The General Assembly of the almost 3 million-member Presbyterian Church (USA) meeting this week is debating whether to endorse an official church study committee report essentially endorsing the Palestinian “Nakba” narrative that faults Israel for nearly all Middle East strife and suffering.
That Middle East Study Committee report is so extreme that even left-leaning J Street, a Jewish group usually Palestinian friendly, urged Presbyterians to reject it. “Supporting a Palestinian state does not, should not, and cannot mean tearing down Israel,” implored J Street Vice President Rachel Lerner to Presbyterians meeting in Minneapolis. She also disavowed the report’s commendation of J Street as sign of “hope,” making clear that the report’s Presbyterian authors never consulted J Street.
“I want to be very clear about this – this is not meant to be a threat,” Lerner declared. He continued:
If this is passed we will not be issuing a directive to our locals that they cannot partner with local Presbyterian churches – but with the passage of this study, the Church will alienate us and as a result our activists will not want to work with you and this will damage completely the possibility of a future relationship.
Reporting she was “saddened” and “angered” by the report, Lerner complained it was:
So one-sided, so devoid of any balance, that I fear this report will not only not achieve its desired effect – positive change in the region and a just two-state solution – but it will be counter-productive to forging a meaningful peace and will significantly hinder the possibility of future efforts to work together toward what for most of us is a shared common goal.
Lerner urged Presbyterians to give more than “lip service” to Israel’s security and warned that U.S. aid cut-offs to Israel would “only undercut the possibilities for peace in our lifetime.” She was echoed by prominent liberal Presbyterians who deplored the report’s harsh tone against Israel. Among them was former New York Times religion reporter Gus Niebuhr, the grand nephew of famed Christian ethicist and pro-Zionist Reinhold Niebuhr.
“Reputations are hard to win and they are easy to lose,” Niebuhr warned fellow Presbyterians, telling them that the “terribly imbalanced” anti-Israel report would “obscure” Presbyterian influence in America. There is “no bright line between anti-Israel and anti-Semitism in the minds of most Americans,” he insisted. Niebuhr was joined by Presbyterian pastor and Christian Century magazine publisher John Buchanan in sounding the alarm against the report’s bias. Buchanan’s opposition was significant because his long time predecessor as magazine chief, United Methodist minister James Wall, is vitriolically anti-Israel and has essentially denounced the Presbyterian report’s opponents as agents of Israeli propaganda.
Of course, the Presbyterians are not considering lengthy condemnations of other nations. Israel remains the nearly only overseas cause of concern for Religious Left elites. In his testimony to his fellow Presbyterians in Minneapolis this week, my colleague Alan Wisdom noted the report angrily employs words such as “sin,” “evil,” “appalled,” “ghastly,” and “intolerable” regarding Israel, which is likened to a “Nazi state,” apartheid South Africa, and the former Soviet Union.
Meanwhile, Alan observed that the report contrastingly and more gently observed that Hamas, while “militant,” compassionately spends 90 percent of its resources on “social services.” There is no mention of Hamas’ radical Islam and dedication to Israel’s destruction. Meanwhile, the report similarly observes that “Hezbollah, while classified as a ‘terrorist organization,’ demonstrates through its social services and governmental participation that it is a more broadly political body guided by an Islamist viewpoint of some flexibility.” With equal generosity, the report dismissed fears about Iranian nukes because “Iran has not invaded any other country for centuries.”
Alan further noted the report’s supposedly reassuring claim that only “a relatively small minority [of Palestinians] has resorted to violence.” And of course, the report blames Israel as the root cause of violence: “If there were no occupation,” it claims, “there would be no Palestinian resistance.” The report wants the U.S. to cut off aid “to bring Israel to compliance,” without suggesting U.S. aid reductions to any other human rights abuser, while demanding more dollars for the Palestinian Authority. “Is this prophetic truth-telling?” Alan asked of his fellow Presbyterians. His full analysis of the report is here.
Early reports suggest Presbyterians will tone down the report somewhat, more explicitly affirming Israel’s right to existence and deleting some of the harsher anti-Israel rhetoric. A final vote by the General Assembly should come late this week.
Even if moderated, the Presbyterians Middle East Study Report still illustrates the Religious Left’s almost psychopathic preoccupation with Israel. There are evidently no proposed church study committees on abysmal human rights abuses and civil strife in Iran, or Saudi Arabia, or Syria. Only Israel merits special attention. Would Presbyterians and so many others be so closely examining Israeli faults if Israel were not primarily Jewish and pro-American? Almost certainly not.