When the Presbyterian Church (USA), at its 2012 General Assembly in Pittsburgh, narrowly rejected a resolution to divest from companies doing business in Israel, while at the same time adopting a measure supporting a boycott of products from West Bank settlements, this paper published an editorial bluntly noting that there was a faction within the church that was anti-Israel.
We were roundly rebuked for that editorial. But after reading what the Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN), an education arm of the PC (USA), recently published, we can’t help but feel a little vindicated.
And we’re not alone.
The PC (USA) is out with a resource guide for its congregations titled “Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study Guide.” Among its outrageous statements:
• It brands Zionism as a “false” and “oppressive” theology;
• It states the American Jewish community actively stifles dissent against the Zionist narrative, taking advantage of the “ignorance and passivity of many liberal American Jews”; and
• It implicitly compares the Palestinian treatment at the hands of Israel to the Nazi treatment of Jews in World War II: “The Palestinian story is one of suffering at the hands of the international community, which authorized the division of Palestine in 1947, and at the hands of the Zionists who planned, organized, and implemented systematic ethnic cleansing. … They slaughtered untold numbers of Palestinian men, women and children.”
Sadly, these offensive and misleading statements dovetail with the actions the PC (USA) took — and almost took — at its Pittsburgh GA.
Now the church is taking heavy flak from some highly respected national Jewish organizations.
Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of JCPA: Jewish Council for Public Affairs, released a statement railing against the publication, saying it is “worthy of a hate group, not a prominent American church.”
AJC also chimed in, stating, “AJC is challenging the Presbyterian Church (USA) commitment to Israeli-Palestinian peace.”
Said Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC’s director of intergroup and interreligious relations, in a prepared statement, “Remarkably, ‘Zionism Unsettled’ contravenes the 2008 Presbyterian Church vow ‘to become nonpartisan advocates for peace.’ Unfortunately, the PC (USA) continues to allow the completely partisan and unrepresentative IPMN to operate as its educational arm regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
Gutow called the publication “an affront to Jews, Israel, peacemaking and truth telling.” He said, “Zionism is the belief that the Jewish people should have a national existence in our homeland. Like me, most Jews are Zionists and embrace a two-state solution, a Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state living side-by-side.
“However,” he went on, “the Presbyterian publication makes a uni-dimensional straw man of Zionism, distorting history, often quoting individuals and groups out of context, branding Zionism as a ‘false’ and ‘oppressive’ theology. It is not enough for the authors of this document to traffic in the odious libel that Zionism is racism — they compare Zionism to Nazism.
“We hope and expect the leadership of the church will repudiate this document,” Gutow added. “The Presbyterian document profoundly disrespects the Jewish community — no less than if Jews lifted up the voices of Christians who demean the dearly held tenets of Christianity.”
Make no mistake, this not just some book or article the PC (USA) published to be filed away, it is intended to spread an anti-Israel (read, anti-Jewish) message to the church’s faithful.
Here’s how the publication is described on the PC (USA)’s Church Store Web page: “It provides a leader’s guide for congregational study of Christian, Jewish and Muslim perspectives on the development of Jewish Political Zionism, liberal Protestant Zionism, and Evangelical Christian Zionism. It examines controversies about Zionism among Israeli Jews as well as diaspora Jews, and gives helpful guidance on how you and your congregation can contribute to the cause of just peace for the people who share the Holy Land and promote more truthful relationships among followers of the three Abrahamic religions.
As we said in our 2012 editorial, and repeat again here, we’re not saying everyone in the church believes that way; indeed, Israel has many sincere and active supporters in the PC (USA).
And, for the record, Gutow, says the same thing: “We recognize that most Presbyterians support a two-state solution, a strong U.S.-Israel relationship, and want positive relations with the Jewish community. We appreciate that the past four PC (USA) General Assemblies have rejected the demonizing and frankly radical stances advanced by groups in the PC (USA). We hope and pray that delegates to the upcoming PC (USA) General Assembly will embrace positive outcomes that favor reconciliation and reject negative overtures including divestment.”
Nevertheless, the actions of the IPMN, just like a fraction of the members of the American Studies Association in its recent vote to endorse an academic boycott against Israeli universities, demonstrate how a fringe minority can manipulate the mission and beliefs of a greater institution.
The PC (USA) must take a stand against the IPMN’s dangerous distortion of history. Left unchecked, this attack could create a rift between the two faiths that most of their adherents do not want.