The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson II, the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), delivered a hateful and antisemitic sermon on the day one honors the memory of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The fact that Herbert Nelson II is black helped spare him criticism from the politically correct liberal media, who would normally castigate such hate-filled false and malicious libel if given by a white person. Nelson’s poisonous words were morally repugnant, factually false, and certainly worthy of collective denouncement. He stated: “The continued occupation in Palestine/Israel is 21st-century slavery and should be abolished immediately.” He then added, “I would also hope that the Jewish community in the US would influence the call to join the US government in ending the immoral enslavement.”
This shameless blood-libel from a religious person can only serve to fuel antisemitism and division rather than bring about unity and amity, especially in today’s divided America. This spiritual leader chose to promote hate by inferring that Israeli-Jews are “enslavers.” Rather than focus on Martin Luther King’s great message of judging people “not by the color of their skin but by the content of one’s character,” was lost on Herbert Nelson II, who maligned the Jewish people and the Jewish state. Instead of calling for “love thy Neighbor,” or as Jesus might have said “love thy enemies,” Nelson insinuated that American Jews secretly control the moves of politicians and manipulate world events to their advantage. He must have taken a page from the antisemitic classic “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the lie that wouldn’t die.
In attempting to make a comparison between the legitimate case of black slavery in America and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, Nelson simply showed his ignorance of historical facts and his bias toward Israel and Jews. Palestinian-Arabs are not slaves, while the Muslim invasion, conquest, and conversion of the hitherto Christians and Jews in Palestine (a name given by the Roman conquerors to the Land of Israel) did enslave the people living under its sword. More importantly, few other people have had as many opportunities to assert their self- determination as did the Palestinian-Arabs. In 1937, the Peel Commission offered the Palestinian-Arabs 75% of Mandatory Palestine. They rejected it and chose terror and murder of innocent civilians, both Jewish-Palestinians and Palestinians-Arab. In 1947, the UN Partition Plan offered the Palestinian-Arabs a state once again, but they chose instead to annihilate the nascent Jewish state that did accept the Partition Plan. From 1948-1967, Jordan occupied the West Bank, yet, the Palestinians never demanded self-determination and statehood from Jordan. In fact, Palestinian leaders demanded that the Arab states deny citizenship to the Palestinian refugees in their states, and preferred to keep their people in miserable refugee camps as a propaganda tool. At the same time, the Jewish state of Israel absorbed a much larger number of Jewish refugees from Arab lands where Jews lived for millenniums.
Following the Oslo Accords in 1993, Yasser Arafat and Mahmud Abbas, both Presidents of the Palestinian Authority (PA) had several opportunities to establish their sovereign state – they declined. In July 2000, at the Camp David Summit presided over by US President Bill Clinton, with the participation of Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the Israeli PM offered Arafat far reaching concessions and Palestinian statehood in return for “an end to the conflict.” Arafat rejected it and chose instead to launch the Second Intifada, a terror campaign that cost the lives of over 1,000 Israeli civilians. President Clinton held Arafat responsible for the failure of the talks. It prompted Clinton to say, “I regret that in 2000, Arafat missed an opportunity to bring that nation (Palestine) into being.” In 2008, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert was prepared to go even further than Barak; still, Abbas wouldn’t sign on a peace deal and accept statehood.
Describing the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as enslavement is a modern-day blood libel, which historically led to violence against Jews, particularly as it came in the wake of a terrorist attack on a Texas synagogue. We can now add “slavery” to the list of demonstrably false libels that progressives have been repeating about Israel: “settler-colonialist,” “genocidal,” “killing and torturing children,” “apartheid,” and “ethnically cleansing” Palestinians.
The Jewish state has in fact displayed incredible humanism in the face of Palestinian murderous terror. Bassem Eid, a former Palestinian Muslim refugee, and currently a human rights activist, has pointed out to this reporter that, “We Palestinians do not need an identity, we know who we are. We Palestinians need dignity, and that comes with being able to support our families. Israel has provided us with high paying jobs so that we are able to support our families. Conversely, the PA leadership (not to mention Hamas) cares only for itself, with little regard for the Palestinian people’s welfare.” He added, “The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and the “progressives” are hypocritical and destructive. They have destroyed economic opportunities for Palestinians by boycotting the Soda Stream Company, which provided Palestinians great opportunities and equal pay.”
No mainline Protestant denomination is more clearly associated with anti-Israelism than the PCUSA. Some of its actions crossed the line into antisemitism, most notably its publication of “Zionism Unsettled,” which distorted Israeli and Jewish history. The American Jewish Committee (AJC), pointed out that “The sheer volume of anti-Israel resolutions discussed and debated reveal a deep animus (against Israel) that needs to be called out.” Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC’s director of interreligious relations continued, “Within the PCUSA, a small but vocal minority of activists have managed to keep anti-Israelism on the agenda through eight general assemblies (GA) spanning 14 years. This faction has its own committee, dubbed #12- Middle East issues, allowing a concentration of Israel-denunciatory time and energy through the weeklong GA.”
The late PCUSA pastor, Rev. Dr. Bill Harter, once explained to this reporter that the PCUSA missionaries who go to the Middle East return to the Louisville, Kentucky headquarters of the PCUSA having adopted the Palestinian narrative. Being posted to the headquarters they find nothing better to occupy their energy than to generate anti-Israel resolutions. Rev. Dr. Bill Harter was the co-founder of the Presbyterians for Middle East Peace (PFMEP). While the Stated Clerk and the PCUSA headquarters have adopted an anti-Israel and anti-Jewish posture, the majority of local presbyteries throughout the US have close and friendly relations with the Jewish communities in their area, and oppose the false and hateful words of the Stated Clerk, and the anti-Israel resolutions. On its website, the PFMEP has in fact, “Condemned the Stated Clerk’s statement on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day for being offensive to the Jewish community…”
Instead of apologizing, Herbert Nelson II made assertions without merit or fact. He charged that Israel confiscated Palestinian land in Judea and Samaria. The fact is that the Israeli High Court of Justice has gone out of its way to protect private Palestinian land. However, Israel has every right to use state/public land. Regarding his charge of “Israeli barriers to access Palestinian holy places of worship,” Israel erected barriers to prevent Palestinian terrorists from murdering Israeli citizens. Herbert Nelson has failed to cite a single case of innocent Palestinian worshippers denied access to the al-Aqsa mosque or any other place of worship. Religious freedom in Israel is sacrosanct, which was not the case under Jordanian rule.