A delegation of leaders from the Presbyterian Church, which has had fraught relations with Israel and supported boycotting products manufactured in the settlements, visited Israel last week in an effort to better understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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The group of 14 leaders made a stop at the SodaStream factory in the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, which was embroiled in controversy last month after actress Scarlett Johansson signed on to become a spokeswoman for the firm – a move that ultimately forced her to sever ties with the rights group Oxfam due to what it said was a conflict of interests.
The Presbyterian delegates spoke to members of SodaStream management and to employees. They told company representatives that the visit to the factory strengthened their belief that its location enhances business and interpersonal ties between Israelis and Palestinians. They also said they would express support of Israel to the church's administration and followers.
The visit was organized by the America-Israel Friendship League (AIFL), whose aim is to "strengthen the relationships between the American and Israeli people."
The Presbyterian Church has for years been critical of Israel over its policies toward the Palestinians, and has supported boycotting Israeli firms located beyond the Green Line, including beauty and skincare company Ahava.
"These days when there are many voices calling to boycott Israel both in business and academia, it is crucial to bring leaders and influential figures to change these ideas and to help form a positive and supportive opinion about Israel," said Ruby Shamir, executive director of AIFL in Israel.
The most recent commotion involving Israel and the church came just last month, when the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church released a study guide assailing Zionism. The guide blamed a "pathology inherent in Zionism" for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, outraging Jewish groups.