The long and tortured history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be frustrating to insiders and outsiders alike. For decades an equitable solution — two states for two peoples, autonomy for the Palestinians, and security for the Israelis — has been firmly in sight. Nevertheless, episodes of quiet optimism devolve into bloodshed and recrimination. And supporters of one side, both sides, or neither become impatient and worse.
The vote by members of the Presbyterian Church USA to divest from certain companies doing business with Israel seems a symptom of this frustration. We can’t imagine all of those who voted for this one-sided resolution shared the frankly anti-Zionist views of a church “study document” called “Zionism Unsettled.” We also doubt they accept the viciously anti-Israel principles of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, whose stated goal is not a two-state solution but the erasure of the Jewish state from the Middle East. No doubt the majority of delegates who voted for divestment felt they were doing their part to move Israelis and the Palestinians closer to peace.
However, that goal is undermined by a one-sided approach that focuses on the perceived sins of the Israelis and ignores the political and cultural failings of the Palestinians, or refuses to take into account the region’s long history of terrorism and the legitimate security concerns of average Israelis. By choosing to divide rather than engage, PCUSA has thrown in with those who continue to challenge the very legitimacy of Israel and thus threaten the security and well-being of Jews in Israel and beyond.
The fact that the vote was so close — with a margin of only seven votes — suggests that Jews can continue to count on many friends in the mainline Protestant community, and that perhaps with continued dialogue at the local level the relationship can be repaired. Jews and Christians share a goal of bringing justice and peace to a broken world. Justice and peace will only come when Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state is seen as the bedrock of any solution.