Divestment From Israel Does Not Equal Racism

In the face of the Presbyterian Church of the USA (PCUSA) General Assembly’s recent vote to begin selective divestment from companies profiting from the sales of products and services resulting in harm to Palestinians, an organized campaign is taking place across the country to accuse the Church of ‘anti-Semitism.’

An example of the sort of hate messages that Bill Somplatsky-Jaman, staff person of the PCUSA’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment Committee, is receiving includes: ‘Why are you trying to hurt the state of Israel, Bill? Why are you trying to hurt Jews? I’m outraged. I know exactly what’s in your heart, you son of a bitch. You want ’em all to die in ovens, Bill?’ And many others directly come right out and ask why the Church is ‘anti-Semitic.’

That people so easily wie! ld the ‘anti-Semitism’ accusation — a label designed to conjure up images of the World War II period when Jews were persecuted and systematically killed because of who they were — is remarkable. That was then, and this is now.

In actuality, PCUSA is looking to divest from companies like Caterpillar, which sells bulldozers to Israel — responsible for thousands of home demolitions and the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of olive trees. PCUSA is also concerned about the Wall that Israel is building which has made life unbearable for many Palestinians. The Presbyterian Foundation currently holds 36,900 shares of Caterpillar stock, worth about $2.7 million. Another 200 shares, valued at $15,000, are in the Board of Pensions’ $6 billion portfolio. The PCUSA had also flexed its financial muscle with Caterpillar before when it helped persuade it to stop modifying trucks for South African military use in ! the early 1980s.

In fact, divestment is what helped bring an end to the Apartheid regime in South Africa by ending the financial links that had allowed the white Afrikaner regime to continue its racist policies. South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others have even referred to the Israeli Occupation of Palestinian Christians and Muslims as ‘Israeli apartheid.’

How are the situations similar? Well, in a 2002 speech in the United States, Tutu said he saw ‘the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.’ Back in 1999, former South African statesman Nelson Mandela told the Palestinian Assembly: ‘The histories of our two peoples correspond in such painful and poignant ways that I intensely feel myself at home amongst my compatriots.’

But do these statements make Tutu and Mandela ‘anti-Semitic’ or anti-white? Perhaps some Americans thought so back when the United States supported the apartheid regime until ‘it wasn’t cool anymore.’

Are we now supposed to wait on supporting divestment until supporting Israel ‘isn’t cool anymore?’ People should really cease throwing around the anti-Semitic label so readily that it loses its weight.

When the first President George Bush suggested that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s influence would hinder his request to delay loan guarantees to Israel, an Israeli minister called him anti-Semitic. In his book ‘They Dare to Speak Out,’ former Congressman Paul Findley lists a number of colleagues who were called anti-Semitic whenever they voiced concerns about Israel, including popular former Congressman and Korean War hero Pete McCloskey and former Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Chuck Percy. Media mogul Ted Turner has been called an anti-Semite for accusing Israel of waging terror against Palestinians. And at Harvard, President Larry Summers shamefully classified respected professors as being part of an ‘anti-Semitic’ drive to urge the university to divest its endowment of investments in Israel.

It’s all mind-boggling to say the least. I mean, do Israelis really expect to deprive Palestinians of their liberties without criticism? We prefer nonviolence in the Middle East, so why are Church votes raising such ire?

The pocketbook was an effective weapon when it was used against South Africa and switching strategies to divestment might be just the key to finally getting Israel’s to stop its racist and inhumane practices, giving both Palestinians and Israelis the peace they deserve. PCUSA should be lauded for its courage and for paving the way for others to follow suit in the elusive road to Middle East peace.