Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Friday, July 30, 2004

The Anti-Semitism of the Presbyterian Divestment

When the PC(USA)'s General Assembly voted to divest the denomination's funds from corporations doing business with Israel (see my post), many folks in the blogosphere jumped to condemn the action as anti-Semitic (including the big guy). At the time, it struck me that people were being too quick to play the anti-Semitism card. Playing that card whenever Israel comes into criticism is a problem for two reasons. First, it tends to silence legitimate criticism of Israel, which is no more perfect and no more immune from constructive criticism than any other polity. Second, over time, playing the anti-Semitism card every time somebody criticizes Israel tends devalue the moral authority of that card. (Remember the story of the boy who cried wolf?)

In an Opinion Journal column, however, Jay Lefkowitz suggests:

A more nuanced standard, and one that properly recognizes that legitimate criticism of Israel is perfectly appropriate, was articulated last year by Natan Sharansky. A member of the Israeli cabinet who for years had been a prisoner of conscience in the Soviet gulag, Mr. Sharansky defined one current expression of anti-Semitism by three features: the application of double standards to Israel, the demonization of Israel and the delegitimization of Israel.
Fair enough. A nuanced standard indeed. Applying it, Lefkowitz goes on to make a persuasive case that the Presbyterian divestment was anti-Semitic:
The recent action by the Presbyterian Church sadly satisfies Mr. Sharansky's test. The church has singled out Israel, alone among all the nations of the world, for divestment. It has demonized Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, and it has delegitimized Israel's right to self-defense.
The church is not calling for divestment of its $7 billion portfolio from China, despite China's denial of the most basic political and religious rights and its particularly harsh treatment of followers of Falun Gong. It is not condemning Russia, even though Russia's policies in Chechnya are by any human-rights standard atrocious. It is not even calling for economic sanctions against Syria or Iran, whose human-rights records for their own people are egregious and whose Jewish citizens are denied the basic civil rights and liberties afforded to all Israelis, including its Arab citizens, some of whom even serve in the Knesset.
Lefkowitz also notes:
In contrast to the action taken by the Presbyterian Church this month, the Roman Catholic Church has recognized that one-sided criticism of Israel can at times be so grotesque that there is no name to describe it other than anti-Semitism. And in a document ironically signed the same week as the Presbyterian General Assembly, the Catholic Church equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism.
As regular readers know, I left the Presbyterian Church several years ago and converted to Catholicism. These events are just one more reason I'm glad I changed teams.


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According to JTA: "A church divided" A recent poll by the Presbyterian Church USA shows lay members oppose the leadership’s decision to divest from Israel. Some 42 percent of members and 46 percent of elders oppose “selective phased divestment,” ... [Read More]

Tracked on Feb 20, 2005 3:15:50 PM