An unsettling Presbyterian ‘study guide’

The recent release of “Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study Guide” by the Israel-Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) of the Presbyterian Church [PC(USA)] threatens irreparable damage to Jewish-Presbyterian relations. The document takes aim at the ideological, moral and historical foundations of Israel, falsely labeling Zionism “Jewish supremacism” and denying Israel’s very right to exist as a modern nation state.  

The document — riddled with errors and half-truths — is a full-blown attack on the very concept of Zionism and a Jewish homeland. In branding Israel an illegitimate entity, it declares war on both Israel and American Jewry. “Zionism Unsettled” calls Zionism a “false theology.” The materials repeatedly describe Jewish immigrants to Israel as “colonists” who took “Palestinian land” from the Palestinian people.  The study guide’s project coordinator describes Zionism as an oppressive ideology comparable to Jim Crow segregation in the American South and apartheid in South Africa. The document quotes a Palestinian writer as saying, “Zionism was (and remains) not just about the colonization of Palestinian land, but also about colonizing minds — Jewish, Arab, European, American.”  

“Zionism Unsettled” should not be seen in isolation. It is just the latest hateful tract emanating from the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, represented within the PC(USA) by the IPMN. The sum of its message is that Jews have no right to the land, only Palestinian Arabs do. Alarmingly, but not surprisingly, the document has been praised by Iranian government media, and got a ringing endorsement from David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.

“In a major breakthrough in the worldwide struggle against Zionist extremism,” Duke wrote on his Web site, “the largest Presbyterian church in the United States, the PC(USA), has issued a formal statement calling Zionism ‘Jewish Supremacism’ — a term first coined and made popular by Dr. David Duke.”

“Zionism Unsettled” puts all the BDS movement’s cards on the table. The movement recruits supporters by claiming its goal is “ending the occupation.” In fact, as this document shows, BDS presents no real plan to end the conflict and occupation, which can only be accomplished by negotiation between the parties.  Palestinian BDS leaders have even openly attacked and ridiculed moderate Palestinians trying to build a peaceful society. BDS seeks simply to end the Jewish State of Israel. 

We — a Presbyterian and a Jew — have traveled on interfaith study tours together with fellow Christians, Jews and Muslims. We have visited Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ramallah and Bethlehem, and have met with Israeli and Palestinian government officials, academics, journalists, clergy, young people and community leaders. We do not pretend to have simple answers to the complex problems in this troubled region of the world.

One thing we do know: As people of faith, we are called to speak the truth, oppose prejudice and promote tolerance, coexistence and reconciliation. “Zionism Unsettled” violates all of these essential tenets. Instead, it increases polarization and distrust between people of different faiths at a time when effective peacemaking is needed.

The Presbyterian Mission Agency Board is the body ultimately responsible for dissemination of “Zionism Unsettled.” The distribution of a “study guide” that is driven by hatred and a determination to see Israel destroyed requires an urgent response.  We call on the board to immediately cease distribution of this material and to publicly repudiate this disgraceful and morally indefensible document.

At the 2012 Presbyterian General Assembly, delegates narrowly rejected a measure that would have had the church divest itself of holdings in companies targeted by the BDS movement. This year’s Presbyterian General Assembly is set to take place this June in Detroit; the BDS movement will be there in strength, represented by the IPMN. Will the Church stand as a partner for peace with people of good will of all faiths, or will the PC(USA) sever the historic bonds of fellowship between our respective faith communities? “Zionism Unsettled” may be welcomed by those who stoke hatred and intolerance.  It has no place in Presbyterian congregations whose members and leaders seek to strengthen Presbyterian-Jewish relations and work together for a just and lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Rabbi Mark S. Diamond is director of the Los Angeles region of the AJC. George Douglas is an elder of the Pacific Palisades Presbyterian Church and a founding member of Presbyterians for Middle East Peace.