An anodyne statement with a bombshell stuck inside, the recent motion by the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) to divest from 3 companies with ties to the Israeli military (you can read it here) highlights fundamental confusions that are basic to the combination of religion and politics in contemporary American life. On one hand, the PCUSA votes to divest from three companies (Motorola Solutions, Caterpillar, and Hewlett Packard) while rejecting BDS and supporting a 2 state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. The end result is that PCUSA will have tied itself up into moral, political, and religious knots. The more neutral content supporting peace and interfaith cooperation will do little to deflect attention to what is outstanding about this statement. What looks like a desperate attempt to claim a middle position at the PCUSA assembly in Detroit, and to envelop that bombshell in the rhetoric of Christian love and fellowship, provokes at least three critical questions about the intersection of (Christian) religion and (Middle East) politics that remain at the core of the vote promoting BDS.
 That much of the rhetoric surrounding the vote is meant to align Christian religion with social-justice politics opens a Pandora’s box. What other companies with ties to what other countries with massive human rights violations is in the Church financial portfolio? In the secular world, critics of BDS often claim that BDS unfairly holds the State of Israel to a double standard. Outside the church, the counter-argument is that the political decision to act in some cases but not others is always selective, and ad hoc. While this may be true in the purely political sphere, the position by the PCUSA is framed as religious and moral. Unlike a more purely political organization, a church based group cannot afford selective morality. The vote promoting BDS calls for greater scrutiny of the financial holdings at the PCUSA. When a religious organization engages in selective political morality, it has to find a religious cover or justification, such as the one offered by Bill Ward, Presbytery of the Inland Northwest, based in Spokane, Washington, who argued that the vote “is motivated by stewardship integrity, not partisan political advocacy. It is not anti-Israel nor is it pro-Palestinian beyond the matter of human rights.” Statements like these only work to submerge the political-symbolic substance of the debate.
 Consider one way in which religious rhetoric acts to cover the ramifications of a political act. The vote was amended several times in the interest of maintaining a spirit of interfaith cooperation. The measure passed insists that the vote not “be construed or represented by any organization of the PC(USA) as divestment from the State of Israel, or an alignment with or endorsement of the global BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement.”It is hard to see, however, how divestment from these three companies does not count as support for BDS, or how it will not impact relations between Presbyterians and U.S. Jews, at the national, if not local level. Clearly, both supporters and critics of the vote see in it a powerful mainstream Christian voice of support for BDS. After the vote, Heath Rada who led the proceedings, was widely quoted, insisting that “[i]n no way is this a reflection of our lack of love for our Jewish sisters and brothers.”About this not particularly apt statement, one can imagine critics of the vote asking what would, in fact, reflect a “lack of love” for “[their] Jewish sisters and brothers”? What will be taken in many American Jewish circles, especially interfaith ones, as a political stick in the eye, the divestment vote appear to have very little to do with love, peace, and trust.
 Christian denominations boycotting, divesting, and sanctioning a Jewish majority state and society will be subjected to the scrutiny of critics alert to anti-Semitic dog whistling. It will be difficult, indeed, to divest the complicated relation between Christian doctrine and Judaism from this decision, as hard as some supporters of the measure will try to have it. Presbyterians and members of other Christian denominations are going to have to decide for themselves how to invest their faith into politics and their politics into faith as both relate to the conflict in Israel-Palestine, and to be careful with theological stock figures. It stands to reason that interfaith relations with the Jewish community might now come to be shadowed by the more radical members of the community as represented by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network and the recently published “Zionism Unsettled,” a teaching resource which among other things calls Zionism a “false theology.” The Church leadership has disavowed this document, but interested observers will want now to pay close attention to particular doctrinal and narrative theological frame used to support this or that expression of Christian BDS.
I’m willing to bet that for most members inside the PCUSA that the vote supporting BDS represents less overall hostility to the State of Israel or to the Jewish people writ large than a symptom of distress regarding the current Israel-Palestine impasse and the intensification of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. If so, cooler heads opposed to the vote might treat this as a tactical loss, not a strategic disaster or turning point. To turn this vote into a pyrrhic victory for BDS would involve committing resources to strengthening Jewish-Presbyterian ties with a heightened focus on supporting Israel and Palestine together, by promoting candid discussions about the conflict and the occupation in particular, by advancing a solution to the conflict based on the principles of mutual recognition and two states for two people, by dampening down politics based upon religious dissension rather than reconciliation, as well as by increased vigilance to anti-Semitism when it appears in relation to Israel-Palestine politics both outside and inside the Church and its doctrinal structures.
(From the opposite political perspective of the one here, Marc Ellis makes very similar points over at Mondoweiss, that the vote could actually strengthen support for Israel and marginalize BDS. They are worth reading here in their entirety.)