An American church takes an ugly swipe at Israel’s legitimacy

Presbyterians vs. Israel Keith Srakocic / AP
Presbyterians vs. Israel
Keith Srakocic / AP

NEW YORK DAILY NEWS editorial — Thursday June 26, 2014

A strain of anti-Israel sentiment deep enough to veer into anti-Semitism has emerged among the leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

One can only hope that the views of its general assembly and of a panel devoted to Israel-Palestinian relations do not reflect those of the 1.9 million members who call themselves members.

The assembly made Presbyterians the first major church to join a movement that attacks the legitimacy of Israel’s very existence and seeks to undermine the Jewish state by calling for economic boycotts, disinvestment, and sanctions.

It did so by voting to sell off its investments in three major American companies — Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions — on the grounds that Israel uses goods or services purchased from the firms in enacting security measures that affect the lives of Palestinians.

While the assembly insisted that did not mean it was jumping fully into the BDS campaign, the targeted disinvestments differed only in degree, not in kind. BDS leader Omar Barghouti praised the church for delivering a “sweet victory.”

The assembly’s insistence that the church remains a good friend of Israel’s rang equally hollow. The American Jewish Committee had good reason to say the vote was “driven by hatred of Israel.”

Most damning, one church committee compared Israel with apartheid-era South Africa, while the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church published Zionism Unsettled,a so-called study guide that depicts the movement for a Jewish state as a font of evil that promoted ethnic cleansing, and draws parallels between Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and Nazism.

With precise aim, the Anti-Defamation League called Zionism Unsettled “an anti-Semitic document that needs to be repudiated by the Presbyterian Church.”

How Israel interacts with the Palestinians is fit subject for debate. Even among Israelis, there’s no unanimity of opinion on the matter.

But the Presbyterian leadership went far past the bounds of respectable discussion to elevate policy disagreements into a belief that the Jewish state itself is repugnant to Christian values. In this view, Israel is and always has been a brutal victimizer, while rocket-firing Palestinians are victims without blame. End of story; end of the homeland that rose from the ashes of the Holocaust.

Not so long ago, Pope Francis visited the Middle East with the mission of pushing the Muslim countries that surround Israel to stop stamping out Christianity. This is the real regional human rights violation that should be at the top of the Presbyterian agenda. Instead, church leaders indict Israel, the one nation there that welcomes all religions and maintains open access to shrines dating to the founding of Christianity.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vividly captured the Presbyterian obtuseness by calling on members to “come and see Israel for the embattled democracy that it is, and then take a bus tour, go to Libya, go to Syria, go to Iraq, and see the difference.

“I would give them two pieces of advice — one is make sure it’s an armor-plated bus, and second, don’t say that you’re Christian.”

The Presbyterian divestment vote was 310 to 303, a margin indicating both endemic ugliness and the presence of a substantial body of leaders who can tell right from wrong. They must fight to restore their church’s good name.

See related Op-Ed A Rabbi’s Open Letter to Presbyterians


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