One of the nation’s largest organizations for Jewish human rights is pushing for Presbyterians gathering at the PCUSA’s 221st General Assembly to defeat extreme anti-Israel positions taken by the denomination’s leadership, including a report that refers to Israel as racist and illegal.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, with more than 400,000 member families in the United States, points to Zionism Unsettled, a 74-page document produced by the PCUSA-appointed Israel/Palestine Mission Network, as a “demonization of an entire nation” and a primary reason for outrage with the denomination.
As a result, the organization is cutting off communication with the PCUSA.
“We are severing all dialogue with PCUSA, because of a pattern of malicious behavior on the part of church administration,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Center. “This demonization of an entire nation and its supporters around the world is an outrage that makes further conversation with this church impossible.”
Many opposed to the study guide have indicated that it heightens strife more than it promotes peace, one-sidedly blaming the Jewish state in particular and Zionism in general for the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Claiming to balance the current dialogue, it threatens to upend it.
Concern about Zionism Unsettled also was expressed in a letter from more than 1,000 American Jewish leaders sent to GA commissioners asking them to vote against boycott, divest, sanction (BDS) proposals. The document labels the national movement of the Jewish people, Zionism, and Israel, its expression, as “false theology,” “heretical doctrine,” “evil,” “pathology,” “racism,” and “cultural genocide.”
That letter – signed by 1,450 rabbis, cantors and rabbinical and cantorial students – expressed concern about overtures being considered by the GA that could threaten the prospects of peace in the region. It stated that the document’s “characterizations are not only at wide variance with the facts, but are also extraordinarily hurtful and incendiary. No one truly committed to peace and reconciliation should use that kind of vocabulary to describe either side. Nothing, including the assertion that the Israel/Palestine Mission Network speaks ‘to’ but not ‘for’ the Presbyterian Church (USA), can justify the PCUSA leadership’s silence on, and toleration of, Zionism Unsettled and the PCUSA’s distribution of it.”
Cooper notes an attack on Israeli policies by the document, released in December and sold on the PCUSA’s web site, and acknowledges that it calls the quest for a Jewish state racist and illegal, invoking memories of the United Nations’ “Zionism is racism” resolution of 1974 (it was repealed in 1991).
The rabbi observes that the PCUSA has substituted theological language to dismiss the Jewish people’s 3,500-year presence in and association with the Holy Land.
“The long-standing protocols of interfaith dialogue have always demanded that no partner attack the core beliefs of the other. This document, and the cynical response of church leaders to criticism of it from other Presbyterians, is a frontal assault on the central place of the Jewish State in Jewish life and thought,” Cooper said.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein, the Center’s Director of Interfaith Affairs, added, “We stayed in an abusive relationship too long. We will continue to love Presbyterians, but we will inform our community that PCUSA is a group that disrespects the Jewish People.”