JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) vote to divest from three companies that do business with Israeli West Bank security forces.
Netanyahu, speaking Sunday to Jewish journalists from around the world at the inaugural Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem, said the vote late Friday to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard was misguided because Israel protects civil rights in a region with rising tides of Islamist extremism.
“The only place where you have freedom, tolerance, protection of minorities, protection of gays, of Christians and all other faiths is Israel,” he said.
Netanyahu suggested that American Presbyterian leaders “take a plane, come here and let’s arrange a bus tour in the region. Let them go to Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq.”
The prime minister told the more than 100 Jewish journalists gathered for the five-day summit that he sees three threats facing the Jewish people worldwide — heightened anti-Semitism in Europe, weakened Jewish identity in the United States and the rise of radical Islamist forces in the Middle East.
He lamented the June 12 kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank, as well as the death of a 13-year-old Israeli killed by an explosive Sunday in the Golan Heights.
“We as a people, our heart is broken about the kidnapping of every youth and the murder of every youth,” he said.
Netanyahu also repeated his call for the world to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons capability. He connected Iran’s Islamic government to conflicts between Sunni and Shiite groups in Iraq and Syria.
“It is the height of folly to allow one of the Islamist camps to have nuclear weapons,” he said. “It will change history.”
Netanyahu reiterated many of the same points during a Sunday morning interview from Jerusalem on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”
Speaking before Netanyahu at the summit, outgoing President Shimon Peres praised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ condemnation of the teens’ kidnapping and said Abbas is a good peace partner for Israel.
Peres encouraged Israel to restart peace talks, which Israel suspended in April after Abbas signed a reconciliation pact with Hamas, the terrorist group that governs Gaza.
“I think he is the best partner Israel ever had, and has now,” Peres said of Abbas. “I know him for 20 years. I think he’s a man of his word. I think he’s a man of courage.”
Netanyahu said earlier Sunday that Israel has clear evidence that Hamas participated in the kidnapping.
The Jewish Media Summit, which was organized by Israel’s Government Press Office, is set to occur every two years. More than 25 countries are represented at the event, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.