Divestment

imagesLet’s take a break from the heavy topic of early Christian anti-Judaism, and focus instead on the equally heavy topic of divestment from Israel.

“Divestment” (or “disinvestment”) refers to the strategy of refusing to invest (or selling existing investments) in a government, industry or company for ethical or political reasons. It’s a kind of economic boycott, often based on the idea that money should be invested in a socially responsible way. Divestment is sometimes designed to pressure its target to change its policies; for example, divestment from South Africa was designed to end apartheid. In other cases, divestment is a form of protest or punishment: against Sudan, for example, for its involvement in the genocide in Darfur.

These days, the primary target for divestment is Israel, as a result (so it is said) of Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories. Divestment is a hot topic for the moment, because last week the general convention of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted in favor of a measure to divest church funds from three corporations (Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions) that the church believes are profiting from the Israeli occupation. The Presbyterian measure also reaffirmed Israel’s right to exist, endorsed a “two state solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, called for interfaith dialogue, and recommended “positive investment” in endeavors that advance peace in the region.

The vote was close. Many American Jewish organizations lobbied the Presbyterians to defeat the divestment vote, although one (the very controversial Jewish Voice for Peace) actively supported the effort.

I think this is a topic ripe for Jewish-Christian dialogue. In an effort to get this dialogue moving, I will first speak briefly here to my Jewish friends, and then at greater length to my Christian friends.

Fellow Jews: this action by the Presbyterians was a long time coming. The Presbyterians have debated similar divestment actions for the past ten years. During these ten years, we’ve given the Presbyterians no reason to believe that Israel will resolve this matter and end the military occupation on its own. Despite the cries of anti-Semitism from some Jewish circles, the Presbyterian action here was about as restrained as could be hoped for under the circumstances. Moreover, the Presbyterian vote is one sign of a long-term erosion in support for Israel that has parallels even in the Jewish world.  There is growing opposition to Israel’s policies in Jewish circles, and much of the remainder of Jewry is growing weary of defending an Israeli military occupation that is more than 40 years old and stretching into seeming perpetuity. Entire generations of American Jews have grown up during the occupation, and these Jews may be less attached to Israel (and more sympathetic to the Palestinians) than their elders. The continued occupation hurts Jews as well as Palestinians.

It is true that the facts on the ground are complex, and that the Palestinians share responsibility for the impasse with Israel and for their own economic and political plight. It is true (sadly) that the Presbyterian divestment action ignores this complexity, sending a message that is confused, poorly conceived and seemingly designed to force us into a knee-jerk kind of opposition. It is true (sadly) that Christians don’t understand us and don’t know how to speak to us – that’s one reason for this blog, one reason for the kind of interfaith dialogue I’d like to build here. But we cannot and should not seize upon Christian failure to understand us as an excuse to fail to understand them – there are 160 Christians in the world for every Jew; they are more powerful than we are, and the consequences of a mutual failure of understanding fall disproportionately on us.

For all of its naïve simple-mindedness, we Jews can hear something intelligible in the Presbyterian muddled message:  even our friends will not accept an indefinite military occupation as a solution to our problem, or to any problem, no matter how complex that problem might be. This occupation must come to an end.

It is possible that the Presbyterian action is motivated in part by latent or active anti-Semitism. It is also possible that the action is motivated by a true desire for peace.  There are something like 2 million members of this church, and it is possible for a single church to be motivated by different and conflicting concerns. I assume that there are members of this church who sincerely seek peace in the Middle East. We should tell them, we seek the same thing, with all our heart. It is our people that face the threat of Palestinian terrorism, who see our Promised Land divided by concrete walls and barbed wire, whose sons and daughters patrol these occupied territories. We are cursed by this conflict, as we will be blessed by an end to this conflict. If the Presbyterians want to be our partners in peace, let us accept their help, and find a way to work together.

[A pause, while I take a deep breath.]

My Christian friends: a little history is in order here. Because if your intent is to change the hearts and minds of Jews, you have blundered onto a strategy that could hardly be more counter-productive.

Jews have been the targets of organized Christian economic pressure for most of our shared history. Time permits only a brief discussion. Christian efforts to hurt Jews economically go back to at least the year 339, when Jews were prohibited by the Roman Empire from owning slaves. (Any prohibition of slave-owning is a good thing, but the prohibition against Jews owning slaves barely put a dent in the practice Empire-wide – the intent was not anti-slavery, but anti-Jewish.) A century later, Jews were barred from holding any “office of honor” in the Roman Empire, and a century after that, Jews were forbidden from testifying against Christians in court. By the Middle Ages, Jews were barred from guilds and professions such as ironmongers, shoemakers, tailors, barbers, butchers and rag dealers. Jews were prohibited from owning land, and were often forced to live in ghettos, effectively prohibiting them from doing business with Christians and the outside world.

In more recent history, European Christians sought to harm Jews economically by means of boycotts. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, various “Christian” campaigns were organized in Germany, Austria and Eastern Europe to boycott Jewish businesses. These campaigns adopted slogans such as “Don’t Buy Jewish,” “Buy Christian Only” and “Each to His Own.” Some of these campaigns worked at apparent cross-purposes. For example, shortly before World War I Ukrainians organized to boycott Jewish businesses because of alleged Jewish collaboration with Poles, while Poles organized their own anti-Jewish boycotts as a defense against alleged Jewish exploitation.

The first Nazi action taken against Jews was a nationwide boycott of German Jewish businesses that took place on April 1, 1933. On the day of the boycott, Nazi Stormtroopers painted yellow and black Jewish stars on the windows and doors of Jewish businesses, then stood menacingly in front of these businesses, daring customers to enter. The Nazis planned and supported this boycott, posting signs in Jewish neighborhoods saying “Don’t Buy from Jews” and “The Jews Are Our Misfortune.” A week later, the Nazis barred Jews from the civil service (including the practice of law) and fired all Jewish government workers, including teachers in public schools and universities. Historians now understand these actions as the beginning of the Holocaust.

Every economic action taken against Jews, whether by the Romans or by the Presbyterians, was ostensibly based on a supposed “just cause.” These “causes” are long forgotten today. All that is remembered is the intent to injure and destroy Jews and Judaism. If the Presbyterian divestment action is intended differently, then it stands as an exception to the rule. This is true even if we focus our attention solely on economic actions taken against the modern State of Israel. These actions also have a long history, much longer than the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Arab boycotts of Zionist institutions and Jewish businesses began before Israel’s founding as a state. When Palestine was ruled by the British, Palestinians who sought to sell land to Jewish settlers were sharply criticized by Arab leaders and spokesmen. Some Arabs who sold land to Jews were murdered by other Arabs (even today, a Palestinian who sells land to an Israeli citizen is guilty of a crime punishable by death by the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinians suspected of selling land to Jews have been murdered by other Palestinians). An official boycott of Israel and firms doing business with Israel was adopted by the Arab League almost immediately after the formation of the state of Israel in 1948, and continues to this day. Israel fought its War of Independence in 1948 (after being attacked by Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria) under an arms embargo imposed on the region by the United States. The embargo prevented Israel from receiving arms from nearly all conventional sources, but did nothing to restrict the flow of arms to Arab countries. (The Arab countries had received arms from Britain and continued to do so during the War; the Israelis won this War with arms they smuggled into the country, primarily from Czechoslovakia.) By the 1960s Israel received most of its arms from France, but the French imposed an arms embargo on Israel in 1967, shortly after Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War. (Israel received no arms from the United States until the 1960s, and there was no significant U.S. military support of Israel until after the 1967 war.) All of these punitive economic measures predate Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, and they all posed obstacles to Israel’s survival.

Why have I bothered to recall all of this ancient history? I am not trying to suggest that last week’s vote by the Presbyterians can be equated with boycotts enforced by Nazi Stormtroopers, or medieval efforts to ghettoize Jews and Judaism. I am saying that Presbyterian divestment will be seen by most Jews as part of a long, unfriendly and determined effort by outsiders (primarily Christians) to coerce Jews, hinder Jewish aspirations, and injure and destroy the Jewish people. Jews know their history too well to be fooled into believing that anti-Jewish economic sanctions sprang into existence in 1967, and will magically disappear when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is finally resolved.

As I stated above, I cannot judge the true intent of the Presbyterians who supported divestment, but if the effort is well-intended, it is also tone-deaf. Threatening Jews with economic sanctions is about as likely to persuade as an offer to Christians of thirty pieces of silver. It is the opposite of the proverbial “offer you can’t refuse” – it is, instead, the “offer you can’t accept.” If the Presbyterians intentionally set out to be misunderstood by Jews, then they succeeded with remarkable effectiveness. By and large, Jews will react to these sanctions the way we’ve reacted to them in the past, and will probably react to them in the future. It is a confirmation of our worst fears, that we have no human agency we can depend upon but ourselves. That message has served us well for our history, but I would argue that it no longer serves us well. In fact, I’d argue that this message is the number one reason for Israeli intransigence, and it is in this terribly ironic way that the Presbyterian effort is likely to promote precisely the actions and attitudes it seeks to combat.

How can the Presbyterians do better?

I think one critical component missing from Presbyterian thought is their own responsibility for the mess in Israel and Palestine. Here, I am thinking not about Presbyterian investment policy, but about the long history of Jewish-Christian relations, which includes what has been (until recently) an intensely negative relationship between Jews and Protestants. The Jewish presence in Israel, and more specifically the formation of a Jewish State in Israel, is the direct result of centuries of Christian (and Protestant) persecution of Jews in Europe, a persecution that culminated in the murder of 2/3 of European Jewry in the Holocaust. While we can debate Christian (and Protestant) responsibility for this genocide, the initial European/American Christian (and Protestant) reaction to the Holocaust is not debatable. After the Holocaust, there was no sustained effort to reintegrate Jews into European society. Those few Jews who managed to survive the Holocaust were forced into displaced persons camps, or returned to “home” towns where their homes and other properties had been taken from them by their Christian former neighbors. In some cases, these returning Jews were murdered by Christians in pogroms as fierce as any seen before or during the War. Even after the War, the United States imposed restrictive immigration quotas against Jewish refugees, but the United States behaved much better in this regard than did their European counterparts. Granted, most of surviving European Jewry hoped to immigrate to Israel, but the clear message we received from European Christianity was that they were glad to see us go.

Presbyterians need to see the State of Israel for what it is: not merely the culmination of nearly 2,000 years of Jewish longing for an end to exile, but also as a last-ditch multinational effort to relocate Jews outside of Christian Europe, onto a different continent that had already proven itself every bit as opposed to a Jewish presence. The failure to establish peace in Israel is one that is widely shared, and not just by Israelis and Palestinians. Much blame belongs to the Christian West, whose persistent anti-Judaism made the creation of a State of Israel a moral imperative, but that failed initially to provide the State with even the slightest protection against its determined Arab opponents.  The fact that we Jews found a way to survive there, but have not yet found a way to do so peaceably, should come as no surprise to anybody. If the Presbyterians are now (finally) determined to act rightly with respect to this State, and to act justly towards Israelis and Palestinians, their first action might appropriately be an apology.

The apology might appropriately be followed by a concerted effort to form alliances with Jews that are actively seeking a just and peaceful resolution to this conflict. The Presbyterian interest in Jewish Voice for Peace is a start, but Jewish Voice for Peace is a fringe group with little representation or support in the Jewish world. Presbyterians should reach out to a wider Jewish peace constituency, including organizations like J Street and Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center, both of which support a two-state solution (but oppose divestment). Within Israel, there are groups working for peace and justice that need outside support – two groups I’m familiar with are Rabbis for Human Rights and B’Tselem, but there are many others.

I’m open to any other suggestions for constructive and concerted action. In the absence of more worldly suggestions, we might try prayer.  Here’s one that works for me: Sim Shalom. The prayer begins:

שִׂים שָׁלוֹם טוֹבָה וּבְרָכָה

חֵן וָחֶֽסֶד וְרַחֲמִים עָלֵֽינוּ וְעַל כָּל יִשְׂרָאֵל עַמֶּֽךָ

Sim shalom tovah u-ve-raħa

Ḥen vacħesed ve-raħamim aleinu ve-al kol Yisrael amekha

(translation)

Grant peace, goodness and blessing, grace, kindness and mercy,

to us and to all Your people Israel.

  • Jill Berkson Zimmerman

    Larry what a great piece you have written. Thank you for your insight and compassion. And your level head. I’m sad and deflated by the entire situation. Thank you for diving in and making sense.

    • lbehrendt

      I am also greatly saddened. There is so much posturing out there. Thank you for your encouragement.

  • Thank you for the history, the context, and the prayer. You have picked an important topic. Related strongly to governance – the ability to govern without revenge as the primal policy, you encourage us to think towards alternative ways of approaching our shared silos.

    How then to begin. I have begun with my own book on the psalms. But these poems are hard to read if we insist on objectifying the enemy. And for our enemy to recognize ‘our’ problem seems unlikely at best. I am not sure I knew I was beginning when I began. But it is possible to learn of the grace that is in Torah, something a protestant with the overemphasis on certain doctrines cannot see. I’ve been there and I have found that it is not true that Torah and grace are at odds. Certain forms of legalism and grace are at odds but there are legalists everywhere – it’s the usual power trip.

    I recall that an orchestra was formed consisting of both Jews and Palestinians some years ago. This likely became politicized but the students reported that both sides had the same passion for the music and the practicing. Maybe if we did good theology with equally hard work, we might have some concurrence.

    • lbehrendt

      Bob, it’s one of my beliefs that talking about most any thing helps bridge differences. You’re right: the harder we work together on shared passions, the closer we will become. Music is about perfect for this.

      How do you deal with a Psalm like 83, or 144? I’m not exactly the smartest guy in the room when it comes to the Psalms, but some of them strike me as war poetry. I probably have not picked the best examples of this.

      • How do I dare answer that question in a sound bite! You pick good examples. I read the psalms as a whole. Psalm 144 for example is part of a complex chiasm integrating the whole Psalter through the acrostic poems. The hope of Psalm 8 (preceding the broken acrostic Psalms 9 and 10) is dashed in Psalm 144 (preceding the perfect acrostic 145). There’s the clue I followed in tracing a deliberate redaction process. The 7 psalms preceding the 8 acrostics are special and set off how to read the pleas for vengeance. The chiasm is 8–144 and 36 — 110, the first and last of the preceding psalms, and the last and first.

        Psalm 83 is a direct example of how shame provokes repentance in a tribal enemy so that they too might know God. The role of shame in the Psalter is important. It applies also to the elect in for example Psalm 6. This is far short of an explanation. But perhaps it is a pointer. I blogged that chapter on Psalm 83 here.

        • lbehrendt

          Aaah! This is helpful. I guess I’m guilty of seeing the Psalms as a loosely organized collection of poems, something of a dumping ground for literature (possibly connected to ancient liturgical practices) that didn’t fit anywhere else. The idea that the Psalms might represent something closer to a single literary work, this never occurred to me. From brief research, I can see that my old thought is, indeed, OLD thought.

          Aaah. Another huge hole in my knowledge of my heritage.

  • Orchestra link is here

  • Thanks for a very thoughtful article, Larry.

    • lbehrendt

      You’re welcome. Good to hear from you again!

  • Jade

    Please do not lump Christians of color like myself with White European Christians. Instead of saying “Christians” when recounting these histories, say “White/Europeans Christians.”

    • lbehrendt

      Jade, thank you for this comment. I reviewed my piece and I made a few corrections. If you think further corrections need be made, please point them out to me specifically. I focused my corrections on the discussion of more recent history, where it made sense to me to think in terms of “White European” Christians. I don’t think it makes sense to think of “White” or “European” when I discuss Christianity during the Roman Empire.

      You are quite right, the recent history I’ve recounted (let’s say, the past two hundred years) does not deal with Christianity in Asia, Africa, Central-South America or Australia. The Presbyterian Church itself is (by its own statistics) more than 90% White. Jews and Christians of color have suffered from similar forms of bigotry and racism.

      I cannot easily say that actions taken in the name of Christianity do not represent all Christians. But talking together, we can make this point together.

      It is a difficult and painful matter for me to write posts like this. I’d rather not lump individuals into categories that are supposed to define them. You have never boycotted a Jewish business, and I have never bulldozed a Palestinian home, but we are associated with religious groups that have taken these actions. I cannot speak for you, but as a Jew I carry an undefinable responsibility for actions taken by other Jews — I get great pleasure from my association with the glories of the Jewish past (and present), so I figure I have to shoulder my share of the collective responsibility when we do wrong.

      I wrote this piece in part because I recognize this responsibility. I am on record as supporting the two-State solution and the Palestinian right of self-determination. I think Israel has to end the occupation of the West Bank as quickly as it can be managed. This stance does not endear me to all of my fellow Jews, believe me! But like you, I don’t want to be “lumped” with members of my religion that I disagree with.

      I would love to hear what you have to say about these issues, not just as a Christian of color, but as you, in all of your uniqueness as a creation in the image of G-d.

  • Chris Eyre

    I rather feel after earlier exchanges that I owe you a response to this, knowing that it is a situation which I am probably very foolish to have a view on and even more foolish to express it. Before I start, here’s a link – http://marginalia.lareviewofbooks.org/vanishing-jews-antiquity-adele-reinhartz/?utm_content=buffer9631f&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer – which relates to earlier posts in the series, and is possibly a starter.

    The reason it’s a starter is the discussion in it as to whether there’s really continuity between the “judaioi” of the New Testament and modern Jews, and how that impacts on whether we should use the term “Judaean”. You’ve covered this point very adequately, but taking it in another direction, historic persecution in Europe has largely been fueled by a concept of communal guilt. Clearly if the term is understood merely geographically, and not as a religious term (on the basis that “religion” is an anachronistic term), there can be no communal guilt, as there’s no continuity or identity of community.

    That has a bearing on the thinking of Europeans generally these days. My father’s generation in Germany, for instance, felt huge guilt after the end of WWII. My generation there felt some; my childrens’ generation there feels very little. They clearly do not think that the sins of the fathers should be visited upon multiple generations. My father’s generation in this country did not in general feel guilt over the atrocious line-drawing on maps which characterised Britain’s withdrawal from empire, because they thought it was pretty reasonable; mine has laboured under some feelings of guilt, but again my children don’t. Father’s generation were, by and large, xenophobic – even my own father, who was pretty liberal in most respects, had a significant animus towards a number of other nationalities (though he had no adverse feelings about Jews – but an abiding suspicion of Catholics). My generation (or at least the educated among them) have largely fallen over backwards not to be xenophobic or, of course, antisemitic. My childrens’ generation tend to regard race creed and colour as about as important as hair colour, something I am delighted about.

    What I’m trying to say here is that Judaism and Jews moved on from the early first century, and Western Europe has moved on since WWII, and so, largely, have Christian denominations. PCUSA may or may not feel some guilt towards Judaism, but it’s very dubious whether they can be regarded as continuous with any church with a significant history of persecution. Other churches in other countries should feel rather differently, I think, and my own Anglican denomination has enough continuity with its Catholic predecessor to have some legitimate corporate, but not individual, guilt over 12th century persecution. I exempt its treatment of Jews after its formation to some extent, as it was draconian with Catholics and Nonconformists to a far greater extent, though I think there should be some guilt there too.

    The question is, should this receding residual guilt influence us now in taking a less disapproving attitude to the modern state of Israel (which is not in any event synonymous with Judaism or with the Jewish people) than we have to (for example) South Africa, or than we do to certain other multinational companies which invest in regimes with dubious records (for instance, certain African nations)?

    That said, I suspect the action is pointless, as it will not have the desired effect (unless the desired effect is to assuage the consciences of PCUSA members who do not want to feel they are contributing to oppression). As you rightly point out, it is unlikely to impress Israel. The trouble is, I don’t think any other action is likely to impress Israel either, with the possible exception of the withdrawing of all US support (and that’s not going to happen), and even if it did, it seems to me that a two-state solution is not now possible (there isn’t enough left of the remainder of Palestine for it to be a workable state). Perhaps “two state” never was feasible. I can’t see “one state” as feasible either, though…

    I agree that the move of relocating European Jewry to what had become or was becoming an alien environment was ill-conceived. Large scale population plants, it seems to me, always produce some very negative effects (and I include the British movement of Scots to Northern Ireland and the whole history of the colonisation of North America and Australia there). There was a clear miscalculation of the solidarity and ability to mobilise of Islam, and also of its reaction to the loss of what it saw as “core territory”.

    I suppose it would be too mischievous for me to point out that the periods of greatest stability for the area have been those when it was controlled by an unassailable empire with boundaries which didn’t run through it?

    • lbehrendt

      Chris, thanks for the link to the Reinhartz article. I may put up a short midweek article noting what she said.

      I understand what you are saying about Ioudaios and collective guilt. That’s always a tough topic. The problem is, Jews did not stop being Jews when they left Judea, even in the first century. The Jews who lived in Rome, Alexandria and elsewhere in the diaspora were also considered Judean, because they followed the cultural/lifestyle/religious practices of the Judeans. So at least back then, you could not escape anti-Judaism by escaping Judea. Yes, we might argue that at least today, translating Ioudaios as “Judean” would put an end to the collective guilt business, because I don’t think anyone self-identifies (or identifies anyone else) as Judean. Naturally, anyone determined to be anti-Jewish would find cause to continue to be so, but there might be some who come to the New Testament for the first time who would not make the connection between “Jew” and “Judean.” This might be a good thing, in terms of collective guilt. But this translation threatens to sever any connection between Jesus and present-day Jews – he’d ALSO end up belonging to a people who no longer existed. I think if we’re thinking about present-day Christians valuing present-day Jews and Judaism, we want to preserve the connection between Jesus and Judaism.

      I guess the ideal would be for Jesus to be Jewish, and for the people criticized or condemned by the New Testament NOT to be Jewish! But if the choice is between the status quo translation of Ioudaios and cutting off Judaism from the New Testament, Jewish scholars like Reinhartz and A.-J. Levine choose the status quo, and I’m inclined to agree with them. Better is what you suggested earlier, that we don’t rely so heavily on translations, and we try to understand what words meant in their own time and culture.

      As far as the guilt of PCUSA … as I said, the business of collective guilt is always a difficult one, and the business of visiting the sins of the parents on the children is also difficult. But it’s a bit rough from a Jewish point of view to listen to sanctimonious tongue-wagging from the children of the parents who drove out of Europe the few of us who survived them. Besides, if we’re not comfortable with collective PCUSA guilt, why are we comfortable with collective PCUSA punishment? To the extent that the PCUSA divestment has any impact, it will end up punishing people who have done nothing wrong – some retired person in South America will end up seeing the price of her Motorola stock drop, or some farmer in Canada with a Caterpillar tractor will end up paying more for replacement parts. If the action ends up punishing Israel, then it will punish people in Israel who oppose the occupation and are working for peace. It will probably punish Palestinians, who are nearly as dependent on the Israeli economy as are Israelis.

      We can pursue theories of guilt and punishment, but I think I’d rather pursue what we can do to achieve peace. Personally, I think peace is a long ways down the road, and more realistic goals are truce and disengagement. What can people like you and me (or if you like, the PCUSA) do to make things better? I tried to suggest some steps in my post. I think we talk, and find common ground, and build coalitions. There ARE ways to get the powers in the region to listen, but it would help to first speak in a clear and collective voice.

      I have not responded to everything in your comment, so come back to me with anything there (or here) you’d like to discuss (or discuss further). Thanks for YOUR talking!

      • Chris Eyre

        Let me drop you another link, this time to a pastor who regrets this decision (and I can so much emote to his position):- http://www.patheos.com/blogs/christianityforthesbnr/2014/06/468/ He also links to an earlier post in which he talks about the communal guilt which he feels appropriate.

        I do hope that you’re right, and that both a peaceful solution can be found and that there is a way towards it via finding common ground and building coalitions. However, I very much fear that it’s all too little, too late. I am, for instance, very worried about the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria; they may shortly be neighbours (if they’re not already) and are likely to make any of the current neighbouring regimes look positively amicable. Can I see Israel managing to build a coalition to resist them adequately? No, not after the debacle of the previous intervention in Iraq (though I’d tentatively suggest that Kurdistan, as it will no doubt shortly be, is somewhere to be nice to…). Possibly Israel can do the job unaided, though I can’t see maintaining control over so vast an area as practical. What I’m trying to point out is that it’s not just those who would like to calm Israel’s policy regarding the West Bank who need allies.

        In my teens (the 60s and early 70s), I was shouting loud support for Israel. The image of “plucky little Israel” standing up successfully to hordes of belligerent neighbours was an easy analogy of “plucky little Britain” standing up to Germany and Italy (plus some of France after the capitulation, with a hostile but neutral Spain) in WWII, and I liked the modernisation, the kibbutz experiment and the “western” look to the country. Possibly foolishly, as I didn’t advert to the extent to which it must look like an European colony in the non-western Middle East! My father, on the other hand, remembered the King David Hotel, so wasn’t quite so supportive (although far from approving the Arab position).

        The trouble is, I’ve become less and less impressed with how the Palestinians have been handled since. Unlike some friends, I’ve never been much impressed with how the Palestinians have handled themselves either. I’d scream and shout to not support any effort to aid the Palestinians in anything warlike, in other words. Or Syria, Iraq, Jordan or Egypt. Though if Jordan comes under threat from ISIS, I may need to revise that, and similarly if Israel comes under direct threat from them I may feel that arms to Israel is justified – though in conscience, and despite the fact that within 40 miles of here are a recently closed tank factory (used to make the Centurion, of which Israel has a few) and a military aviation factory, I’m not enthusiastic about us producing weapons in the first place, still less selling them into unstable areas. Though unless we sell them externally, the industries close anyhow (witness the tank factory).

        I think the clue with my previous post was “unless the objective was to salve consciences”. OK, it might be that Caterpillar et al stop supplying the Israeli government with weapon-associated items because they don’t like their stock falling. That would clearly be the desired effect. Then the retired person and the Canadian farmer would have no resulting problem. It isn’t “punishing Israel”, however much it might look that way from Tel Aviv, as I see it, though – if I refuse to sell a gun to someone because I think he’s likely to use it to shoot his neighbour, I’m not punishing him, I’m attempting to prevent murder (actually, of course, I strongly suspect someone else would immediately step in and supply the required equipment). I don’t immediately see how (for instance) Caterpillar refusing to sell weaponised bulldozers would adversely affect Israelis who oppose the occupation, either, still less Palestinians.

        While I don’t remotely think that all avenues which might produce a peaceful solution should be tried, all my political and strategic instincts tell me that sooner or later, the situation in the area is going to get very nasty, even compared with the way it’s been in the past. Where I see countries and branches of Christianity finding a way to expiate the guilt which they probably should collectively feel (although as I pointed out in my earlier post, they increasingly aren’t feeling) is in the future, ensuring that refugees from the area are welcomed with open arms and given the maximum possible support in forging new lives outside Israel and Palestine.

        Sorry if that sounds defeatist…

        • lbehrendt

          Chris, I read the post you cited, but not the post cited in that post. I think the sentiments expressed there are very close to my own. This gives me greater confidence that we can, indeed, find common ground.

          I’m not saying that this common ground will lead to peace proposals that have somehow escaped the imagination of politicians and diplomats. I appreciate that this situation is complicated, and that no ideal solutions are available. Israel has legitimate security concerns. Hamas rules Gaza, and may someday rule the West Bank. You mentioned ISIS, and I’d add a nuclear Iran. My time this year in Israel and the West Bank cured me of any lingering belief that peace is possible if we could just somehow all join hands and pray together.

          But I’m not trying to recommend my own plan for peace. I’m trying to address my most generous read of the PCUSA divestment measure, which is that there are American Protestants who believe that they should work for peace. Beyond this, as I think you’ve identified, it’s hard to figure out exactly what was the intent behind this divestment. I guess the action was purely symbolic, but symbolic of what? What was the intent behind the action? Was it to “salve consciences,” as you suggested? If so, I think that the piece you cited should disabuse any Presbyterian of the notion that their consciences are now salved. Was it to pressure Israel into changing its policies, or to punish Israel? Again as you suggested, it does not appear that divestment will end up punishing anyone.

          The point I was trying to make in my post was, no matter what the Presbyterian intent, most Jews were going to interpret the Presbyterian message in a counter-productive way. If the divestment action was intended to send us a message, it was phrased in a language we cannot understand. So in the first instance, I’m not trying to figure out what Presbyterians can do to make piece. I’m trying to help Presbyterians understand how to send us an intelligible message. First things first.

          The goal in this little corner of the world includes things like dialogue and mutual understanding. If we can skip over all that and move directly to Middle East peace, fine! But I don’t think we can. If between the two of us we cannot figure out what the PCUSA is saying, well … that’s a problem! And that’s the problem I’m trying to address.