We won’t be at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church-USA (PCUSA) this year. By casting Zionism as racism on their official website the elite running this Church have crossed a line that makes interfaith cooperation impossible. We will not lend credibility to their destruction of the bridges that brought Presbyterians and Jews together for decades.
We will be sitting it out not because we wouldn’t be welcome. The laity and clergy of this church – whether they’ve agreed or disagreed –always welcomed us as observers, and we’ve been enriched by our dialogue. This Church’s administration has been quite a different story.
PCUSA was, in 2004, the first mainline church to adopt a resolution calling for divestment from Israel.
Immensely unpopular with the people in the pews, it was undone in 2006, but the minority pledged never to give up the fight. So every two years Jewish organizations squandered months of time, beating back the latest anti-Israel resolutions encouraged by the salaried and agendized “insiders” at corporate headquarters in Louisville. The good ordinary folks of the denomination, whatever their views on Israel/Palestine, were dismayed by the investment of valuable time on resolutions that didn’t bring the Middle East closer to peace, but alienated Jews and Presbyterians from each other.
Other denominations got it, and avoided incendiary moves. PCUSA’s leaders chose not to. After each defeat at a biennial General Assembly, they raised the ante, backing the anti-peace Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement that openly seeks the eradication of the Jewish state – even though it flies in the face of the decades-long stated policy of the church. At each GA they pushed for ever more outrageous resolutions, forcing Jewish organizations to debate not Israel’s policies, but her very existence.
Enough! For years before, we tolerated double crosses, broken deals, deception. We watched as church officials had to resign after visiting with terrorist leaders. We participated in midnight meetings that brokered new “understandings” – only to learn weeks later that words were cheap to these church leaders. We saw crucial committees stacked with supposedly neutral but always pro-Palestinian “resource personnel” who were allowed unlimited time to testify (while we had 60 seconds to testify on the most complex conflict on the globe).
We saw real, unadulterated anti-Semitism on the webpages of the Israel-Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) – one of the radical groups behind the incessant anti-Israel resolutions. When we pointed this out, church leadership denied that IPMN spoke for the church – even as it continued to link to them from its own webpages and provided their IRS charitable organization status.
We recently witnessed a chairman of the committee scheduled to debate anti-Israel measures, a person known for his fairness and neutrality, summarily asked to resign because he had visited Israel on a Jewish-sponsored tour. No matter that the church pushes its own, carefully designed pro-Palestinian tours. We watched in disgust as they trotted out “Jewish voices” to allege that Jews themselves were now completely divided about Israel, despite the fact that those spokespeople were as representative of the Jewish community as flatearth advocates are of geographers.
Enough! For the Simon Wiesenthal Center the end of the line came last December with the release of the Zionism Unsettled document, a 70-page collection of distortions and lies. Its thesis: the quest for a Jewish, democratic state was inherently racist, just as the infamous UN resolution of 1974 stated. Jews had no right, as Jews, to a country of their own in a land to which they were linked for over 3,000 years. While the UN repealed it in 1991, PCUSA brought it back, this time garbed in theological language. Many in the church decried it as overthe- top while Church leadership declaimed responsibility even as its website continues to promote the screed.
A charter presumption of interfaith dialogue is that you do not try to convert the other party, nor do you mock core teachings – even when you disagree with them. The centrality of Israel in Jewish life past, present and future is a core part of the Jewish experience to the vast majority of Jews.
Publishing the anti-Zionist screed strikes at the very heart of our belief system and dictates a divorce.
We will have fond memories. There was something special about the rank-and-file of this church. To this day, it has vast numbers of members who work tirelessly to resist extremists and restore some balance in the treatment of Israel.
Pastors and lay people; men and women we are proud to call friends. We are very grateful to them, and so should all Jews be. We can only hope that for the sake of peace that they take back control of their Church’s Mideast policies.
Either way, we won’t be saying good-bye to all our friends. We believe that we will see plenty of them – as members of other Presbyterian groups. It is no secret that PCUSA is on the decline. When it started up in 1983, there were 3,131,228 members.
That shrunk to 1,849,496 in 2012. According to the latest projection of the church’s own Office of the General Assembly, a full 25 percent, approximately a half a million souls, will leave over the next three to four years. Much, if not most, of that decline is attributable to the same cancer on the body of this church – leadership that forces certain issues and assaults on traditional values.
To thePCUSA leaders we have one final message: The next time there is a terrorist attack against a soft Jewish target, or another abduction of Nigerian girls, or the next murderous attack on Syrian civilians (whose numbers have already surpassed all the deaths in the Israel-Palestine dispute since the establishment of the State of Israel), or the suppression of Tibetan culture and Christian worship by the Chinese – don’t blame us. We weighed in – where you too ought to have spoken out – but too often chose to be silent.
The Jewish state will survive PCUSA’s heavy-handed double standard. PCUSA’s members have every right to ask when they arrive in Detroit this weekend whether PCUSA will survive its leadership’s efforts to cram hateful political positions down the throats of an unwilling membership that does not share those views.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is director of interfaith affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. This article was originally published by USA Today.