July 20, 2004 - The Presbyterian Church (USA), long outspoken in its criticism of Israel, has now become an active participant in the Palestinian war against the Jewish state.
This summer the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) equated Israel with apartheid South Africa and voted overwhelmingly to join the divestiture campaign against Israel. In fact, it went further. The divestment covers not just Israeli companies but also any company receiving one million dollars or more in profits per year from investments in Israel, or that has invested one million dollars or more in Israel. In other words, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has joined the anti-Israel boycott and now participates actively in the economic war against Israel.
In addition, the Presbyterian General Assembly passed resolutions demanding unilateral Israeli withdrawal, condemning Israel's security fence, continuing funding for churches whose mission is converting Jews to Christianity, and endorsing "the rights of refugees to return to their homeland," which is code for the Palestinian demand for a "right of return" that would flood Israel with Arab refugees and destroy it demographically.
While issuing these demands and taking specific action against Israel, the Presbyterian Church has taken no comparable action against Palestinian violence and has demanded no real concessions from the Palestinians. It has issued many anti-Israel resolutions but has offered no equivalent criticism of Palestinian excesses. Its condemnation of terrorism is actually another slap at Israel, as one General Assembly resolution states:
Horrific acts of violence and deadly attacks on innocent people, whether carried out by Palestinian "suicide bombers" or by the Israeli military, are abhorrent and inexcusable by all measures.
What this statement totally ignores is the incontrovertible fact that the Palestinians target "innocent people" deliberately and as a matter of policy, while the Israeli military does no such thing - unless the Presbyterian Church considers those who plan and carry out terrorist acts against Jews as "innocent." The Presbyterian Church therefore draws a moral equivalence between true terrorist violence against civilians and the effort to pursue and punish those who commit terrorist acts. Its one-breath condemnation of Israeli and Palestinian "deadly attacks on innocent people" implies that both sides equally target the innocent - a gross distortion of reality. And why put "suicide bombers" within quotation marks, as if to say "so-called"? Does the Church mean to question whether this really is suicide terrorism?
Rev. Jay Rock, Director for Interfaith Relations at the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, states that Jewish-Presbyterian relations "are very good." This is not surprising, considering that the record of the NCC is hardly any better than that of the Presbyterian Church. I have devoted years of work trying to strengthen Jewish-Christian relations, and have done much of that work within the Presbyterian Church. At one time I felt we were making progress. Now I see it all falling apart. It is hard to imagine how any Jew with a connection to Israel can consider relations with the liberal Protestant Church to be "very good."
I have debunked the comparison between Israel and apartheid elsewhere. If any countries are guilty of institutional racism, they are Arab countries, where Jews cannot be citizens, have no rights, and often cannot even live - not Israel where, for all its problems, Arab citizens have the right to vote and to criticize the government openly, a right many of them enthusiastically exercise. Yet on these matters the Church is silent. Such distorted and lopsided comparisons are not new for the Presbyterian Church. Representatives of the Presbyterian Church have scorched Israel with their condemnation, at times even verging on anti-Semitism.
By continuing to target Jews for conversion, the Presbyterian Church demonstrates its lack of respect for Judaism's legitimacy. By endorsing the Palestinians' "right of return" and by condemning the construction of a security fence without supporting any other equally effective anti-terrorism measure, it attacks Israel's very existence. And by promoting an economic boycott, it actively joins the war against Israel itself. Others may not say it, but I will: the stand of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is not fair-minded criticism. It is anti-Semitism. Supporters of Israel are pilloried whenever they raise that issue, but sometimes condemnation of Israel really does cross that line.
An online petition authored by Diana Appelbaum makes the point this way:
Only the moral blindness of Jew-hatred could lead the Church to compare Israelís multi-racial democracy to apartheid South Africa. Only anti-Semitism could lead the Church to condemn democratic Israel, while not voting divestment from Saudi Arabia, where women have virtually no rights and non-Muslims are not even permitted to enter the country without special permission, from Sudan, where race-based genocide is occurring even as we speak, from Iran, where Bahai are murdered for their faith, or from the many other countries where human rights are violated as a matter of routine.
One can only hope that the rank and file within the Church, Presbyterians and others of good will, will reach out to each other in fairness, always trying to overcome old antagonisms and new divisions, in spite of stands their leaders may have taken that are clearly unbalanced and tilted overwhelmingly towards one side.
[Note: The Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, has just issued a statement defending the Church's decision. For an excerpt see our Hypocrisy Department.]
"ADL Denounces Presbyteriansí Actions on Jews and Israel." Anti-Defamation League Press Release, July 13, 2004.
Greenberg, Eric J. "Protestant Group OKs Divestment from Israel." Forward, July 16, 2004.
"Highlights, 216th General Assembly, 26 June - 3 July 2004." Presbytery of St. Augustine Overture on Israeli/Palestinian Conflict.
Kirkpatrick, Clifton. "Statement from the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)." Presbyterian Church (USA), July 20, 2004.
Smith, Alexa. "Assembly Endorses Israel Divestment ." Presbyterian Church (USA), July 2, 2004.
Peace with Realism