Abba Eban, the late Israeli diplomat, once said of the Palestinian Arabs, “They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” And so it has been for decades. The Palestinian Arabs turned down a two-state Palestine in 1948 and have rebuffed all Israeli concessions since then. Hope springs eternal with some folks, however, and in the summer last year the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to disinvest church funds from Israel, apparently in the belief that this would cause the years of conflict to evaporate.
This unelected Presbyterian group performed a neat hat trick. Its members were chosen by Presbytery (regional) leaders, not by the members of the church. Yet, when the delegates voted, their actions created an “official” church position. If the conscience of an individual churchgoer leads him or her to favor or oppose a particular group, that is his or her business. On the other hand, a church as an institution has no business entangling itself in political matters, but that is what the Presbyterians did without consulting their membership.
One of the dangers of such actions is that ignorance may prevail. Apparently, these folks labored under the belief that it was the Israelis who wanted to drive the Palestinians into the sea and the Israelis who had been sending suicide bombers into the West Bank to kill innocents — and not the other way around. The actions of this self-appointed Presbyterian group emboldened, in turn, like-minded muddleheads in the Episcopal Church and United Church of Christ to promote similar proposals.
One factor not well understood: The Israelis have been building a separation barrier between themselves and the West Bank. While it has involved controversy and hardship for some Palestinian residents in particular places where it has been located, there is no disputing that suicide bombings have been drastically reduced in the areas where it is in place.
Muddled thinking seems to begin at the top of the Presbyterian Church. After the disinvestment-in-Israel proposal passed last year, the Reverend Clifton Kirkpatrick, the church’s top official, was quoted by the New York Times: “It’s not a campaign to divest from the state of Israel. We’re fully committed to the state of Israel. But it is a campaign to divest from particular activities that are doing damage and creating injustice and violence, whether that’s the building of a separation barrier, construction related to the occupation, or weapons and materials that lead to suicide bombings. “
Ah, so it is Israeli “weapons and materials” that cause Palestinian suicide bombings. That man is so deft at talking out of both sides of his mouth that he should consider elective office as his next career move.
In October, two officials of the church’s headquarters were on a “fact-finding” trip in the Middle East and met with Hezbollah leaders. This is the peace-loving group funded by Iran that is listed by the United States government as a terrorist organization. The two officials resigned after their return.
This week a delegation from eight Protestant denominations is in Israel at the invitation of a group of American Jewish organizations. David Elcott, director of interreligious affairs of the American Jewish Committee’s, said, “Obviously, our hope is to clarify why disinvestment is negative.” During the week, the visiting Protestants will see the site of a Palestinian attack and the separation wall. They’ll meet with Knesset members, a Camp David Accords negotiator, journalists, members of an Arab-Jewish soccer team, Palestinians whose homes were destroyed by Israel, and Palestinian Authority leaders in Ramallah. The balanced itinerary is intended to provide the visitors with a dose of reality. Perhaps, after this experience, they will be more mindful of the Biblical admonition “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”