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US Christians Consider Actions to Punish Israel

The Presbyterian General Assembly, seen here in a 2012 file photo, will consider a vote to end investments with companies whose products are used by the Israeli government in the Palestinian territories. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)
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One of America’s oldest Christian groups is holding leadership meetings this week. The assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA is taking place in Detroit, Michigan.

One proposal under consideration is a plan to end investments with companies that do business with Israel. Delegates are set to vote on the measure this Friday. If approved, the Presbyterian Church would be the largest religious organization in the U.S. to approve sanctions against Israel.

Beverly Dempsey is the acting head of the Western Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. She offers prayers for the Presbyterian leaders meeting in Detroit.

“As the general assembly moves into full swing, there are many issues that do threaten to tear the PCUSA apart.”

Like other traditional Protestant groups, the Presbyterian Church USA has been losing members. The Church has fewer than two million members. Same-sex marriage and other issues have often divided church goers.

One of those other issues is a proposal to cancel investments in American companies whose products are used by Israel in the occupied territories. If the plan is approved, it would be a major victory for the Boycott Divest and Sanctions movement. The movement wants sanctions to punish Israel, similar to those used against South Africa during its white minority rule.

Susan Wilder is with the Presbyterian Israel/Palestine Mission Network. She says the proposal is not aimed at reducing or destroying the rights of Israel.

“But we do need to shine a spotlight on Israel’s – on bad policies. You know we’re not -- This isn’t about good guys and bad guts, or being against Israel, or wanting to isolate Israel or even punish Israel. This is about wanting to shine a spotlight on actions that are harming everyone.”

John Wimberly is a retired clergyman. He formerly served at the Western Presbyterian church.

“There is a 2,000 year history of economic sanctions being used by Christians aimed at Jews, and it’s a bloody and it’s a nasty history, and that is kind of my bottom line opposition is right there.”

John Wimberly says the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement ignores Palestinian attacks on Israel. And he thinks the movement has been pushed by activists from outside the church.

“This divestment thing has come up ever since 2004 at every general assembly. And every general assembly, the Presbyterian church, which is kind of a progressive body, has defeated it. So Israel has lots of friends in the mainline churches.”

But supporters of Israel fear a vote in support of the proposal could lead similar action by other religious groups. That would leave Israel with fewer friends among more liberal Protestant Christians.