Before leaving for Birmingham, Alabama a week ago I mourned my fate, and told friends that I was about to descend into Presbyterian hell. I never did quite find it, though.
Much of what transpired at the biennial General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church – USA (PCUSA) cannot be told yet, at least until after the floor vote concerning undoing its resolution of two years ago calling for selective divestment of its pension funds from Israel. I was there with a colleague from the Simon Wiesenthal Center to lend a hand to a group of good friends within that church who had been courageously battling their own church leadership for two years. They saw the move as fundamentally unfair to Israel, politically counterproductive, contrary to the sentiment of most of the folks in the pews, and possibly anti-Semitic.
I anticipated a few days in Hell, knowing the track record of the World Council of Churches, the umbrella group of all the liberal Protestant denominations. This group had never uttered a syllable of protest in the face of all of the attempts in the last sixty years to extinguish Israel’s existence. In a recent year, of 26 resolutions regarding all the tzorus (trouble) around the globe, 23 were critical of Israel. Surely we would not find ourselves among friends.
More importantly, we knew how much the Arab world had riding on divestment. It was not the economic impact that was important. What they wanted was to demonstrate to the Arab street that their narrative was beginning to be accepted even in the United States. Divestment has been used successfully against only one country. They cheered (as shown in a plethora of their websites) the notion that a new identity was making its way to the heartland of America: Israel = South Africa = apartheid state = illegal, pariah, colonialist entity. This is pretty much standard fare in Europe and in the People’s Republic of Berkeley (and many other campuses by now); it had not penetrated America’s heartland until PCUSA’s 2004 resolution, followed by similar actions or proposed actions by every other Protestant denomination. Israel and Jews had much at stake. Surely the Palestinians would be there in force, and we did not cherish basking in the warmth of their love for Jews.
We were wrong on both counts. We had far, far more friends among the Presbyterians than we could have hoped for. More on that in another posting.
We were wrong about the Palestinians. They didn’t come, for the most part. They didn’t have to. They were more than fully represented by Jews who enthusiastically took up their cause. These traitors representing organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace, Tikkun, Machsom Watch, etc., worked the crowd from the floor, and testified at the special committee that considered the pro- and anti-divestment overtures. They spoke about the brutality of Israeli soldiers against ordinary Palestinians. They argued that the State of Israel’s continued existence violated the most cherished tenets of Judaism, like supporting the oppressed. Jews, they argued, did not really support Israel in its murderous land-grabbing designs. The hated Wall must come down! Norman Finkelstein, twice dismissed from academic institutions in NY for his views (he calls the Shoah the HoloHoax), demonstrated his generosity. He made copies of his anti-Israel book-length screed available to all delegates, and begged them individually to vote to continue divestment. Let no one say that Jewish pressure was absent at Birmingham. It was plentiful – mostly on the Palestinian side.
At a press conference we organized just before the General Assembly began, Dr Yehuda Pearl addressed those assembled. An icon of cooperation between Jews and moderate Muslims, Dr Pearl (father of Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl HY”D who was brutally murdered in Afghanistan after his poignant “I am a Jew” speech) pointed out how divestment accomplished nothing for the Palestinians, but strengthened the hands of the jihadists. (Later, James Woolsey, former CIA head and a pro-Israel Presbyterian, would fly in to tell the committee, “A vote for divestment is a vote for Hamas.”) He was challenged by a group of the turncoats. Calmly, he responded to them. Whom do you expect to influence here, at this convention? Who will gain strength from your protest here? Can it be anyone but those who murdered my son? If you believe that individual soldiers of the IDF have acted inappropriately, why are you not protesting in Israel, where your voices will be heard by the people who can make a difference?
I do not have a good explanation of how Jews can act so despicably in the name of Judaism. (Finkelstein I understand. He is simply a self-promoter, in the best tradition of Johannes Pfeferkorn of five centuries ago.) I do know that all of them described themselves as secular Jews. Our Sages tell us that before Abraham died, the gifts (Genesis 25:6) he gave to his children born later in life consisted of a Shem Tumah – a source of spiritual contamination. Michtav MeEliyahu (3:190) explains that Avraham in fact bequeathed to his children the values he stood for – chesed, kindness, and truth. Any tools not pressed into the service of Hashem, however, inevitably become instruments of what is opposed to Him. Without Torah, people will take Jewish values and principles, and pervert them into grotesque caricatures of the original.
I never did quite find the Presbyterian Inferno, but I met many of Satan’s helpers, and they were mostly Jewish.