Monday, July 19, 2004


Protestant Divestment from Israel

From the Forward:
With the decision, approved in a 431-62 vote at the 216th annual General Assembly of Presbyterian Church (USA), the church, boasting nearly 3 million members, is believed to be the largest organization or institution to join the divestment campaign against Israel.
While the fact that this is a church involves religion, essentially this is a political issue. The church did not vote to divest from Jewish-owned businesses. However, the Anti-Defamation League has become so involved in the fight to equate criticism of Israel with antisemitism, responded thusly:
"While the Catholics are decrying antisemitism in any form, it appears as if the Presbyterians are pretending it doesn't exist," said Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, director of interfaith affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, who helped draft the Buenos Aires document.
The Buenos Aires document referred to was a declaration signed by Roman Catholic officials and Jewish communal leaders that equated anti-Zionism with antisemitism. The problem here is that divesting from Israel is a purely political maneuver, essentially calling attention to a disagreement between a group, in this case Presbyterian Church (USA), and the policies of the Israeli government. That this somehow exhibits a tacit support of antisemitism, as implied by Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor, is misleading. It bothers me that the Anti-Defamation League has chosen to pursue this course of action, to make antisemitism an issue of political alliegences and support, or lack thereof, for Israel and the policies of the Israeli government. However, this pales in comparison to the actions of the Roman Catholic Church. The document signed in Buenos Aires serves to make opposition to the State of Israel a sin in the Catholic religion.
The document was signed by members of the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations With the Jews, and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation (IJCIC), a coalition including ADL, World Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee and representatives of the Orthodox, Conservative and Reform synagogue movements. It marks the first time at an interfaith meeting that the Catholic Church has equated anti-Zionism with antisemitism, which Pope John Paul II has defined as a sin.

"With the imprimatur of the Vatican, the Catholic Church is recognizing that anti-Zionism is an attack not only against Jews, but against the whole Jewish people," said Elan Steinberg, executive vice president of the World Jewish Congress.

"I believe it is important for Catholic-Jewish relations because it deepens the Vatican's firm commitment to the State of Israel as a political entity," said Father John Pawlikowski, head of the Catholic-Jewish Studies Program at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, who also helped draft the document.
It seems decidedly crass for the Vatican to commit to any state as a "political entity" and to quantify that which is a political belief (support or the lack thereof for the State of Israel) as a sin. Should anti-Americanism be considered a sin? Obviously not. Criticism of any state, of any government, should not be considered sinful or in any way reflective of one's spiritual character. I believe it dangerous to cast the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in religious terms is a dangerous move, as it empowers those hardliners on both sides who see no negotiated settlement to be possible.

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