Hypocrisy: Presbyterian Divestment From Israel Is Not About Human Rights

Last week's 310 to 303 vote by the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) General Assembly to "selectively divest" from companies that it claims "further the Israeli occupation in Palestine" reveals an ugly side of a denomination of Christianity that by its own progressive values should be embracing the Jewish state - not condemning it.

But apparently shared values are not important for a religious organization that prides itself on its progressive ideals. On the same day that the church singled out Israel for divestment, it voted to support gay marriage. How ironic, since Israel is the only country in that part of the world that bans discrimination based on sexual orientation – a country which welcomed the U.S. ambassador to fly the gay pride flag under the American flag during last week's Israel Gay Pride festival.

The PCUSA vote effectively condones the brutal treatment of the GLBTQ community at the hands of Palestinians and Israel's Arab neighbors. Remaining silent in the face of such human rights violations, while singling out Israel for measures they take to simply protect Jews, Muslims and Christians in their country, is abhorrent.

Claim all you want that the divestment vote is not based on anti-Semitism and doesn't challenge Israel's right to exist. When you go to great lengths, session after session, portraying Israel in a brutal light, despite undeniable common values, there is no doubt that an element of hate is behind the efforts.

Prior to the anti-Israel vote, the church circulated a prejudicial, one-sided "congregational study guide," Zionism Unsettled, which solely blames Israel for the absence of peace – invoking classic anti-Semitic stereotypes and rejecting all connections Jews have with the Holy Land.

In what can only be regarded as the essence of disingenuousness, the General Assembly denied that Zionism Unsettled reflects the views of PCUSA. Yet it voted not to remove the libelous publication from its website, where it remains for sale, recommended as a source of "helpful guidance."

And then there's the inconvenient truth that thousands of Palestinians work for Israeli companies in the settlements. Why? Because of higher wages and better benefits compared to Palestinian companies. But isn't losing your job a small price to pay for the satisfaction of combating democracy in the Middle East? Can you say "hypocrisy"?

Just as this small group of Christians is showing their disdain for the Jewish people, other voices are stepping up their love and support – condemning the PCUSA.

According to CNN, "The Rev. Katharine Rhodes Henderson, the president of New York's Auburn Seminary, is calling on Presbyterians opposed to the decision to reach out to their local Jewish communities to try to repair relationships."

David Brog, Executive Director of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), told me, "The Middle East is imploding. There are over 160,000 dead and counting in Syria. Iraq is sinking into sectarian barbarity. Christians are being bombed, butchered and beheaded in Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Nigeria and Sudan. The Presbyterians' decision to look past all of these tragedies and focus instead on Israel is madness. The Presbyterians' vote to blame Israel and Israel alone for its conflict with its neighbors is downright absurd. This vote represents the triumph of political correctness over perspective, and the victory of scapegoating over study."

Brog's calling out the PCUSA's warped focus as "madness" is spot-on not only because of the vote itself but also its timing. To even consider such a measure while Christians are being massacred in the Middle East and North Central Africa is abject lunacy.

Ironically, Israel is the only country in the region that PCUSA members could travel to and publicly condemn the actions of the government without fear of reprisal. Try that in Gaza or the West Bank and see how quickly you'll be faced with imprisonment, torture and possibly worse. CUFI has begun a letter writing campaign, not to directly condemn the PCUSA, but to make sure Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Jewish people know that the majority of Christians in the United States "are standing with you (Israel)."

While there is no denying the unfortunate nature of the PCUSA decision, Jews and supporters of Israel should take comfort in knowing that when a small group rears its ugly head of hate and hypocrisy, larger voices band together to show their love and support.

Paul Miller is an op-ed contributor to the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. He serves as principal of Pauliegroup LLC, a Chicago-based new media and political consulting firm. Follow him on Twitter @pauliespoint.