Interfaith lessons learned and unlearned

Mainline Protestant groups hold incompatible positions, which then generate incompatible initiatives.

christians 298.88 (photo credit: ahmad gharabli )
christians 298.88
(photo credit: ahmad gharabli )
Looking back at the just-concluded biennial General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is like being greeted by a smiling stranger at your doorstep, only to learn that he is a process server. You appreciate the smile, but dread what is coming next. The GA offered some welcome gains for Israel's supporters, but wheeled in a Trojan horse that could mean the destruction of the Jewish state. The smile came from an unequivocal rejection of divestment from Israel and a resolution that called on PCUSA to be balanced in all of its actions and materials regarding Israel and Palestine. This follows complaints for years about the constant PCUSA pro-Palestine tilt - from meetings with Hizbullah, to ignoring historic Jewish presence in the Holy Land, to calling on "oppressor" Israel to make one-sided concessions that completely ignored her legitimate security needs. The church is now on record as demanding that all its entities be nonpartisan advocates for peace, and this is good. But the GA passed another resolution affirming the Amman Call, a document of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches, an umbrella group notoriously hostile to Israel. The Amman Call demands an end to the occupation, removal of settlements, and dismantling of Israel's security fence that has saved the lives of hundreds of Jewish, Christian and Muslim Israelis. The Amman Call also demands the right of return of (the third generation progeny of) Palestinian refugees. Such return would make Jews a minority in their country, swamped by those who would turn it into yet another Muslim country. In other words, while PCUSA affirmed its support of a two-state solution, it is prepared to see neither of those states function as a Jewish homeland or guarantee Israel's survival as a Jewish democratic state. A key committee also came close to approving a resolution calling for the suspension of all military aid to Israel. These mixed signals echoed the terrible gaffe committed earlier by PCUSA leadership, which in May issued a self-critical document on the church's anti-Semitism - and then took it back in June in favor of one that whitewashed the church and bashed Israel in the exact manner that the earlier document identified as a cause of rising anti-Semitism. PCUSA and other mainline Protestant groups own, among their faithful, incompatible positions, which then generate incompatible initiatives. Some members of PCUSA are fierce advocates for the Palestinians, with a tin ear to the needs of seven million Israelis. Others are unapologetic defenders of Israel, admirers of what she has achieved in 60 years against all odds, while functioning as a true democracy. Both camps are deeply engaged at their assemblies. Perhaps PCUSA could have plotted a better course had they actually listened to a church leader brought to the convention to give voice to Palestinian concerns. Elias Chacour, Melkite Greek Catholic Archbishop of the Galilee, actually argued against divestment. As Jewish groups have said, investment, especially in ventures that bring Jews and Arabs together improves the lot of Palestinians, while divestment never does. "I do not want to see coexistence. I want to see cooperation," he told the GA. He pleaded for more people to step forward and befriend the Palestinian people, but stated that if a new friend feels compelled to hate Jews, he will do without such friends. Many Presbyterians may have been surprised by his message, but it's backed up by the results of a recent poll by Harvard's prestigious Kennedy School that found that 77% of Israel's Arab citizens would rather live in the Jewish state than in any other country in the world. SO WHERE do we Jews committed to multi-faith relationships best serve the cause of Israel and shalom bayit (harmony) in the Diaspora? Divestment has now been rejected by various major mainline Protestant denominations. It may be dead. But another assault against Israel has already been launched: the elimination of the unique Jewish nature of Israel. Those who embrace the Amman Call can claim to be endorsing a two-state solution while actually working to dismantle Israel by causing an influx of an Arab majority. We must be prepared to unequivocally defend a democratic, Jewish state of Israel. We must press our cause specifically with those within the church most skeptical about Israel, through joint trips to the Holy Land. And we must learn to leverage the remarkable access provided by these churches to build broader alliances, not only in saving the environment but in defense of religious freedom - especially the embattled and virtually forgotten Christians in the Middle East, and in rebuilding moral red lines against international terrorism. Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of Wiesenthal Center and Rabbi Adlerstein is the center's Director of Interfaith Relations.