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.