New Presbyterian statement against anti-Jewish bias 'infused with bias'

Presbyterian Church document on Israeli-Palestinian conflict meets with across-the-board condemnation by Jewish groups.

presbyterian 88 (photo credit: )
presbyterian 88
(photo credit: )
Many of American Jewry's largest religious and advocacy groups have lashed out in the past few days at the Presbyterian Church USA for a new document published by the church that warned against anti-Jewish bias in the church's pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian peace. The new document "does more to excuse anti-Semitism and foster anti-Jewish motifs then it does to dispel them," according to a strongly worded letter to church leader Rev. Cliff Kirkpatrick, the stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church, from Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism; Rabbi Jerome Epstein, executive vice president of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; and Dr. Carl Sheingold, executive vice president of the Jewish Reconstructionist Federation. The new version of "Vigilance Against anti-Jewish Bias in the Pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian Peace," placed on the church's Web site last week, replaces a previous version presented in May, which was welcomed by Jewish leaders and groups. It comes just days ahead of the June 21 opening of the 2008 Presbyterian Church General Assembly in San Jose, California. Questioning with "deep suspicion" the "motivations" behind the new document, Yoffie, Epstein and Sheingold noted that the revision had dropped, among other things, the "acknowledgement of [the church's] complicity" in anti-Jewish bias, and replaced it with "a statement that is completely unbalanced in its appraisal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which contains veiled threats of 'divestment,' and which completely undoes much of the positive language and progress that were presented" in the earlier document. While affirming the legitimacy of "denunciation of injustices the State of Israel has committed or may commit," the May version included a warning against "demonization of Israel and the Jewish people and its echoes of ancient Christian anti-Judaism" in Palestinian liberation theology. This concern was absent in the June revision. The May document also included the now-excised statement, "we are aware and do confess that anti-Jewish attitudes can be found among us." The Jewish movement leaders wondered particularly at the motivation for dropping the sentence: "We Presbyterians aspire to build positive and respectful relations with our neighbors in the Jewish community," which disappeared in the revision. But concern came not only from religious leaders. A statement condemning the revised Presbyterian Church document was signed by over a dozen of the largest mainstream American Jewish organizations, including umbrella groups of rabbis and synagogues, large women's groups such as Hadassah, advocacy organizations like the ADL and the American Jewish Committee, B'nai B'rith and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the policy arm of the federation system. The umbrella Jewish statement recounted several years of tension between the Jewish community and the Presbyterian Church: "A 2004 policy stated that Israeli occupation is 'at the root of evil acts committed against innocent people on both sides of the conflict.' A 2007 church teaching resource claims a two-thousand-year continued Christian presence in the Holy Land, but writes Jews out of the history until the middle of the twentieth century. A 2008 church statement termed the rockets that Hamas has fired into Israeli civilian areas as 'provocative acts of retaliation.'" Meanwhile, reads the Jewish statement, the revision dismisses "anti-Israel and anti-Jewish terror that has killed and maimed Israeli civilians in buses, restaurants, and markets," and describes Israel as "the oppressive force in the Israeli-Palestinian situation." Finally, the letter took exception at the recommendation of "targeting corporations for 'engagement' as a viable approach to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. No recent church policy has caused greater harm to Presbyterian-Jewish relations. In contrast, the church has yet to take any action to 'engage' corporations that foster anti-Israel terrorism through investment in state sponsors of terror, including Iran and Syria. This demonstrates a continued one-sided and distressing approach to peacemaking." No response could be obtained over the weekend from the Presbyterian Church USA, nor was any church response made public since the controversy began last week. Meanwhile, say the Jewish movement leaders, Jewish-Presbyterian relations have suddenly plummeted to "a new low point." Rather than explain how to avoid anti-Jewish bias, they complain, the new document "reads as a blueprint for how to engage in anti-Israel activity without being accused of anti-Semitism."