent people. It equates Israel's targeting of terrorists with Palestinian targeting of civilians.

The president of Harvard University, in a speech delivered in Harvard's Memorial Church in 2002, included the singling out of Israel for divestment as the sort of "actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect, if not in their intent." The one-sided actions of the Presbyterian Church fit into this category.

Divestment also encourages the continued use of terrorism by Palestinian leaders, who see that when Israel responds to their terrorism, it causes an important church to punish Israel.

I do not believe that a majority of the 2.5 million Presbyterians in the U.S. want their church used to support terrorism. But they are now on notice that their church has been hijacked and its name misused in the service of an immoral tactic.

Balanced criticism of Israel and of specific policies of its government is proper and essential to democratic governance. But the Presbyterian resolution is so one-sided, so anti-Zionist in its rhetoric and so ignorant of the realities on the ground that it can only be explained by the kind of bigotry that the Presbyterian Church itself condemned in 1987 when it promised "never again to participate in, to contribute to, or (insofar as we are able) to allow the persecution or denigration of Jews."

Unless the church rescinds this immoral, sinful and bigoted denigration of the Jewish state, it will be "participating in" and "contributing to" anti-Jewish bigotry and the encouragement of terrorism.

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