A very problematic document was published in February by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA). The document, entitled Zionism Unsettled, includes a number of items that not only show a biased hostility toward the State of Israel but also against Judaism and the Jewish people. The Jewish community enjoys a positive relationship with the Presbyterian community, and we are disappointed with the publication and promotion of this document.
The pamphlet considers Zionism (the movement of national liberation of the Jewish people) as the principle instigator of the Middle East conflicts. Among the many disagreeable assumptions it embraces is that Israel intentionally displaced the Palestinians – that it is a racist and colonialist state.
Zionism Unsettled draws continuous comparisons between the fate of the Palestinians in 1948 and the Holocaust. It wrongly accuses Israel of having a calculated plan to expel the Palestinians and claims Zionists carried out ethnic cleansing. No serious historian of the period has ever backed such an allegation.
In fact, the complete opposite is the truth: As a result of the creation of the State of Israel, Arab leaders carried out a mass expulsion of some 800,000 Jews who had lived for centuries on Arab land. The Arab leadership themselves launched an explicit war of genocide in 1948 and again in 1967, pledging “to push the Jews into the sea.”
Zionism Unsettled accuses Israeli society of being one contaminated by racism. This accusation is simply not rooted in fact. There exists in Israel an array of voices embracing Arabs, as well as many avenues where Arabs and Jews seek a civilized dialogue.
Israeli-Arabs are citizens of the State of Israel with all the rights and protections of the rule of law. Israeli hospitals employ Arab doctors and willingly treat patients of all faiths. Arabs and Jews attend the same universities. Until the recent downfall of Arab tyrannies, Israel was the only country in the Middle East where Arabs had ever voted. An Arab justice sits on the Israeli Supreme Court. Even Arabs from the Palestinian territories appeal to Israeli courts to seek justice if needed.
No similar situation exists in the Arab world. Meanwhile, hatred and incitement against Jews and Israel is a growing subject in the Palestinian educational system. A recent Anti-Defamation League study shows that anti-Semitism in the Palestinian and Arab world is the worst across the globe.
The document fails to mention Israel’s genuine offers and clear concessions made to the Palestinians: The withdrawal from most of the West Bank, the division of Jerusalem and the co-administration of the Holy sites. These offers have been either rejected or ignored. Likewise, Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza has been forgotten.
The Jewish community and the Presbyterian community enjoy a friendly, cooperative relationship. We frequently engage in interfaith discussions and programs together, such as the Jewish Christian Summit. We joined hands to commemorate the victims and heroes of the 9/11 terror attacks. We even traveled with Presbyterian leaders on an interfaith mission to Israel.
We know that many local Presbyterian leaders do not share the polarizing arguments brought by Zionism Unsettled. We hope the Presbyterian Church will reject any resolution that reflects a one-sided anti-Israel position during discussions at the upcoming Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly in Detroit.
Dr. Luis Fleischman is vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County.
Rabbi Edward Bernstein is the rabbi of Temple Torah of West Boynton Beach.