This month, the Presbyterian Church of the United States took the next step in its plan to sell its investments in companies that do business in Israel. It announced the list of companies, including Motorola and United Technologies, that it intends to target.
As a Presbyterian clergy woman with missionary roots in the Middle East, a strong commitment to human rights and peace, and a deep love of interfaith dialogue, I am dismayed and heartbroken by my denomination's actions regarding divestment. Not only has divestment, even ``selective divestment,'' contradicted and undermined a half-century of the church's commitment to a two-state solution, it has seriously eroded a much-valued relationship with the Jewish community.
For over 50 years, the Presbyterian Church has affirmed the rights of Israel and the Palestinians to exist within their own safe and secure borders. Church leaders cannot point backward to past "even-handed'' commitments while we now place our political weight solely upon the Israeli side of the Middle East teeter-totter and call it balanced.
How can we speak about ``selective divestment'' from corporations like Caterpillar, because of a connection with the Israeli government and occupation, while failing to investigate selective divestment from oil companies in Saudi Arabia and their connection with funding Palestinian terrorism? After years of commitment not to take sides in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, what pitched us off course?
Our sense of timing is off. Just when Israel is departing from Gaza, our denomination announced which companies it has targeted for possible divestment. How ironic: Israel is leaving one of the occupied territories lock, stock and barrel, and we reward it with threats of punishment.
This is short-sighted and adds to the perception that we have lost any pretense of impartiality. The church's policy papers on divestment are no longer balanced. Misreading or simplistically truncating decades of Middle East history by stating that Israel 's occupation of the West Bank ``has proven to be the root of evil acts committed against innocent people on both sides of the conflict,'' is simply wrong. Terrorism against Israelis existed for years before the occupation.
I, like many peacemakers and clergy, Jews, Christians and Muslims, am deeply critical of actions taking place in the occupied territories. But I share the concern, expressed by Rabbis for Human Rights, which tirelessly defends Palestinians, that the Presbyterian position is ``inaccurate and inadequate to explain the situation in all its tragic moral complexity.''
I am opposed to divestment out of an overriding concern that our Presbyterian house is not in order when it comes to issues of anti-Semitism. Christianity has a deplorable track record on relationships with Muslims and Jews. Most Christians alive today have not participated in this history, yet it is a legacy that persists in its capacity to fuel memory, fear and reactivity. Our divestment policy ignores this.
This does not deny Christians the right to speak out or to challenge the behavior of any nation that acts unjustly. However, demonization of Israel is a form of anti-Semitism. When we paint Israel as the ``root of evil,'' which we did in our General Assembly's resolution, this is demonization. When Christian denominations shine the spotlight of human rights on Israel while paying scant attention to the gender caste system in Saudi Arabia, for instance, this is demonization.
The concept of divestment is deeply tied to the moral imaginations of most Protestants over 45 with South Africa, where the systemic evil of apartheid called for prolonged tactics. Our denomination's talk of divestment lends unwarranted moral support to those who crassly demonize Israel with the ``apartheid'' label while using ``divestment'' as a means to isolate, weaken and destroy Israel.
The Christian Church's integrity in the Middle East calls us to strengthen relationships with Jews and Muslims who renounce violence. Divestment without partnership breaks a critical relationship and undermines the integrity of the church's witness.
The Rev. Rebecca Kuiken is a Presbyterian pastor of the Stone Church of Willow Glen in San Jose and moderator of the San Jose Presbytery.