PCUSA could mean end of Jewish-Presbyterian dialogue

Delegates could pass any one of several resolutions calling for punitive economic measures against Israel.

A church in Jerusalem 150 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
A church in Jerusalem 150
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
In the next few days, the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA (PCUSA), will convene in Pittsburgh. If delegates pass any one of several resolutions calling for punitive economic measures against Israel, the Church will have capitulated to one of the worst assaults on Jewish integrity coming from any church group since the Holocaust. That blow to Jewish history, belief and aspiration is contained in the Kairos Palestine Document (KPD), ironically, a document unknown to most Presbyterians.
About two-and-a-half years ago, KPD was penned by a group of Palestinian Christians. Redolent with Scriptural references, it is a powerful appeal for Christian sympathy for the plight of Palestinians.
KPD is also, however, a frontal assault on the very legitimacy of Israel, and an attack on Judaism itself. The Kairos Palestine Document justifies (but does not recommend) terrorism. It assigns all the blame to Israel for the Middle East’s problems. It acknowledges nothing about Palestinian terror, rocket attacks, or the teaching of virulent anti-Semitism in schools, on Palestinian Authority television, and in mosques.
It denies any Biblical link between the Jewish people and the Holy Land. It rewrites modern history as well, by promoting the canard that Israel was created in sin, an imposition of Western colonialists, driven by guilt for the Nazi Holocaust, on the backs of the true owners of the land. It conveniently ignores 3,500 years of a Jewish presence in the Holy Land, and erases a 150 years of peaceful up-building of the land by Jews before the establishment of the state.
It gets even worse. Kairos’ appeals to Scripture take the classic form of Replacement Theology, in which all references to the Jews in the Bible, all covenants with them, are replaced, as Christians become the New Jews. The old Jews, thereby, become the discards of history. (Christians invoked Replacement Theology, together with the charge of deicide, for centuries to justify persecuting Jews). Finally, this document culminates in a core political demand of Israel’s enemies: the cessation of all US military aid to Israel, and for economic boycott, divestment and sanctions against the Jewish state.
Jewish leaders voiced their dismay and outrage when a PCUSA recommended adoption of Kairos at the 2010 General Assembly. KPD made a mockery of the 1987 Presbyterian document, “A Theological Understanding of the Relationship Between Christians and Jews.” The 1987 document contained seven theological affirmations, among them that the identity of the Church “is intimately related to the continuing identity of the Jewish people”; that both “Christians that Jews are in covenant relationship with G-d”; and a pledge that they would “put an end to the teaching of contempt for the Jews.”
KPD devalued the identity of the Jewish people, denied any continuing covenant, and was contemptuous of the way Jews looked at themselves, their beliefs and the centrality of their Land.
While Kairos was not formally adopted, it was “lifted up for study,” “along with a pledge to Jewish groups that a new spirit of fairness to all sides would soon prevail.”
It never happened. A new study guide on the Middle East that was just released betrayed that promise.
While it was supposed to provide two perspectives on the Middle East, it did nothing of the sort.
At the General Assembly that begins this week, PCUSA will vote on a number of resolutions incorporating the worst influences of Kairos. A call for divestment has the backing of a prestigious standing committee of the Church. Passing any one of the anti-Israel resolutions will mean that Presbyterians have responded to the call of Palestinians with nothing less than a repudiation of the principles that governed dialogue with Church leadership for decades.
Their votes will not help a single Palestinian but will leave Jews little choice but to end all ties with Presbyterian leadership, and ignore their unfair and unfaithful pronouncements on Israel in the future.
The Jewish community has some difficult lessons to absorb from this fiasco masquerading as dialogue.
We have to clearly articulate that any group’s inability to come to terms with Israel as a Jewish state is not only a deal-breaker, but also a signal of contempt for Jews and Judaism.
It is almost beyond belief that as the ground literally burns beneath the Christian faithful in Egypt, Nigeria and Iraq that PCUSA stays fixated in aiding and abetting the de-legitimizing of Israel. All other mainline Christian denominations have either rejected or shelved divestment measures. If Presbyterians go it alone, they will have made an unnecessary but clear choice between the narratives of two people.
A huge number of ordinary Presbyterians reject the actions of their church leadership. They enjoy a mutually warm and respectful relationship with Jewish friends. Those valued friendships will continue.
But as far as PCUSA denominational leadership, the upcoming vote may bring us to the end of the road.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the director of interfaith affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.