A delegation of 14 leaders from the Presbyterian clergy, a church that in the past supported boycotting Israeli products manufactured in Judea and Samaria (Shomron), arrived last week to visit Israel.
The visit was organized by the America-Israel Friendship League (AIFL); the delegates' goal was to discover Israel personally and to better understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Representatives from the Presbyterian Church, which has an estimated six million followers, visited the Soda Stream factory which is located in Maaleh Adumim, east of Jerusalem. They spoke to representatives from the management and several employees.
While some United States-based religious groups, such as Evangelicals and Mormons, are known for their support of Israel, the Presbyterian Church has historically been critical of Israel, and has even supported boycotts of Israeli products such as “Ahava” and “Dkalim”.
In 2012, over 100 mainstream American Jewish organizations accused the Presbyterian Church's Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) of promoting anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist propaganda. Among other things, the IPMN had published a cartoon suggesting Jewish control of American policy.
In early 2014, the IPMN released a congregational study guide, titled "Zionism Unsettled," claiming that the Israel-Palestinian Arab conflict is fueled by a "pathology inherent in Zionism." The controversial guide prompted church leaders to release a statement saying that IPMN "speaks to the church and not for the church."
Delegates: Soda Stream good for peace
Soda Stream factory, located in Maale Adumim, employs 1300 employees; 500 are Palestinian Arabs from Judea and Samaria, 450 are Israeli Arabs and Jews. The company sees its factory as an oasis of peace.
The company recently found itself the focus of controversy as actress Scarlett Johansson came under fire for signing on to advertise Soda Stream products.
The Presbyterian delegates told representatives from Soda Stream that the visit to the factory strengthened their belief that the location of the factory enhances the business as well as the interpersonal relations between the Israelis and Palestinians and that they will express their support of Israel to the church administration and followers.
Ruby Shamir, Executive Director of AIFL Israel, stated, "These days when there are many voices calling to boycott Israel both in the business and academia regions, it is crucial to bring leaders and influential figures to change these ideas and to help form a positive and supportive opinion about Israel. This is yet another step towards the mission of the AIFL which is to strengthen the relationships between the American and Israeli people."
AIFL is dedicated to promoting and strengthening the relationship between the people of the United States and Israel. It frequently sends delegations to Israel to meet Israelis and visit religious, cultural and archeological sites.
Past delegations have included State Attorney’s General, business leaders, scholars, third year law school students, school superintendents, professors of law and Middle Eastern studies.