A process of engagement
Presbyterian Church’s rejection of BDS was a fitting rebuff of movement seeking to co-opt major denominations to anti-Israelism.
CHRIST PRESBYTERIAN Church in Nashville Photo: Reuters
Last week, the Presbyterian Church (USA) rejected divestment from three
companies doing business with Israel and opted instead to promote a “process of
engagement” and active investment.
This was both a moral decision and a
fitting rebuff to the decade-old worldwide NGO political war that seeks to
co-opt major Christian denominations to the anti-Israel cause. Yet, the
denomination’s decision to promote a boycott of Israeli West Bank products
leaves the door open to future divestment efforts.
With the United
Methodist Church’s rejection of divestment this spring, this is the second
defeat in two months handed to church-based divestment activists. Next up is the
United Church of Canada, that will vote on divestment in August. It is worth
examining the global forces behind these divestment efforts, and the surprising
sources of much of their funding: Western governments in Europe, the United
States and Canada.
While Western political leaders are usually unaware of
the details, the bureaucratic processes entangle taxpayer funds with highly
politicized pro-Palestinian groups that often deploy anti-Semitic theology to
buttress their attacks.
European Christian aid organizations such as
Sweden’s Diakonia, the Netherland’s Kerk in Actie (Church in Action), the UK’s
Christian Aid, and Finland’s FinnChurchAid receive millions annually from their
respective governments and the EU. These groups are supposed to grant these
funds to life-saving humanitarian projects globally.
Instead, some of the
money goes to organizations such as Sabeel, a group in Jerusalem that promotes
“Palestinian Liberation Theology,” a fusion of Christianity and Palestinian Arab
nationalism. Supersessionism – a reading of the New Testament that considers the
Church to have superseded the Jewish people in God’s promises – and deicide –
the charge that “the Jews” killed Jesus – served as the basis for centuries of
anti-Jewish persecution. After the Holocaust, the Vatican and mainline
Protestants reinterpreted Christian texts to avoid promoting
Yet, supersessionism and deicide language is exactly what
Sabeel encourages with its attacks on the Jewish religion as “tribal” and
“primitive,” in contrast to Christianity’s “universalism,” and its comparisons
of Palestinians with the crucified Jesus, while pointing a finger at Israel’s
“crucifixion machine.” Sabeel also calls for “one state” that would effectively
deny the Jewish people’s right to sovereign equality.
international Friends of Sabeel network, the group works directly with local
church activists, hoping that churches will promote Palestinian rejectionism
packaged as “liberation theology.”
Sabeel’s efforts are supported
directly from Holland by Kerk in Actie, listed by Sabeel as a donor. Like
Sabeel, KIA supports a “general boycott” of Israeli products, using Dutch
government funds. Another Sabeel donor is the Canadian Catholic group
Development and Peace, which receives aid funding from the Canadian
Likewise, Sweden’s Diakonia, which Sabeel’s website says “is
closely associated with Sabeel,” receives Swedish government
American taxpayer dollars are also entangled with boycott
campaigns via the Holy Land Trust, another Palestinian Christian group, and a
signatory to the 2005 “call” for BDS.
Its director, Sami Awad, told a
Texas audience, “We’ve actually done training in non-violence for Hamas leaders
and other militant groups as well.” (The US and EU list Hamas as a terrorist
organization.) With Hamas firing 150 rockets at Israeli cities in the last week
of June, it appears this training didn’t quite sink in.
THE WORLD Council
of Churches (WCC) plays a key role in mobilizing churches globally in the
boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) effort against Israel. WCC works closely
with Sabeel, even promoting Sabeel’s Contemporary Way of the Cross, which uses
deicide imagery: “Just as Jesus is condemned to die by the authorities to
protect their own power, status and ideals so the Palestinians suffer as the
result of the fear and ideology of the founders of the State of
A major WCC vehicle promoting BDS and demonization of Israel is
its Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, which brings
volunteers to the West Bank to “experience life under occupation.”
returning home they are expected to promote EAPPI’s message, which presents only
the Palestinian side, ignores terror attacks against Israelis and blames Israel
entirely for the conflict.
The WCC annually receives millions of dollars
from European and Canadian taxpayers, both directly and indirectly. With the
WCC’s lack of transparency regarding how government funds are used, serious
questions regarding taxpayer monies for the WCC and other church-based pro-BDS
efforts are raised.
Why are taxes funneled to organizations that advocate
positions opposed by the very governments making these grants? These Western
governments emphasize their opposition to boycotts against Israel, support the
two-state approach to Middle East peacemaking, and certainly reject the
anti-Semitic theology of an organization such as Sabeel.
Presbyterians’ principled rebuff of divestment should be commended, the
governmental funds granted to Sabeel and other groups actively lobbying churches
continue sowing the seeds of inter-faith discord, and further damage the
prospects for peace. That some of these funds enable the reviving of bigotries
many thought long dormant makes it all the worse. Certainly there are better
uses for taxpayers’ money.
The writer is chief programs officer for NGO