Thursday, October 16, 2014

Creating Distrust

The second edition of Shaye Cohen's important book, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, has a poignant postscript to the preface:
The first edition of this book was published by the Westminster Press in 1987 in the Library of Early Christianity series edited by Wayne Meeks. I was delighted then to be associated with a Presbyterian publishing house. It is one of the blessings of America that a Presbyterian publisher would commission a Jew to write a book on early Judaism for a series oriented to students of the New Testament. This never happened in the old country. Eighteen years later I am grateful to Westminster John Knox Press for publishing this second edition and remain grateful to the press for its courtesies to me over the years. I am no longer happy, however, to be associated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the parent body of WJK, because I am deeply pained by the recent anti-Israel turn in its policies. The fact that WJK is editorially and fiscally independent of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) afford small consolation; by publishing this book with WJK I am associating myself perforce with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), an organization whose anti-Israel policies I condemn and distrust.
(Shaye J. D. Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, 2nd ed. [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006], xiii-xiv.)
Cohen did not elaborate the specific Church policies, but they are not difficult to find.

In 2004, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) adopted a policy of "selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel." They ostensibly backed down in 2006, but apparently this was only a PR stunt. According to this official document, the apology never happened and they have continued with divestment. In 2010, the denomination called for political demands against the Israeli government and in 2012 called for a "boycott of all Israeli products produced in the occupied Palestinian Territories."

This year the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) distributed a pamphlet by Kyle Christofalo pushing the boycott. Christofalo sends people to this site for a full list of companies that they think should be boycotted. Christofalo is vague about what he considers to be "illegal Israeli settlement;" his map seems to indicate that it includes almost the entire state of Israel. Christofalo not only urges people not to buy products but to write "to urge them not to sell products made in the settlements." (Sorry, you'll have to wade through the document to see the English errors associated with this sentence.)

Given the actions of the Presbyterian Church, I can see how Professor Cohen can be deeply pained and regard the Presbyterians with distrust.