Just days later the horrors of 9/11 swept aside the experiences at Durban, but clearly world Jewry is still struggling to overcome the campaign unleashed at that meeting in South Africa which reverberates on college campuses, church assemblages and even union meetings.

You can travel a straight line between Durban and Birmingham 2004. Among politicized activists, casting the Jewish state as the root of all evil became a mantra. Many of these anti-Israel activists are embedded in the professional administration of the various denominations. It is both appalling and not surprising that a resolution to declare suicide terror a crime against humanity was actively opposed by PCUSA’s Social Witness Policy Committee.


So how did last week’s victory come about? To be sure, many Jewish groups spoke up and conveyed their feelings – in both directions. (More Jews came to Birmingham advocating for the Palestinian side than for the Israeli.) Groups like the Simon Wiesenthal Center only offered a cheering section for a diverse group of committed Presbyterians who simply decided it was time to right a wrong. It was they who convinced members of the Peacemaking Committee that taking sides on a complex political issue like the Middle East had been tearing their church apart, and that they needed to restore unity by dropping language that unfairly placed the exclusive burden of blame upon Israel.

These concerned Christians included liberals and conservatives, clergy and laypeople. We offered moral support when a series of Jewish speakers rose to denounce the State of Israel in the name of several thousand members of various groups. One of us rose and declared that the 400,000 member families of the Simon Wiesenthal Center who strongly supported Israel swamped their numbers.

The PCUSA old guard did not take kindly to the Peacemaking Committee report, which was offered almost unanimously. Twice they tried to offer amendments; twice they failed, and the new language was accepted. It should have been over at that point, but the outgoing moderator rose the next day, after many delegates had already left, and tried reopening debate, hoping that the strong opposition was already at the airport. Once again, he failed. Before the vote, the thinking of the other side was very much in evidence when a delegate declared at a dinner, “[Israel] is worse than apartheid.” Elsewhere, the old attitude was very much alive, as CUPE, Ontario’s largest labor union, voted in a boycott of Israeli products.

So what can we learn from Birmingham?

We know that our Presbyterian neighbors are prepared to listen. Even those who show strong empathy for the Palestinian narrative are not beyond listening to Israel’s. Too few of them, tragically, have had the opportunity to put a human face on Israel’s struggles, because the programs they have attended, the material they have been fed on their denomination’s website, has been so lopsided in the other direction. We have come to know and admire a cadre of indefatigable men and women within the church who have worked tirelessly – and have pledged to continue working – in support of the State of Israel. We should share our thanks with them. You can express your appreciation at info@enddivestment.com.

Where do we go from here? The voices of those who oppose us will not suddenly go silent. They have been making huge inroads across America, while we have been napping. They have gone not only to the leadership but from church to church, telling stories about their hardship under Israeli occupation. Many of these stories are true. That is not the issue.

Presbyterians (and Lutherans and Methodists and Episcopalians) must now also be given the opportunity to hear about families of suicide bomb victims. We must teach them about the historical connection of Klal Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael, and about the State of Israel and the enemies who have tried to annihilate it. We must introduce them to Christians in the Holy Land who speak passionately about their persecution by Muslims. We must convey to them that Jews who speak against Israel have the right to do so, but represent a very miniscule fraction of American Jewry.


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Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and global social action. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is director of Interfaith Relations.