It is a standard, if stale, practice for Israel critics to portray themselves as bravely daring to “break the silence” with their public criticism of Israel. It is a passive form of aggressive manipulation, and it continues, because it seems to work.
One of the practitioners of this pretend courage is the Presbyterian Church (USA). A current manifestation of that role playing by the PCUSA is an ugly attack on Israel, masquerading as a “study guide,” called Zionism Unsettled.
The Presbyterian Church (USA) has long been regarded as a church hostile to Israel as a Jewish State. It typically dresses up that hostility as loving concern for the Arab population within Israel and in the disputed territories.
PAST DIVESTMENT VOTES
In 2004, the church voted to approach corporations that “aiding Israel’s occupation of the West Bank,” and asking them to reconsider business with the Jewish state. This position was repeatedly reaffirmed in subsequent votes.
In July of 2012, the PCUSA brought to a vote another resolution targeting Israel. That divestment resolution was directed at companies which “sell military equipment to the Israeli military in the West Bank” was defeated by only two votes 331 – 333 – with two abstentions.
FINANCIAL AND OTHER SUPPORT FOR MESSIANIC CHURCHES
The PCUSA has exhibited its hostility to Judaism in other ways in recent years as well. For a time it directly funded efforts by “Jews for Jesus” to hoodwink, proselytize and convert Jews to Christianity.
For example, in 2004, the Philadelphia area Presbytery poured more than $250,000 into launching a church masquerading as a synagogue. The church was set up in a church at the Plymouth Meeting Mall, and the congregation was named Avodat Yisrael.
An exposé in the Wall Street Journal that fall revealed the congregation leader, Rev. Andrew Sparks, publicly and falsely claimed he was a rabbi. By 2005 the Presbytery chose to discontinue funding what they had called its “new church development.” Nevertheless, the congregation continued as a messianic church, under the name “Messiah Now Ministries,” with Rev. Sparks as its leader.
PCUSA’S LATEST UNSETTLING ATTACK
The PCUSA’s latest attack, its “teaching guide,” made available through its online store, is a doozy.
This new guide, Zionism Unsettled, has accomplished one neat feat thus far, however. It has united Jewish and Christian supporters of Israel in their immediate and unequivocal denunciations.
Zionism Unsettled is a 74 page booklet and comes with accompanying DVD which PCUSA says is a “how-to guide for class leaders with focused discussion prompts.” It is being marketed as an “ideal resource for multi-week exploratory educational programs in churches, synagogues, mosques and all classroom settings, faith-based or secular.”
Ah yes. Surely they are trying to use this booklet to explain, as they claim, “what steps can be taken to bring peace, reconciliation and justice to the homeland that Palestinians and Israelis share?”
But one of the quotes from a church leader makes clear exactly what the PCUSA is trying to do by promoting this booklet.
Walter Brueggemann, professor emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, remarks “The urgency of the Palestinian plight in the face of Israeli intransigence indicates that intentional, concrete and sustained public action is necessary to respond credibly to the crisis. Zionism Unsettled is a welcome study guide. It will prove an effective vehicle for helping to mobilize public opinion so that both attitudes and policies can be transformed in the face of an imperious and exploitative ideology.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center knows exactly what the PCUSA is up to with its latest anti-Israel effort.
“This outrageous screed is the theological twin of the infamous 1975 UN ‘Zionism is Racism’ resolution,” charged Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the SWC.
“This publication isn’t an attack on particular Israeli policies, but on the very idea of a Jewish return to Zion,” Cooper explained. He said that in publishing Zionism Unsettled, the PCUSA “has deployed the nuclear option against the vast majority of Jews, calling us inherently racist and abusive.”
The SWC’s public statement denouncing the booklet called on Christian churches and individuals to denounce the “disgusting attack aimed at delegitimizing and demonizing the world’s largest Jewish community and all lovers of Zion.”
The SWC’s director of interfaith affairs, Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein chastised the PCUSA for sending interfaith dialogue back to the highly antagonistic literature of the early Church.
“Such attacks describing our core beliefs as ‘rooted’ in ‘intolerable human rights abuses’ reveals there is nothing left to talk about with such religious bigots. Jews will now regard PCUSA as a hostile church,” concluded Adlerstein.
Without even waiting to hear the challenge issued by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Mark Tooley, the president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, went public with his criticism of what he called the “elites” within the PCUSA towards Israel. The IRD is an American Christian think tank.
Tooley derided what he called “the special human rights concern” of PCUSA and its allies.
“Why the focused animosity against the Jewish homeland? Sadly, their professed concern for Palestinian suffering will have the opposite effect, encouraging Palestinian victimhood, discouraging Palestinian and wider Arab acceptance of Israel, and delaying peaceful coexistence,” Tooley write in an email to The Jewish Press. “Presbyterians can do better.”
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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