The disconnect between the views of the leadership of mainline Protestant churches on the Middle East and those of the rank-and-file members of their congregations has been growing in recent decades. Activists and leading clergy of liberal Protestant denominations have embraced the Palestinian cause while most of those who attend their churches are, like most Americans, warm supporters of Israel. But in the case of at least one of these churches — the Presbyterian Church USA — the gap between those who speak in the name of these institutions and those whom they claim to represent has grown to the point where communal relations are at the brink of a breakdown. Institutions connected with the Presbyterians have become a font of anti-Israel invective that has crossed the line into outright anti-Semitism.
In the course of promoting their anti-Israel policies, church leaders have engaged in rhetoric that seeks not only to delegitimize the state of Israel but also the Jewish community. The actions and statements of the church’s Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN-PCUSA) have been so egregious that the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella network of Jewish community relations groups, has been forced to go public with their complaints in hopes that ordinary Presbyterians will do something about the epidemic of hate speech springing from church activists.
Even a partial list of offensive statements made by Presbyterian activists on Israel and the Jews ought to send a chill down the spines of church members who may be unaware of what is going on:
At an opening program of the IPMN-PCUSA annual conference, the Rev. Craig Hunter said “greed and injustice is a cancer at the very core of Zionism.” In a 2010 letter to church delegates, the IPMN-PCUSA falsely accused the Jewish community of intimidating Presbyterians by sending a letter-bomb to the church’s headquarters and setting fire to a church. IPMN-PCUSA tweeted an article proclaiming “Jewish power + Jewish hubris = moral catastrophe of epic proportions.” IPMN-PCUSA also has supported virulently anti-Israel resolutions including those equating Israel with apartheid and has been a vocal supporter of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanction movement. …
The IPMN-PCUSA Facebook page includes a cartoon of President Obama wearing weighty Jewish star earrings to suggest Jewish control of the American leaders, a common theme on the site. The IPMN-PCUSA has posted articles that accuse Jews of controlling Hollywood, the media, and American politics – and blaming Israel for the American housing and economic crisis. IPMN-PCUSA’s communications chair also posted her opposition to a two-state solution and the existence of a Jewish state, something which she terms “anachronistic.” The same IPMN leader, Noushin Framke, clicked “like” on the Obama cartoon with the Jewish stars and another post that Hamas should keep Israeli Gilad Shalit hostage until Palestinians are granted a right of return.
The idea that a mainstream American church would engage in this sort of abuse of Jews and the Jewish state is shameful. Moreover, this is not about church activists engaging in legitimate criticism of Israeli policies. By participating in a propaganda war against Zionism and the existence of Israel and its right of self-defense, these Presbyterian activists have crossed the line that separates criticism from delegitimization. Anyone who would deny Jews the same rights of self-determination and self-defense they would never think of questioning when it comes to any other country is engaging in bigotry. The church’s activities have nothing to do with the promotion of peace and everything to do with scapegoating Israel and the Jews.
While this has nothing to do with the beliefs, let alone the actions of the overwhelming majority of American Presbyterians, it goes without saying the responsibility for policing these institutions belongs to church members. Because Jewish community relations professionals have failed to get the church hierarchy to act on this question up until now, it is up to the rank-and-file to speak out against this behavior and see that it ends. Those Presbyterians who say they wish to live in fellowship with their Jewish neighbors are obligated to ensure their church does not engage in anti-Semitism or support an economic war on the Jewish state. On this point, there can be no middle ground. The church must repudiate these extremists who have appropriated their good name to promote a hateful cause.