Are any of you capable of pronouncing the word Presbyterian? Does any of you know who they are? The small, but influential, liberal Protestant church held its biennial (22nd) meeting in Detroit last week, and last Friday it decided to divest from American companies which trade and do business with Israel.
This decision has huge ramifications for the Israeli public.
Since 2004, a small but loud minority of anti-Israel activists within the Presbyterian Church has tried to convince the church's General Assembly six times to support the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel.
This General Assembly meeting also included 10 motions about Israel, nine of them against Israel. The main issue up for discussion was whether the church should divest from three American companies which have business relations with Israel: Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Motorola.
One of the motions questioned Israel's right to exist and called on the church to reconsider its stance in favor of two states for two people.
The church passed extremely biased resolutions against Israel, but this received little media attention in Israel. One of the adopted resolutions seeks to examine the church's policy on supporting a two-states-for-two-people solution. Another resolution supports the rights of children in "Israel and Palestine," but only supports the rights of Palestinian children and makes no mention of the kidnapping of three Israeli teens by terrorists.
There are at least 13 conflicts in the world with millions of wounded, dead and refugees, and the Presbyterians are failing to address most of them. Why are they focusing on Israel?
This anti-Israel activity is only one example of a strategy which uses churches to advance a boycott of Israel, as part of the strategy formed in the 2001 Durban Conference for the "complete and total isolation of Israel as an apartheid state" through "the imposition of mandatory and comprehensive sanctions and embargoes, the full cessation of all links (diplomatic, economic, social, aid, military cooperation and training) between all states and Israel."
The central pillar of this strategy is using the churches' moral voice to advance BDS. Indeed, the BDS movement's website declares openly that "religious institutions are seen in many communities as embodying important moral and ethical principles… Not only will successful divestment campaigns financially weaken the occupation, but will raise both the public profile and legitimacy of the BDS campaign."
BDS activists in churches in the United States, Canada and Europe are trying to advance this goal with religious passion. Even worse, the European and US governments are funding these attempts to undermine Israel's legitimacy.
These tax funds are given to religious humanitarian organizations which hand the money over to radical political organizations in Israel and to Christian organizations which are advancing a boycott and in some cases using anti-Semitic theology, including the killing of Jesus. The governmental grants given to these organizations create interreligious friction and negatively affect the chances of reaching peace.
The Presbyterian Church's influence goes beyond its own members (about 1.8 million believers). This church has deep roots in the American culture, even before the United States' establishment. Other liberal protestant churches follow the Presbyterians' decisions closely. Now that this church has decided to divest from companies doing business with Israel, there is a concern that other churches will do the same.
The battle over Israel's reputation in the churches is not lost. There are many groups working for Israel, including Christian allies who are working day and night to curb anti-Israel initiatives in their churches.
In addition, most liberal Christian Americans are against the politicization and radicalization of religious institutions. The relations between Jews and Christians in the US are very good, and most churches don't want to damage these relations.
And finally, most Christian liberals support the Jewish people's right for a sovereign state in the framework of two states for two people.
The vote passed in Detroit is outrageous and poses a high risk for Israel. We may not know how to pronounce the word Presbyterian, but that doesn't matter. The important thing is to know that the decision made by this small church could have serious ramifications for us in Israel.
Yitzhak Santis is the chief programs officer at the NGO Monitor research institution and head of the BDS in the Pews research project.