Commentary Magazine


Topic: Presbyterian Church USA

Presbyterians Declare War on the Jews

In the last decade, several mainstream American Protestant denominations have flirted with resolutions endorsing boycotts of companies doing business with Israel. Most of these efforts have been defeated, albeit narrowly, by strenuous efforts by Jewish groups determined to preserve good interfaith relations as well as by Christians who wanted no part of a movement dedicated to waging economic war on a democratic state. In most cases, these battles have involved a small cadre of left-wing activists involved in church leadership groups that had little support among ministers, and even less among rank-and-file church members. Thus, even the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), a church that has a particularly virulent group of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activists working in positions of influence, failed to pass a divestment resolution in 2012. But despite that defeat, those anti-Israel elements have now regrouped and launched a new initiative that threatens to escalate the battle within the church and to undermine any remnant of good will that still exists between this Presbyterian group (the PCUSA is just one among a number of groups that call themselves Presbyterians) and American Jews.

As the Times of Israel reports, the Presbyterians’ Israel Palestinian Mission Network (IPMN) has issued a “study guide” about the Middle East conflict that will forever change the relationship between the church and the Jewish people. The 74-page illustrated booklet and companion DVD entitled Zionism Unsettled was published last month for use by the church’s 2.4 million members. Unlike other left-wing critiques of Israel, the Presbyterian pamphlet isn’t content to register disapproval of Israeli policies and West Bank settlements or to lament the plight of the Palestinians. The booklet is a full-blown attack against the very concept of Zionism and seeks to compare Zionism to the Christian anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust and other historical atrocities. Its purpose is to brand Israel as an illegitimate entity and to treat its American Jewish supporters as having strayed from the values of their religion. Zionism Unsettled not only swallows the Palestinian narrative about Middle East history whole, it is nothing less than a declaration of war on Israel and American Jewry.

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In the last decade, several mainstream American Protestant denominations have flirted with resolutions endorsing boycotts of companies doing business with Israel. Most of these efforts have been defeated, albeit narrowly, by strenuous efforts by Jewish groups determined to preserve good interfaith relations as well as by Christians who wanted no part of a movement dedicated to waging economic war on a democratic state. In most cases, these battles have involved a small cadre of left-wing activists involved in church leadership groups that had little support among ministers, and even less among rank-and-file church members. Thus, even the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), a church that has a particularly virulent group of pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activists working in positions of influence, failed to pass a divestment resolution in 2012. But despite that defeat, those anti-Israel elements have now regrouped and launched a new initiative that threatens to escalate the battle within the church and to undermine any remnant of good will that still exists between this Presbyterian group (the PCUSA is just one among a number of groups that call themselves Presbyterians) and American Jews.

As the Times of Israel reports, the Presbyterians’ Israel Palestinian Mission Network (IPMN) has issued a “study guide” about the Middle East conflict that will forever change the relationship between the church and the Jewish people. The 74-page illustrated booklet and companion DVD entitled Zionism Unsettled was published last month for use by the church’s 2.4 million members. Unlike other left-wing critiques of Israel, the Presbyterian pamphlet isn’t content to register disapproval of Israeli policies and West Bank settlements or to lament the plight of the Palestinians. The booklet is a full-blown attack against the very concept of Zionism and seeks to compare Zionism to the Christian anti-Semitism that led to the Holocaust and other historical atrocities. Its purpose is to brand Israel as an illegitimate entity and to treat its American Jewish supporters as having strayed from the values of their religion. Zionism Unsettled not only swallows the Palestinian narrative about Middle East history whole, it is nothing less than a declaration of war on Israel and American Jewry.

As a work of political science or history, Zionism Unsettled is unworthy of serious discussion. Its argument rests on the prejudiced assumption that the Jews are the one people on earth that are unworthy of self-determination or the same rights to a homeland as any other on the planet. It smears those who sought to create the Jewish homeland and whitewashes those who have waged war and engaged in terrorism to destroy it. Ignoring history and the reality of virulent anti-Jewish prejudice in the Arab and Muslim world, it claims Jewish life would thrive in the region if there were no Israel. If that absurd assertion were not enough to strip it of even a vestige of credibility, it goes so far as to claim that the tiny, intimidated remnant of Jewish life in an Iran ruled by a vicious anti-Semitic regime is a model of coexistence.

With regard to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, it sees only black and white. In Zionism Unsettled, the Jews have no right to Israel and no right to defend themselves. On the other hand, it rationalizes and even justifies violence against Israel.

But the argument goes further than anti-Zionism. The pamphlet actually criticizes the Catholic Church for its historic efforts at reconciliation with the Jewish people, saying the 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate that rejected the Deicide myth against the Jews “raises as many questions as it answers.”

Unlike past controversies in which Jewish groups sought to bridge the divide between the two communities, the distribution of a publication that is driven by sheer hatred and a determination to see Israel destroyed requires a more forthright response. The response to this screed should be unequivocal. Any Presbyterian Church USA that chooses to distribute it is not merely offending supporters of Israel. It is endorsing hate speech and seeking to spread a doctrine that seeks Israel’s destruction and views Jews who do not reject Zionism as guilty of complicity in the “crimes” of the Jewish state. With this publication, the PCUSA has crossed a line that divides people of good will from those who promote racism or anti-Semitism. The many decent members of congregations affiliated with the PCUSA can no longer stand by mutely while the good name of their church is sullied in this manner. They must either actively reject this ugly publication or forever be tainted by association with the vile hatred to which their leadership has committed them. 

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Attack on Israel Must End Interfaith Sham

For mainstream American Jewish groups, it has long been an article of faith that strong alliances with liberal Protestant denominations with whom they shared a common agenda on domestic issues is integral to the safeguarding of the security and the rights of the Jewish community. That has been tested in recent years, as some of their liberal Christian partners debated supporting efforts to boycott, divest and sanction the state of Israel. But the latest instance of liberal Christians attacking Israel ought to cut the cord completely.

As the Times of Israel and JTA report, the leaders of several of the leading American Protestant denominations and one small Catholic group have signed a letter calling for a congressional investigation whose purpose would be to end U.S. aid to Israel. The letter alleges that Israel is involved in crimes that violate U.S. law that should prevent the sending of aid or arms to the Jewish state. These charges are a tissue of deceptions, distortions and outright lies that are the product of Palestinian propaganda. (Though some of it is supported by radical leftist Jewish groups like B’Tselem, whose leaders own ambivalence toward Zionism has been documented in COMMENTARY.) The main focus of the letter is to delegitimize Israeli self-defense and to ignore the reality of Palestinian intransigence and opposition to peace. However, the reaction of Jewish groups to this latest development should not be ambivalent. To its credit, the Anti-Defamation League has said it will withdraw from a national Jewish-Christian dialogue event. They should not be the only Jewish group to do so.

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For mainstream American Jewish groups, it has long been an article of faith that strong alliances with liberal Protestant denominations with whom they shared a common agenda on domestic issues is integral to the safeguarding of the security and the rights of the Jewish community. That has been tested in recent years, as some of their liberal Christian partners debated supporting efforts to boycott, divest and sanction the state of Israel. But the latest instance of liberal Christians attacking Israel ought to cut the cord completely.

As the Times of Israel and JTA report, the leaders of several of the leading American Protestant denominations and one small Catholic group have signed a letter calling for a congressional investigation whose purpose would be to end U.S. aid to Israel. The letter alleges that Israel is involved in crimes that violate U.S. law that should prevent the sending of aid or arms to the Jewish state. These charges are a tissue of deceptions, distortions and outright lies that are the product of Palestinian propaganda. (Though some of it is supported by radical leftist Jewish groups like B’Tselem, whose leaders own ambivalence toward Zionism has been documented in COMMENTARY.) The main focus of the letter is to delegitimize Israeli self-defense and to ignore the reality of Palestinian intransigence and opposition to peace. However, the reaction of Jewish groups to this latest development should not be ambivalent. To its credit, the Anti-Defamation League has said it will withdraw from a national Jewish-Christian dialogue event. They should not be the only Jewish group to do so.

The point here is that the letter, as well as the divestment activities of some of these churches, is nothing less than a declaration of war on the Jewish state. So long as these religious groups dedicate themselves to promoting libels against Israel, denouncing the security fence that has saved countless lives from Palestinian terrorism and seeks to isolate Israel and cut it off from its only ally and source of military aid, business as usual between them and American Jewry must end.

Some Jews see such dialogue efforts as an end in itself, but this is a fallacy. Any interfaith program must be based on mutual respect and any church group that aligns itself with Israel’s enemies lacks respect for Jewish life. Dialogue on those terms is a sham.

That these church groups couch their letter in language that seeks to portray their efforts as those of “peacemakers” is all the more offensive. Far from promoting peace, these anti-Zionist clerics are actually fomenting violence by undermining Israeli defensive measures and thereby encouraging Palestinians to think they can succeed in isolating Israel.

The letter, signed by, among others, the leaders of the National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, United Methodist Church, American Baptist Churches, U.S.A., the American Friends Service Committee, and other groups, including the Catholic Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, is also particularly vile since it seeks to extend the BDS movement from church investments to the instruments of American foreign policy. It is nothing less than a manifesto seeking to sever the U.S.-Israel alliance and therefore cast the still-besieged Jewish state adrift in a hostile region bent on its destruction.

That the groups should have sent the letter only days after Iran repeated its latest slanders and threats is ironic but no coincidence. Despite their protestations of a desire for peace and non-violence, these churches have been remarkably silent about the religious persecution going on in Iran. It is only little, democratic Israel that is beset by enemies seeking its destruction that attracts their passionate opposition.

It should be specified that in most cases, these positions are largely the work of a small group of left-wing activists that dominate the public affairs policy work of their churches. Most rank-and-file members of Presbyterian, Lutheran and Methodist churches are, like most Americans, strong supporters of Israel and have little idea that this assault on Israel is being done in their name. But it is incumbent on them as well as other decent church leaders to denounce this letter and other BDS activities. Until they do, no American Jewish group should have any dealings with the signatories or the groups involved in this letter.

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Narrow BDS Defeat Nothing to Celebrate

By the narrowest of margins, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA defeated a resolution calling for divestment from companies that do business with Israel’s security forces. The 333-331 vote was the closest the anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement has come to getting a major American Christian denomination to endorse such a measure. The close vote is a victory of sorts for the Jewish groups, such as the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA) that lobbied hard to defeat the motion. But the narrow margin is a virtual guarantee that divestment advocates will be back next year with expectations of victory at the Presbyterian conclave as well as at other gatherings of mainline Protestant groups.

Though there is little support for Israel divestment among the rank and file members of Presbyterian congregations, there is no denying the growing appeal among church activists for BDS proposals. The defeat of BDS this week may show that a narrow majority of Presbyterian delegates still understands that a vote for such a resolution involves the church in what amounts to an economic war against the Jewish state and a potential break in relations with American Jews. But the close call may indicate that support for anti-Zionism among liberal Protestant groups such as the Presbyterians is on the rise and it may only be a matter of time before they prevail.

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By the narrowest of margins, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA defeated a resolution calling for divestment from companies that do business with Israel’s security forces. The 333-331 vote was the closest the anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement has come to getting a major American Christian denomination to endorse such a measure. The close vote is a victory of sorts for the Jewish groups, such as the Jewish Council on Public Affairs (JCPA) that lobbied hard to defeat the motion. But the narrow margin is a virtual guarantee that divestment advocates will be back next year with expectations of victory at the Presbyterian conclave as well as at other gatherings of mainline Protestant groups.

Though there is little support for Israel divestment among the rank and file members of Presbyterian congregations, there is no denying the growing appeal among church activists for BDS proposals. The defeat of BDS this week may show that a narrow majority of Presbyterian delegates still understands that a vote for such a resolution involves the church in what amounts to an economic war against the Jewish state and a potential break in relations with American Jews. But the close call may indicate that support for anti-Zionism among liberal Protestant groups such as the Presbyterians is on the rise and it may only be a matter of time before they prevail.

The three companies targeted for divestment in the vote were Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett-Packard. Though church activists considered the resolution to be distinct from a broad BDS vote, even this proposal betrayed the malevolent nature of the anti-Israel movement. Motorola and Hewlett-Packard produce devices that help the Israel Defense Forces monitor security checkpoints for terrorist explosives and other dangers. Caterpillar vehicles help construct Israel’s defense barrier that keeps out suicide bombers as well as demolish illegal construction and structures that shield terrorist activities.

Thus, even this narrow divestment resolution amounts to a Presbyterian endorsement of the actions of Palestinian terrorists in Gaza and the West Bank that Israeli security forces seek to prevent. Far from being a neutral sentiment aimed at conveying sympathy for oppressed Palestinians, such a divestment vote would have been a declaration that a major American church group thinks Israel doesn’t have the right to defend itself against terrorism.

That American Christians who profess to care about human rights would stand aloof from the dozens of other conflicts around the world where humanitarian catastrophes exist while concentrating their energy on trying to punish Israel is a shocking statement of their bias. Those who judge the Jewish state differently from other nations are engaging in a form of prejudice that is indistinguishable from anti-Semitism. Seen in that light, the BDS effort is no longer a well-meaning if misguided attempt to promote solidarity with the Palestinians but a vicious statement that reminds us of the link between anti-Zionism and Jew-hatred. The presence of far left Jews at the Presbyterian conclave such as the so-called Jewish Voices for Peace that actually lobbied for divestment illustrates just how misguided efforts to include such persons in the Jewish community can be.

While a Presbyterian vote in favor of divestment would have been a far greater disaster, this close call is nothing to celebrate. The vote is an ominous portent of the shift among liberal Protestants against Israel and in favor of an anti-Semitic war on the Jewish state. The fight against divestment is just beginning.

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