Gray Flannel Dwarf

8/6/2005

A Defense of the PCUSA versus charges of Anti-Semitism

I just read this article from the NYTimes (registration possibly required), titled “Threat to Divest Is Church Tool in Israeli Fight“, which is about the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) threatening to divest from companies who, in its opinion, is aiding and/or supplying the Israeli military. I’m kind of disgusted by it, actually.

If Johnnie Cochran played the so-called “race card”, then some of the people interviewed for this article played the full-on anti-Semitism royal flush.

Rabbi Cooper said the Protestant churches were ignoring the current “reality on the ground” – that Israel is preparing to withdraw this month from Gaza and remove settlements there. “Instead of divesting, these churches should be investing,” he said. “There is so much humanitarian need on the ground in the Holy Land. We’re not telling them: ‘Stay out of it. It’s not your business.’ There’s a ton of work to be done.”

He called the churches’ actions “functionally anti-Semitic.” But he said that after attending the conventions of the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ this year, he concluded that the resolutions were being “rammed through” by denominational leaders and were not reflective of the churches’ grassroots membership.

I am not so sure I agree with Rabbi Cooper on this and the way he framed his statement, donning the cloak of humanitarianism, when he suggests the need to invest rather than divest. I find it particularly misleading, especially when the debate is about supplying militaries. Furthermore, as protestant leadership organisations go, that of the PCUSA church has been one of the more progressive ones out there; as one might expect, a large plurality of its congregation shares those goals. It is unlikely anything is being “crammed through” its councils, at least.

The companies in question have, of course, voiced their opinion in the debate, too…

The Presbyterians gave a variety of reasons for choosing these five companies. It accused Caterpillar of selling Israel heavy equipment used for demolishing Palestinian homes, and of constructing roads and infrastructure in the occupied territories and Israeli settlements.

The company released a statement saying: “For the past four years, activists have wrongly included Caterpillar in a publicity campaign aimed at advancing their much larger political agendas. Over that same period of time we’ve repeatedly evaluated our position, as have our shareholders, and determined that while the protests occasionally succeed in getting headlines, they neither change the facts nor our position.”

The Presbyterian committee said in its announcement that it included United Technologies Corporation, a military contractor, because a subsidiary provides helicopters used by the Israeli military “in attacks in the occupied territories against suspected Palestinian terrorists.”

A company spokesman, Paul Jackson, responded by e-mail: “UTC has been widely recognized as an ethical and responsible corporation. Work on military programs is stringently regulated by the U.S. government, and UTC complies wholly with all policies and related regulations.”

The church said it identified Motorola because the company has a contract to develop wireless encrypted communications for the Israeli military in the territories and is a “majority investor in one of Israel’s four cell phone companies.”

Norman Sandler, a manager for Motorola on global issues, said the church’s action “came completely out of the blue.” He said the company supplies radio products to Israel, as well as to many Arab countries.

ITT also made the church’s list because, the committee said, it supplies the Israeli military with “communications, electronic and night vision equipment used by its forces in the occupied territories.” A spokesman for ITT did not respond to a message left on Friday afternoon.

Leah Johnson, a spokeswoman for Citigroup, said: “Any assertion that Citigroup supports terrorism in any way is an outrage. We take all possible measures to ensure that our institution is not used by criminals or as a conduit to fund terrorist activities.”

..but as far as I’m concerned, these statements are irrelevant to the issue at hand. In all, it’s total BS. Now, whether an organisation — or individual — comes to believe that the companies in which it or he invests is supporting an environment of turmoil is one thing, and that is the sole opinion of the investor(s). Nothing can change that. However, to play the straw man, to make blanket generalisations, to play the victim, it’s pretty damned pitiful.

If this is what the PCUSA church believes — that’s fine, and if, from its worldview, the best way to reduce violence and escalation is to divest from companies it believes to promote these things, that’s its own prerogative.

If I see two kids throwing rocks at each other, I don’t care who started it, I don’t care who has caused more injury, I am certainly not going to supply either one of those kids with more ammunition, and I can’t see how it would possibly improve the situation by doing so. Nevermind Biblical teachings about always turning the other cheek… how is aiding either party going to help things?

If the PCUSA church truly believes that these companies escalate the tension in the middle east, it has every right — and perhaps even obligation — to avoid doing so. Doing otherwise would mean blood on its hands. The church as a body should, in the vast majority of cases, be a conscientious objector. The closest to any rational pro-bellum argument that I can think of is that of Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who did ponder a great deal about — and indeed lost his life over — whether it is ever righteous for Christians as a whole to support a military resistance against oppression. This said, the struggles between Israelis and Palestinians hardly meet the burden of proof for such an argument.

Whether it is an investment in Halliburton, supplying the US military in Iraq, or an investment in a company who apparently supplies the Israeli military, the church has no place in promoting violence. To say the church is “anti-Semitic” because of this decision is a cop-out, and a weak, desparate one at that. I find it all terribly disappointing.

The PCUSA church has done a great deal to strengthen awareness of social injustices around the world . Some might even go so far as to argue that it has come at the cost of church membership, noting the ever increasing vigilence with regards to injustice, at the same time that the PCUSA’s congregation finds itself in a steady population decline, as it focuses more on social issues and less on retention. Even if this were the case, though — and such a correlation may not be valid — to follow such a guiding principle to its end does not lessen the righteousness of such goals. The point stands — I can’t understand how refusing to support military-industrial complexes can be seen as a “morally reprehensible” action — much less “functionally anti-Semitic”.


cswiii @ 1:01 am

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