Anti-Israel Resolutions at the Presbyterian Church General Assembly
June 17, 2014
Clergy and lay elders of the Presbyterian Church (USA) (PC(USA)) from throughout the US are meeting this week in Detroit for the 221st biennial General Assembly, the Church’s highest governing body. On the docket are several anti-Israel “overtures” (resolutions), including calls to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett Packard, to brand Israel an Apartheid state, and to reexamine the Church’s support for a two state solution.
PC(USA) and Israel
Guided by a religious imperative to pursue peace and justice, and by their connection to coreligionists in the Middle East, PC(USA) members are deeply concerned about the situation in the West Bank. Church policy has historically called for a negotiated settlement between Israel and the Palestinians that will lead to a two-state solution that recognizes the right for each to exist within secure borders. The Church has condemned acts of violence on both sides, as well as Israel’s settlements in the West Bank. It has also categorically condemned all forms of anti-Semitism, including the refusal to acknowledge the legal existence of the State of Israel.
Divestment overtures have been presented to the General Assembly for the past decade. In 2004, the Church called on its Committee for Mission Responsibility Through Investing (MRTI), the body charged with socially responsible investment, to initiate a process of phased, selective divestment from multinational corporations operating in Israel. A second resolution passed that year calling to end construction of Israel’s security barrier (this resolution was amended in 2006 to recognize Israel’s right to build the barrier along its pre-1967 borders).
Divestment overtures were put forth, and rejected, in 2008, 2010 and 2012. The 2012 overture was narrowly defeated by just two votes and replaced with a call to encourage “positive investment” in the West Bank.
While elements within the Church have brought divestment resolutions to the Assembly floor again this year, the deliberations in Detroit have been aggravated by the January 2014 release of “Zionism Unsettled” by the Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN), an educational body of the Church and a lead promoter of divestment within the denomination. The Church calls the publication a congregational study guide to prompt discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian issue and sells it on its website; it is, in fact, a full-on assault on Zionism. The authors call the national movement of the Jewish people a “false theology” and a “heretical doctrine” that inexorably leads to ethnic cleansing and cultural genocide. Zionism is said to “promote death rather than life” and is described as an “oppressive ideology” comparable to “Jim Crow” segregation in the American South and Apartheid in South Africa. Contrary to Church policy, it does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. A statement by our partner organization, the Jewish Council of Public Affairs (JCPA), described it as "worthy of a hate group, not a prominent American church,” and “an affront to Jews, Israel, peacemaking and truth telling.
The release of “Zionism Unsettled” shows that those in the Church calling loudest for divestment are seeking neither a socially responsible investment portfolio nor a two-state solution. Rather, they have revealed their goal of delegitimizing Israel’s right to exist.
Fortunately, many people in the church have begun to understand this, and Christian groups have joined Jewish organizations in denouncing the document. Among them are the Rev. Chris Leighton, executive director of the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies and Presbyterian activist Jeanne Bishop. Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, (PFMEP), a grassroots group of lay elders and clergy, call “Zionism Unsettled” a hostile document reflective of the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) Movement, and in direct opposition to established General Assembly policy. Privately, many members of the PC(USA) have expressed their severe discomfort with “Zionism Unsettled” and the disreputable company in which it places the Church.
Jewish professionals and religious leaders in communities nationwide have been working in close coordination with national partners JCPA, Israel Action Network, ADL, AJC and all religious streams and rabbinic organizations to share our concerns with local Presbyterian churches and commissioners attending the General Assembly. A historic letter from 1,700 American rabbis from all 50 states was sent to every commissioner.
In Orange County, our outreach has provided the Rose Project, in cooperation with Rabbi Peter Levi of Congregation Beth El, with an opportunity to reaffirm with our Presbyterian neighbors our mutual commitment to peace, justice and security for Israelis and Palestinians, and to share personal stories and information that reflect the reality on the ground. Together, we have explored the irreconcilability of acting as an agent for peace while seeking divestment, and the divisiveness that is created when blame is placed solely and unfairly on one side. And we have discussed the importance of modeling true peacemaking, and of supporting those in the region who pursue constructive engagement and normalization.
We will continue to update you on this important issue.