The Presbyterian Church recently came under fire
for its decision to employ a human rights tactic on behalf of Palestinians that
it once used to encourage racial reform in apartheid South Africa: the process
of divestment – in this case, from companies that profit from Israel's brutal
occupation of Palestinian territories.
The divestment process was set in motion by the PC-USA's 216th General
Assembly last summer. In early November, the Church's committee on socially
responsible investment set criteria to guide the
"phased selective divestment" from corporations that profit from
Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
"It is a modest attempt by one small denomination to say a word of peace and
justice and hope in the middle of continuing mind-numbing violence and human
suffering," the Rev. John Buchanan, senior pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church
in Chicago, recently
told the Chicago Tribune.
The response was immediate – and extreme.
An anonymous letter postmarked in Queens, N.Y., was sent to the Louisville,
Ky., headquarters of the Presbyterian Church USA threatening arson against Presbyterian
churches in retaliation for "your anti-Israel and anti-Jewish attitudes."
According to an account
of the incident issued by the Presbyterian News Service, the handwritten
letter read, "I promise violence against Presbyterian Churches – They will
go up in flames, bet your ass that's a terrorist threat."
The church stepped up security and notified federal authorities in Kentucky
and New York.
The threat came on the heels of another letter objecting to the Presbyterians'
divestment decision, this one written by Congressman Howard L. Berman (D, Calif.)
and signed by 13 of his colleagues in the House of Representatives.
Using rhetoric that alternated between propaganda and hysteria, Berman
and his co-signers (seven Republicans and six Democrats), claimed that,
by initiating divestment from certain companies doing business in Israel, "the
Presbyterian Church has knowingly gone on record calling for jeopardizing the
existence of the State of Israel."
Also writing a letter, not to the church, but to the U.S. Department of Commerce,
were 13 more members of Congress, urging the shutdown of any divestment campaigns
According to an account of that letter issued in a Sept. 28 press
release by the Zionist Organization of America (which bragged of initiating
the action), the Congressmembers accused divestment organizers of violating
the "anti-boycott provisions of the Export Administration Act," and
demanded that the Department of Commerce "investigate the national boycott
campaign against Israel, shut down the illegal divestment campaigns, and impose
the appropriate penalties."
What on earth is going on here?
When members of Congress, who ostensibly work for American taxpayers, write
the Department of Commerce, which also ostensibly works for American taxpayers,
demanding it investigate and sanction those same taxpaying Americans for their
measured opposition to the policies of a foreign power – policies often employed
using U.S. taxpayer money and military hardware – the question has to be asked:
who do those members of Congress think they represent, Americans or the Israeli
Perhaps feeding Congressional insolence – and bad judgment – is AIPAC (the
American-Israel Public Affairs Committee) which openly identifies itself as
"America's Pro-Israel Lobby" and
is ranked by
Fortune Magazine as the second most powerful lobby in Washington,
behind only The American Association of Retired Persons. AIPAC has 65,000 members
in 50 states, many of them in highly influential positions, and is known to
generously reward Israel's
Congressional partisans and ruthlessly crush those who believe the U.S.
government should put American interests before those of Israel.
casualties targeted for defeat by AIPAC and other pro-Israel forces include
Senators Adlai Stevenson and Charles Percy, and Reps. Paul Findley, Paul McCloskey,
Earl Hilliard, and Cynthia McKinney, all of whom ran afoul of Israeli interests
in one way or another and were summarily eliminated from Congress with resources
that came largely from Israeli lobbies or those acting on Israel's behalf.
Adding insult to American taxpayers is the fact that the foreign power on
behalf of which these Israeli-backing bullies are twisting arms is one that
has been on the U.S. foreign aid dole to the tune of tens
of billions dollars spanning several decades – more than any other country
in the history of U.S. foreign welfare. Given the close relationship between
Israel and its various lobbies in the U.S., it is highly likely that some of
that money is recycled back to America to defeat those who oppose blank-check
U.S. aid to Israeli.
On top of all that influence, add the heft of millions of Evangelical Rapturists,
who believe their support of Israeli expansionism is hastening the conditions
necessary to trigger the return of Jesus. Messianically similar to some Ultra-Orthodox
Jews, who believe the Jewish Messiah won't arrive until Israel has regained
the West Bank (biblical Judea and Samaria), Rapturists want to see Israel return
to its biblical geography, populated by a sufficient number of Jews (who have
converted to Christianity) to bring about the Second Coming.
bizarre theology holds that prior to Armageddon, a small percentage of worthy
Christians (including, presumably, those who worked to create the needed conditions)
will be "raptured" halfway up to heaven where Jesus will take them
the rest of the way. Most other Christians and other nonbelievers will die in
the calamitous events that follow on earth, including natural disasters, terrorist
attacks, and nuclear, biological, and chemical warfare. The Evangelical Jesus
will later return to earth with the raptured and destroy any remaining enemies.
Because of the turnout of millions of Evangelical voters, who were urged to
the polls on behalf of George W. Bush in the latest presidential elections,
it is now believed that Evangelical beliefs hold special sway within elements
of the U.S. government.
Given the various forces at play, it is little wonder that a deeply-rooted
Israel entitlement mentality has afflicted the Congressional psyche.
The difference, of course, is that in the past that mentality was directed
primarily at defaming and dispossessing the Palestinians. But now it appears
to be turning on American Presbyterians – and any other group with the effrontery
to question Israeli government actions.
Unfortunately for the Congressional commissars, the Presbyterian Church and
its 2.5 million members aren't going to take the government's intimidation tactics
In a spunky response
to Berman's claim that the Presbyterians' actions had caused "terrible
distress," the Church issued a reply through the Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick
citing "terrible distress" of its own.
No, Kirkpatrick didn't whine about the threats to burn down Presbyterians churches.
His concern was far more selfless in nature, over "the failure of the U.S.
Congress to be a balanced arbiter for peace in the region or [condemn] the illegal
expansion of settlements in the West Bank."
"It has been very disappointing to us that the U.S. Congress has not proven
to be an ally or a balanced arbiter in the negotiations for peace in the region,"
said Kirkpatrick. "While Congress has passed repeated statements against
the Palestinian Authority, it has never passed a resolution condemning the continuous
illegal construction of settlements in the West Bank. There has been nothing
done by Congress to pressure Israel to adhere to international law. Rather,
Israel has been encouraged by Congress to violate international law."
That defiant reply may signal the beginning of a new mainline Protestant movement
determined to stand up to the Israeli lobby, the Evangelicals, and their minions
Also considering divestment is the Episcopal Church, whose governing
board recently resolved to "investigate what corporate actions might
be appropriate with companies that contribute to the infrastructure of Israel's
ongoing occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip."
Taking a more reticent approach than the Presbyterians, the Episcopalians said
they would also look at companies with connections to organizations responsible
for violence against Israel, and consult with, among others, the Anglican Peace
and Justice Network before making any divestment decision. But based
on the Anglican's recent conclusions from a fact-finding mission to Israel,
the writing is on the wall.
In their September visit to Jerusalem, the Peace and Justice Network found
that Israel, with the assistance of the U.S government, seems to be deliberately
thumbing its nose at efforts to advance peace in the region.
"We conclude from our experience that there is little will on behalf of
the Israeli government to recognize the rights of the Palestinians to a sovereign
state to be created in the West Bank – which includes East Jerusalem – and Gaza,"
the group said in a statement issued after the visit.
"Israel, with the complicity of the United States, seems determined to
flaunt international laws, whether they are the Geneva Conventions, United Nations
resolutions, or the most recent decision of the International Court of Justice
in declaring the separation wall illegal."
What appears to be emerging from the mainline Protestant establishment is a
counterbalance to what has heretofore been the domination of U.S. government
policy toward Israel and the Middle East by a religiously tormented coalition
that is reckless, biased, and deeply fatalistic.
Because Israel possess up to 200 nuclear weapons, and because the Israel lobby
in America seems intent on encouraging – indeed, enabling – its increasing belligerence
in order to advance apocalyptic theological agendas, the emergence of a politically
organized Christian counter force in America may well be all that stands between
the world and self-fulfilling Armageddon prophecy.