Later this month, the Presbyterian Church USA will hold its biennial General Assembly at which delegates will decide whether one of the country’s mainstream Protestant denominations will fully embrace an economic war on Israel and the Jewish people. But the battle over resolutions that endorse divestment from companies that do business with Israel is not confined to the debates at that gathering. Presbyterian activists have been working hard over the last two years when similar proposals narrowly failed at the last PCUSA biennial to create an atmosphere of hatred against the Jewish state and its supporters. Earlier this year, a church-affiliated group published an outrageous book and companion CD titled Zionism Unsettled that crossed all boundaries between legitimate criticism of Israeli policies and open hostility toward both Israel and Jewish peoplehood. Much of that effort smacked of traditional anti-Semitism, but press arms of the church are also fueling the fires of hate with misleading charges against Israel that are intended to boost the divestment campaign.
One such example, involving the so-called Tent of Nations, a pro-Palestinian rallying point in the West Bank claimed that Israeli forces not only oppress Palestinians but also sought to wage war on their trees. The PCUSA News Service wrote that the Israeli military wantonly destroyed between 1,500 and 2,000 trees planted at the site on property owned by a Palestinian farmer. In this version of the episode, parroted by other left-wing Protestant sites, Israel was seeking to seize Palestinian land and ignoring its own courts. But the truth, as this report from the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) points out, is that much of this tale is pure propaganda built on an edifice of falsehoods.
As CAMERA notes, the first thing that is wrong with this story is that the Israel Defense Forces did not violate court orders when it uprooted the trees at the Tent of Nations site. While the Palestinian family was able to prove they owned an adjacent hilltop, they have consistently failed in the courts to prove their assertions that they also own the valley where the trees were planted. The family lost the case in Israel’s independent courts. Though they argue that it has been theirs for a century, there is no evidence that it was ever cultivated or in any way occupied by them until just a few years ago when, in an effort to demonstrate ownership, they planted some trees. It is also worth pointing out, as aerial photos taken by the Israelis proved, there were no more than 300 recently planted trees there, not the thousands that the Palestinians and their Presbyterian friends claimed. The entire point of the tree planting was not agriculture but politics and an effort to goad the Israeli government into taking action that can be portrayed as oppression but which is actually upholding the rule of law.
This story proves that in order to libel Israel, these Presbyterian activists will do just about anything, including making vast exaggerations and distortions in order to whip up anger at the Jewish state. But what else can we expect from a church that produced a book like Zionism Unsettled which seeks to portray all of Israel and not just the West Bank settlements as a crime against humanity. In seeking to brand all Israel supporters as co-conspirators in the plot against the Palestinians, the pro-BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) crowd is burning even its bridges with left-wing Israelis and American Jews like J Street. Even the left-wing lobby understands that what is at stake in this battle with church activists is not merely a symbolic resolution but an effort to delegitimize the Jewish people.
It bears repeating that most American Presbyterians have no interest in backing a campaign of hate against Israel and Jews. To the contrary, most mainline Protestants, including those affiliated with PCUSA churches or who serve as their pastors, are not comfortable with the fact that a small group of radical activists have hijacked their church. But given the nature of the incitement produced by official church groups, PCUSA congregants can no longer claim ignorance or indifference about what is being done in their name. If their representatives vote to join those waging war on Israel later this month, the church will have ended any hope of future relations with either Jews or Christians of conscience.