Today at the United Church of Christ's General Synod meeting in Cleveland, Ohio, the denomination voted to approve a resolution divesting from certain companies that do business in the occupied Palestinian Territories. Needless to say, this is probably going to produce some reaction from certain pro-Israeli groups, and I fully expect to hear charges of anti-Semitism thrown casually around in light of this action. However, it is important to note that the resolution itself is narrowly drawn, and relates, not to the boycott of Israel itself, or companies that do business with Israel per se, but specifically with companies that are directly involved with the occupation, have facilities in settlements within the West Bank, or are directly involved in supporting the occupation.
The BDS movement has been gaining strength in recent years, particularly in universities around the United States and in Europe. There are some aspects of BDS that I can support (such as those in the UCC resolution just passed), in that they are drawn narrowly to critique and undermine the most egregious dimension of current Israeli policy -- the occupation. I am far less supportive of wholesale attempt to boycott Israel, or engage in academic boycotts of Israeli universities, both because I believe that such attempts are counter-productive (some of the harshest critics of Israeli policy are in the universities there), and because they seem, quite often, aimed at undermining the legitimacy of Israel tout court. There are a lot of possible grounds for critique of Israel, and at this stage I am very dubious of the future of the Oslo Accords and the possibility of a two-state solution. But any just resolution to the continuing occupation can only take place in the context of criticism that does not, implicitly or explicitly, seek the wholesale destruction of Israel.
However, that is not with this resolution does. Nor is it what the resolutions passed by the Presbyterian Church, USA or the United Methodist Church do. To casually throw accusations of anti-Semitism at those who have a genuine desire for a peaceful and just resolution to the decades-old Israel-Palestine conflict, one which recognizes and supports the full human rights of both Jews and Palestinians is to cheapen the meaning of the word, and to make it a bludgeon for the sake of partisan advantage. In short, it's an insult both to those against whom it is wielded, and to the Jews around the world who have suffered and continue to suffer from genuine anti-Semitism.
And to be sure, genuine and virulent anti-Semitism is a real and continuing problem, as the rise of attacks on Jews in Europe over the past year demonstrate. However, the continuing occupation of the West Bank and Gaza (and make no mistake, Gaza is occupied, even if there are no settlers living there any longer) only exacerbate the problem. And throwing people of genuine good will in the same pot as unrecalcitrant Nazis does nothing to ameliorate the problem.
So, while I was not at the Synod to vote in favor of the resolution. I am glad it passed. It remains to be seen whether the cumulative weight of these resolutions will begin to have an impact on Israeli policy. Certainly given the current make up of the Knesset, I have little hope that it will. But perhaps over time, as Israel watches its once-substantial international legitimacy dwindle, a subsequent government will recognize that the only path to peace and stability will come through a just resolution with the Palestinian people, and a refusal to continue with the policy of treating Palestinians as second-class citizens and worse. Only in that way is genuine peace possible.