NEW YORK – American Jewish leaders are slamming a report by the Presbyterian Church USA that blames Israel for the “Palestinian resistance” and denounces companies doing business with Israel.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which circulated a memo to its member agencies and board of directors Monday, said the biased report reduced the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a caricature, demonizing Israel and delegitimizing its right to exist as a Jewish state.
“It’s a highly-selective use of text, history and circumstances to form an anti-Israel narrative,” said JCPA vice president Ethan Felson. “They give significant voice to anti-Zionists, condemn companies that sell to Israel and allow for the demonization of Israel. That’s several red lines.”
The 172-page report, written by the church’s Middle East Study Committee, is to be debated at the church’s General Assembly this July. But Jewish leaders say its recommendations renew old tensions over the church’s previous divestment policies toward Israel, threatening Presbyterian-Jewish relations.
The current report charges the US government with “complicity in the Israeli occupation” and suggests that the government consider withholding aid to Israel until it agrees to stop building settlements. The report singles out Caterpillar, which manufactures construction equipment, for its “continued profit-making from non-peaceful use of its products.”
It also endorses the Kairos Palestine document, a manifesto by Christian Palestinians that calls for an end to Israel as a Jewish state and uses words like “evil” and “sin” to describe Israeli actions.
Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of JCPA, said in a statement that Jewish leaders were dismayed at the attempt to “delegitimize and demonize” Israel.
“We hope that before this report is brought for a vote at the church’s General Assembly, significant revisions are made,” he said, noting that the report threatened relations with the church.
Church leaders were not immediately available for comment Tuesday.
Last week, however, the Rev. Susan Andrews told The Jewish Week that “the recommendations we will be making are in keeping with our former statements and policies.”
“Our report is not about divestment,” she said. “Its main focus is on our Christian brothers and sisters in Lebanon, Syria and on what we hear from Iran and Iraq.”
The Presbyterian church raised the ire of the Jewish community in 2004, when the General Assembly approved faith-selective divestment from Israel. In 2006 and 2008, it retreated from its position.
This year’s report, which takes aim at companies doing business with Israel, “resurrects that thinking,” said Felson, referring to the 2004 position.
The current report frames Palestinian terror in the context of resistance, using words that are lifted almost directly from the Kairos document, he said.
“These are decisions that Presbyterians will need to reach about whether to receive a profoundly biased report, about whether to denounce a company, about whether to endorse a screed that demonizes Israel,” said Felson. “These moves seriously call into question the very nature of the Presbyterian-Jewish relationship.”
The memo outlines a dozen recommendations in the Presbyterian report that put the onus on Israel, including a comparison between Iranian and Israeli nuclear threats.
“It is very much a document that takes a side and doesn’t seem to care about doing it in a civil way,” said Felson.
Last week, the Anti-Defamation League called the report a “toxic mix of
bad history, politically motivated distortions and offensive attacks on
Judaism and Israel.”
ADL leaders said the church committee had
failed to meet with mainstream American Jewish organizations, limiting
itself to left-leaning groups.
“The Presbyterian Church USA,
despite their resolution two years ago to take an even-handed approach
to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has gone back on its word with
this offensive and biased report,” Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national
director, said in a statement.