BDS Loses by Losing

Karen Bleier / AFP / Getty Images

The Rumplestilskins of the BDS “movement” have had to work overtime to spin the soiled straw of defeat within the Mainline Protestant Churches into gold. But what can you expect from a “movement” that can keep a straight face when writing headlines such as “Pro-Divestment Presbyterians Win by Losing.” (The response to my piece on Open Zion by Alex Kane was one such example—albeit without such a tell-tale headline.)

Here on Earth, where “winning” usually involves actual victories, we need to remember that last week’s vote at the Presbyterian Church’s (PCUSA) 2012 General Assembly (GA) was not the first, second or even third but the fourth time the Presbyterians have rejected proposals to divest from Israel over the last eight years.

Naturally, BDS proponents (including Kane) have fixated on the closest of several votes taken on the issue last week. And for those unfamiliar with Presbyterian politics, a very tight vote can certainly give the appearance of momentum.

But Presbyterian politics are complicated, involving local groups of churches (called Presbyteries) proposing policies (called Overtures) which are debated by committees before being sent to the General Assembly for a final vote. And for the last decade, BDS proponents—working in collusion with church leaders—have made sure the committees debating Middle East issues are thoroughly stacked with BDS supporters.

The results have been predictable as one infiltrated committee after another has approved recommendations to make BDS the policy of the Presbyterian Church. But General Assembly voters keep refusing to play their assigned role of rubber stamp.

This year, BDS partisans did everything possible to narrow the choice of voting members to just voting the committee’s recommendation up or down. But instead, the Assembly took the extraordinary step of replacing this majority recommendation with a minority opinion that pushed for positive investment vs. negative divestment. It was this extraordinary choice to go against the norm that won by two votes. But once divestment was taken off the table, the new positive investment measure won overwhelmingly.

I suppose that BDS champions might be able to manipulate the language of their resolutions and the rules of parliamentary procedure to eke out an actual win in two years’ time. But keep in mind that the church actually approved a BDS position in 2004 (one that was rescinded by the church two years later). In other words, if BDS partisans really put their backs into it, by 2014 they might be able to get back to where they were a decade earlier.

Given how much divestment supporters invested in the key church votes they failed to achieve this year (the Methodists rejected divestment by a margin of more than two-to-one in May), one can understand why they want to highlight the bones the GA threw to them during the last few moments of Middle East debate (a debate which also ended with normally polite Presbyterians booing people who were still trying to keep the original divestment proposals alive long after they had been voted down multiple times).

But as far as I know, the Presbyterian and Methodist churches are not big buyers of cosmetic creams or dates, which means their votes to “boycott” Ahava and other Israeli companies boils down to asking other people to do things that one normally doesn’t turn to the church for guidance on. And if they want to claim a “choice of conscience” proposal (one that was immediately dismissed as unworkable) as an even greater victory than the actual divestment vote they failed to win after so much effort, I guess we can all assume that any investment the church continues to make in blacklisted companies represents an “act of conscience” to give BDS the finger.

The desire to speak in the name of a larger and more respected institution than BDS (which pretty much includes everyone) is why boycotters take such extreme measures to claim support where none exists.

And it helps explain the long series of fraudulent BDS stories we’ve seen recently, starting with a hoax that Hampshire College had divested from Israel in 2009 (they didn’t) and ending with recent claims that a Wall Street investment firm had pulled Caterpillar from their index for political reasons (although to be fair, the indexing firm in question just confirmed this lack of political motivation while BDSers were focused on generating spin to cover their 4th PCUSA divestment failure in eight years).

As I type, news has just come in that the Episcopalians have also overwhelmingly rejected divestment. Oh, and foreign direct investment in Israel doubled in 2011. But I suppose what seems like humiliating defeats to the untrained eye are really just two more victories for the unstoppable BDS juggernaut.