Editorial: Jewish community needs to tell antisemitic Presbyterian Church (USA) goodbye

By Larry Brook, editor

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has declared Israel’s creation to be a disaster, calls Israel an apartheid state, made an explicit comparison of Israel to Nazi Germany under the banner of “never again” and redefined antisemitism to encompass non-Jews.

Why, then, is the organized Jewish community even talking with them any more?

At their 225th General Assembly, held online from July 5 to 9 after a series of committee meetings in late June, the Protestant denomination continued its recent history of hostility to the world’s only Jewish state, with resolutions filled with inaccuracies, hyperbole, a lack of context and little regard for Israeli lives.

Like many international bodies, the church is obsessed with Israel. This year, there were 19 resolutions under the category of International Engagement. Four were castigating Israel. No other country was singled out in more than one, except for two resolutions about seeking a peace treaty between the Koreas.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine warranted one resolution — which condemned the invasion, but also is critical of the U.S. sanctions against Russia and how the U.S. and NATO “flooded Ukraine with lethal weapons” in a “hyper-militarization.”

Naturally, the church has jumped on the Israel-as-an-apartheid-state libel, with a resolution claiming Israeli law gives preference to Jews and places Palestinians in “separate reserves and ghettoes.”

Another resolution refers to Jerusalem as “three faiths, two peoples, and one human family,” bemoaning a recent “heightened Zionist-Jewish identity” in the eternal capital of the Jewish people. It calls on Israel to respect the rights of Christians and Muslims to access and worship at their holy sites — which it does and they do, unlike when Jordan controlled the city and barred Jews completely, destroying synagogues and holy sites. And what about places in Palestinian controlled areas that have Jewish holy sites, which the Palestinians keep trying to destroy?

In fact, the only form of religious discrimination is on the Temple Mount, where Jews are barred from certain areas altogether, and in the rest of the site, one making any hint of Jewish prayer is subject to arrest, for offending the sensitivities of the Muslims. That, of course, is not mentioned.

But when the resolution insists that the placement of metal detectors on the Temple Mount for security (as already exist at the Western Wall) is a provocative act, what do you expect?

The resolution also repudiates the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem, and urges visitors to utilize Palestinian service providers and to make sure they include encounters with Palestinians, being “mindful” of the “disputed status of Jerusalem.”

The Jerusalem resolution also refers to Christian Zionism, the support of Israel by Christians, as a doctrine that “tend(s) toward idolatry and heresy… portraying a wrathful and arbitrary God, dividing and ignoring parts of the Christian community, and making of the land an idol to be possessed, exclusive of moral conditions.” Furthermore, Christian Zionism is declared to be “one of the very threats to the Christian presence in Israel and Palestine.”

Another resolution references the “siege of Gaza” and, in an effort to appear even-handed, the “collective punishment of innocent Palestinians and Israeli civilians.”

The blockade exists solely because the Gaza government seeks to use anything it can toward making war against Israel and attacking Israeli civilians, not caring about their own Palestinian civilians. All that cement going into Gaza wasn’t used to build hospitals or schools, but tunnels under the border so they could sneak into Israel and attack civilians. But you wouldn’t know that from the resolution.

Interestingly, the word “Egypt” isn’t in there, despite Gaza’s border with Egypt — a border the Egyptians control even more tightly than Israel does on its side. Why the omission?

Of course, the resolution also uses the “open-air prison” cliché about Gaza.

The condemnation of Israeli “collective punishment” actions, citing the far-left anti-Israel group B’Tselem, encompasses 822 words in the resolution. The rather matter-of-fact statement about the “rockets, with no guidance systems” (they forgot to mention the words “thousands of”) fired into Israel by Hamas and other Islamist groups received just 83 words.

The church also designated May 15 as “Palestinian Naqba Remembrance Day” on the church calendar. May 15, 1948, of course, was the day that Israel was established, and the term “naqba” means “disaster.”

The church has thus declared that Israel’s very existence is a disaster of historic proportions, much like how the Jewish world would refer to the Holocaust or the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem.

You know, those ancient Temples that anti-Israel activists and Palestinian leaders deny ever existed.

The church is apparently oblivious as to how that argument takes a giant sledgehammer to the Christian gospels, because much of the narrative happened in… the Second Temple.

But one can forget such things when showing a zeal to portray Jesus not as a Jew, but as the first “Palestinian martyr,” as is currently popular among anti-Israel activists.

Forget that the term “Palestine” did not exist at the time, it was inaugurated by the Romans a century later, well after the destruction of the Second Temple, in an attempt to erase Jewish ties to the land by renaming it after the Philistines, the already-extinct Biblical archenemies of the Israelites. Or that the term comes from the word for “invader.”

While there is plenty of concern for the Palestinian refugees, there’s no mention of the roughly 150,000 Jews who were kicked out of their homes and their villages razed when Jordan took over what became known as the West Bank, and Egypt occupied Gaza, and did real ethnic cleansing, making sure no Jews remained in the areas they controlled, while any Arab who had remained in what became Israel became an equal Israeli citizen. Not to mention — because they didn’t — the 1 million Jews who were forced out of Arab nations where they had lived for two millennia or more.

That’s because Israel absorbed those refugees, while the Arab leaders forced theirs into a permanent refugee status unlike any other refugee population on the planet, treating them as pawns in the conflict and keeping them stateless so they can be an embittered weapon to use in their fight to destroy Israel. Even better, when they resort to violence, they can claim it is justified and moral because of what Israel “did” to them.

And they get cheered on by the likes of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

To be fair, the ethnic cleansing of Jews is alluded to, but not in the way a responsible organization would be expected to do. In its claim that Israel keeps taking Palestinian property, they note that in 1967, the population of eastern Jerusalem was almost entirely Palestinian, and now there are “approximately 190,000 Jewish settlers” in Jerusalem’s Old City and surrounding neighborhoods. How terrible.

Well, about that lack of Jews in 1967… Jerusalem was majority Jewish going back to the 19th century, and in 1948 Jerusalem was two-thirds Jewish. But when Jordan captured “eastern Jerusalem,” a designation that had never existed before, and its Jewish holy sites, all the Jews were kicked out. So of course in 1967, when Israel re-captured it, it was “almost entirely Palestinian” with a Jewish population of zero — because of ethnic cleansing. But that doesn’t seem to bother the church, when it comes to cleansing Jews.

Never Again

The cherry on top of this rancid cake is in the resolution “On Recognition That Israel’s Laws, Policies, and Practices Constitute Apartheid Against the Palestinian People,” which passed 266-116. The resolution invokes how after the Holocaust, “Jews around the world said ‘never again’.”

The church then takes that lesson from the attempted elimination of the Jewish people and turns it against the Jews. The church is speaking out against Israel because Christians “vowed that never again would they be silent if a government passed laws establishing and maintaining the domination by one ethnic group over another ethnic group through systematic separation, oppression, and denial of basic human rights. Silence in the face of evil was wrong then, and it is wrong now.”

The chutzpah and gaslighting are breathtaking.

The lies and hyperbolic statements in the text are numerous.

They rely entirely on extreme anti-Israel groups for their misinformation, and reference the debunked recent reports on “Israeli apartheid” by groups with a long one-sided track record of being hostile to Israel, thus giving them an undeserved legitimacy. They use Richard Falk’s definition of apartheid — Falk is one of the more extreme anti-Israel voices out there and twisted the definition to fit what he claims Israel is doing.

They even use the long-debunked “Palestinian loss of land” series of maps from 1946 to 2000, which purport to show how “Palestine” has been gradually taken away from the Palestinians by Israel, starting with the completely false notion that the Palestinians owned about 97 percent of the land in 1946, when almost all was in fact state land (in this case, British mandate; before that, the Ottoman Empire) and the small percentage under private ownership was pretty evenly split between Arabs and Jews.

Invoking the Holocaust to criticize Israel is no accident. They know full well that the best way to inflict the deepest psychological damage on the Jewish community is to compare it to Nazi Germany. It is a deliberate, provocative act designed to insult, while desecrating and minimizing the memory of the six million. It also falls under the international working definition of antisemitism.

The church is slapping the Jewish community in the face, then demanding that we turn the other cheek so they can slap it, too.

Some kind of friend you turned out to be.

But hey, after the lengthy anti-Israel litany, to appear even-handed, there’s an obligatory statement that “The PC(USA) strongly supports Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders” (oh, sure), a brief acknowledgement that terrorism and Hamas rockets are bad, and a repudiation of “all forms of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.” So we’re good, right?

Well, no. Define antisemitism. The church is more than happy to help — their Racial Equity Advocacy Committee recommended replacing the term antisemitism with “anti-Jewish” because antisemitism “encompasses other people groups in addition to our Jewish siblings.” It’s the old “Palestinians can’t be antisemitic because they are Semites too” argument that ignores the term’s history — and the particularity of Jew-hatred.

In another example of blatant hypocrisy, the church, which has voted in the past to support the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement that seeks to isolate Israel and destroy it economically, passed a resolution against international sanctions — and how they are not only ineffective, they mainly harm innocent civilians.

Of course, the examples they bemoan are sanctions against the upstanding regimes of Iran, Venezuela, Afghanistan and North Korea (and to add racism to the mix, they mention that it’s the white United States imposing sanctions mainly on nations of color). The resolution does not mention Israel.

But they have an out — the resolution calls on the church to “determine that said sanctions do not cause undue harm to civilian populations, and to withdraw support from any sanctions regime that does not meet this standard.” So either they consider sanctions against Israel to not be harming civilians, or they don’t care whether sanctions cause harm against Israelis — even though BDS actions usually cause much more harm to the Palestinian workers that they supposedly are concerned about.

Moving forward?

The default setting for the Jewish community is dialogue. Having so many groups who have hated us through the centuries, it now takes a lot before we think that a relationship has become impossible, that a group is too far gone — such as the Klan, neo-Nazis, Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam.

It is abundantly clear that when it comes to the Presbyterian Church (USA), that ship has also sailed, and the Jewish community needs to disengage completely.

It isn’t as if the Jewish world hasn’t tried to dialogue. The 2006 PC(USA) biennial, held in Birmingham and which I attended, was regarded as a major battleground over a series of anti-Israel resolutions, with months of arguing beforehand. That debate took a huge proportion of the convention’s schedule. Through extensive outreach and dialogue, and with the effort of some more mainstream Presbyteries, especially from Mississippi and Alabama, the more extreme elements were taken out. The finished product was by no means supportive of Israel, but it was somewhat more evenhanded.

Similar resolutions have come up at every biennial since then, leading to 2022, where despite the engagement over the last two decades, the resolutions have become more extreme and the pushback within the denomination almost nonexistent — and most members in the pews have little or no awareness that this is going on.

Presbyterians for Middle East Peace is fighting the good fight. The Philos Action League, Pathways for Peace, Combat Antisemitism Movement and the Anti-Defamation League demonstrated outside the PC(USA) headquarters in Louisville as the committee vote was taken in late June.

On the local level, there are longstanding ties between synagogues and PC(USA) churches, and many of those churches would be appalled at what is being said in their name.

But on the national level, what do we expect when the Stated Clerk of the church gives a speech on Martin Luther King Day equating Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians to slavery, and telling the American Jewish community to use its influence over the U.S. government to change that, a clear antisemitic trope?

The same individual, after the July vote, said the denomination is committed to continuing dialogue with interfaith partners and combating antisemitism, and “we are convinced that there is a fundamental difference between antisemitism and the right to critique the policies of Israel deemed illegal under international law.” This comes at the end of a statement justifying the resolutions by citing a litany exclusively of far-left anti-Israel voices and repeating numerous lies about Israel and Israeli policy.

The church leadership has made it clear that while it claims to have an open door, it really has no interest in honest dialogue about Israel. There is legitimate criticism of Israel, and then there is what the Presbyterian Church (USA) does. It goes out of its way to insult and denigrate the Jewish community, while paying lip service to opposing antisemitism (or whatever they are calling it) and bearing false witness against Israel.

They have sent a clear message that they are not and do not wish to be our friends. It is high time that we listen to them, take their message seriously and treat the Presbyterian Church (USA) accordingly.

We are a proud people. We are a confident people. We are a people who fight for what is moral and just. We know truth is on our side. We do not need to demean ourselves and grovel for a sign of acceptance that they are not willing to give.

It is time to admit that, unless there is a huge change from within, the Presbyterian Church (USA) on a national level has become a hostile entity and has gone full-blown antisemitic, and it is time for us to walk away.