We previously discussed the growing boycott of Israel by various academic, political, and business groups. On Friday, another major organization joined the movement. The Presbyterian Church voted — by a razor thin margin of 310-303 — to join the boycott. The Church only has about $21 million in investment capital so this is not a significant financial hit for the Israeli government but the vote carried obviously considerable symbolic value for the boycott movement and could further damage tourism for Israel.
The American Jewish Committee in New York responded by denounced the Presbyterians for a vote “driven by hatred of Israel.” That is not what I would have recommended as a response, particularly in such a close vote. While there are valid arguments to be made against such boycotts, it is neither productive nor accurate to accuse the 1.8 million member church of simply being anti-Israel. They were obviously motivated by what they saw as a human rights issue due to the treatment of the Palestinians. Rather than attack the church as anti-Semitic or anti-Israel, it would have been better to address that concern and counter with countervailing arguments. Indeed, some opposing divestment took a more measured approach like Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the liberal Union for Reform Judaism, who objected that the Church vote was unfortunate because it would as a whole is no longer be “a partner for joint work on Israel-Palestine peace issues.”
The close vote reflected intense lobbying on both sides. Notably, this included Rabbis and other members of Jewish Voice for Peace, who advocated for divestment. Those Jewish advocates believe that only divestment will change government policies. Jewish advocates also lobbied against divestment.