The Presbyterians’ Judaism problem

The Jewish world has been shaken by the decision of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to divest from three companies that it claims “further the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

The denomination has placed itself squarely on the side of the divestment movement that seeks to hold Israel solely to blame for the plight of the Palestinian people. It did so, furthermore, over the opposition of many Presbyterian pastors and lay leaders.

Despite protests to the contrary by the denomination’s leaders, the church’s embrace of divestment is an affront to the Jewish community.

The insult is made worse by the release earlier this year by the church’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network of a vehemently anti-Zionist congregational study guide, “Zionism Unsettled.” This ahistorical and wildly biased broadside impugned the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel and the very legitimacy of this core element of Jewish identity. While the church’s recent General Assembly did pass a resolution stating that “Zionism Unsettled” does not represent the denomination’s views, the study guide remains for sale on the church’s website.

The Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) released a study guide titled “Zionism Unsettled” with a companion DVD.

Regrettably, the church — which often has been a partner of the Jewish community on critical social justice issues — has been on a 10-year road to this moment. At the Presbyterians’ 2004 General Assembly, the church’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee called for a “phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel.” Since then, within the church, Israel has often been compared to South Africa’s nefarious apartheid regime.

Even worse, these ostensibly political actions are part of a warped theological framework that delegitimizes any Jewish attachment to the land of Israel. This theological structure represents a wholesale denial of Jewish history, Jewish experience and Jewish religious strivings to live in covenant with God.

Irrespective of repeated statements by the denomination’s leaders that the church loves its Jewish friends, the real problem is what the church thinks about Judaism. The truth is that the denomination is theologically unreconciled with the Jewish community.

Whereas many other Christian denominations have grappled seriously with anti-Jewish theological traditions, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has failed to do so.

In the late 1950’s, Pope John XXIII contemplated how the Catholic Church might have contributed to an atmosphere that produced the Holocaust. He reevaluated the history of church-based anti-Judaism: the historical Christian belief that the Jewish covenant with God had been broken by perfidy, and that God had chosen a new covenantal partner, the church.

The process initiated by John XXIII led to the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate, which made four remarkable claims: 1) that Jews are not now –and never were – collectively responsible for the death of Jesus, 2) that God’s covenant with the Jews is eternally valid, (3) that Jews should never be treated as if God had abandoned or cursed them, and (4) that anti-Semitism has no place whatsoever in Christianity.

Today, Jews and Catholics continue to work at deepening understanding and cooperation. Even when Jews have had political differences with the church, these were discussed with an attitude of respect for the fundamentals of Jewish identity — a level playing field for dialogue.

Many Protestant denominations took up the same process of theological soul-searching. The Episcopal Church dealt with the issue of with the issue of supersessionism and the validity of the Jewish covenant in a resolution in 1988; the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in 1994; the United Methodist Church in 1996. These other mainline Protestant denominations have wrestled with their theological relationship to Judaism. They have developed a language of understanding and respect upon which to respectfully engage with Jews on political questions.

The Presbyterians have not done this.

True, a white paper on these questions has been circulating around the Presbyterian church since the mid-1980s, but it was never acted upon. The Presbyterian church has not resolved the question of supersessionism. It has not resolved how it teaches about the Jewish covenantal relationship with God and the biblical roots of the Jewish people’s attachment to the land of our heritage. And by denying our essential identity, the Presbyterians have now ceased to understand us as we know ourselves.

All of this became very clear when the Presbyterians’ 2014 General Assembly debated whether the church should emend those prayers and hymns that refer to Israel, or at least to footnote that the Israel of the hymn does not refer to the modern land of Israel and that Zion only refers to the “City of God,” not a physical place. True, this resolution was rejected, but an atmosphere of anti-Judaism created the opportunity for it to be debated seriously.

The Presbyterian church’s actions have not only called into question its relationship with Jews. They have highlighted a glaring issue: the church’s relationship to Judaism. Until the official church body is willing to wrestle with this theological question, we can only expect expanded efforts within the church targeting Israel and a further tearing asunder of a Jewish-Presbyterian relationship that was built upon a shared vision for a just society.

Much work lies ahead if the Presbyterians wish to repair this breach. Jews are an eternally hopeful people, and we stand ready to work with them. But to mend ties, the church must affirm our identity as a people still in covenant with God and with a legitimate attachment to both our history and our ancestral homeland.

Does the Presbyterian divestment have widespread support among pastors? ‘Hell no’

In Rev. Drew Sams’ Sunday sermon before his congregation at Bel Air Presbyterian Church on June 22 — just two days after the national umbrella organization of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) endorsed divestment from three companies that do business in Israel — Sams registered his firm opposition to the vote to the 1,500 people in attendance.

Sams’ defiance against PCUSA may not be enough, though, for the members of the massive Bel Air congregation to avoid the question so many Presbyterian churches have faced in the past few years — stay a member of the liberal-leaning PCUSA and try to influence it? Or break away in protest against policies enacted by its leadership?

Presbyterian Church committee advances divestment resolution

A committee of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) passed a resolution endorsing divestment from three U.S. companies that “profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.”

The Middle East Issues Committee, in a 45-20 vote on June 17 at the church’s 221st General Assembly, advanced the measure to divest from Caterpillar Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Motorola Solutions. The resolution likely will be voted on during a plenary session of the full assembly later this week.

At the 2012 church assembly, delegates rejected a divestment initiative by a vote of 333-331. Jewish-Presbyterian relations already were strained following the publication in January of a study guide created by the church’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network. The document, “Zionism Unsettled,” depicted Zionism as a false theology.

Meanwhile, a letter opposing divestment signed by more than 1,700 rabbis, cantors and Jewish seminary students is being circulated at the assembly. The open letter, which has signers from all 50 states and the major streams of Judaism, urges commissioners to reject divestment from companies operating in Israel and other anti-Israel resolutions.

“We are deeply concerned that the PCUSA is considering several overtures that would threaten the prospects for future peace,” the letter says. “Oversimplifying a complex conflict and placing all the blame on one party, when both bear responsibility, increases conflict and division instead of promoting peace, reconciliation and mutual understanding.”

The letter goes on to say, “If we truly want to help both parties, we should encourage reconciliation, investment and a negotiated solution, instead of boycotts and divestments.” 

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.

Opinion: Look between the headlines to understand the Presbyterians’ vote

The Presbyterian Church (USA)’s 220th General Assembly had just cast its first vote on an anti-Israel divestment resolution when the spin began. Major news outlets and activists on each side could hardly wait for the debate to finish the next day before declaring winners and losers.

This was my fourth GA and one thing I’ve learned is that reality lies somewhere between the headlines. Here are some reality checks on the GA.

* The defeat of divestment was narrow—and it wasn’t.

The widely reported 333-331 vote earlier this month was on a motion to substitute a positive investment minority report for the main divestment resolution. This means the very first time the plenary had a chance, it shot down divestment. It was close, but in subsequent votes the positive approach passed by a much wider margin—and additional pro-divestment motions continued to fail by increasingly wider margins. The Positive Investment substitute—passed 369-290—calls for financial support for projects that include collaboration among Christians, Jews and Muslims and that will help develop viable Palestinian infrastructure, job creation and economic development.

* The PCUSA is different from other churches – and it isn’t.

Think of the most intense anti-Israel delegitimizers you’ve ever seen, heard or read. They run the show at the PCUSA.

Before the GA, the PCUSA’s coordinator of social witness policy defended divestment, attacked positive investment and said an Israel-apartheid comparison is unavoidable. An advisory committee called as its resource person before the GA’s Middle East committee a Jewish representative from an anti-Zionist group that actively favors boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). Even the church’s executive council backed divestment.

But there were also several major Presbyteries, seminary presidents, former national moderators and other key leaders who opposed divestment. One group, Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, successfully advocated for a balanced approach that was clearly more in keeping with the mind-set of Presbyterians.

* The targeted companies are profiteers—and they aren’t.

The PCUSA’s Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment, or MRTI—the body that originally recommended divestment—concluded that no further conversations would matter for Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions. They were irredeemably and unequivocally guilty. The Methodist pension board, meanwhile, reached the exact opposite conclusion.

A close reading of the MRTI report reveals that it relied on resolutions filed by radical groups better known for harassing corporations than engaging them.

Motions filed on a broader human rights issue were presented as if they were about Israel, and corporate transgressions like a corporate officer rescheduling a conference call were submitted as conclusive proof of indifference. But companies are companies. Their jobs are making money, not playing politics—and they get attacked so often, it’s just noise to them.

* The divestment debate is really about anti-Semitism—and it isn’t.

A church leader told me that he had never heard of Israel’s security fence described as being even partially a defensive move, indicating that the silencing of Israel’s legitimate security stance isn’t just about choosing sides but about something much deeper.

More than 1,500 American rabbis representing a broad geographical and ideological range sent a letter against divestment to every PCUSA commissioner. Had women or ethnic leaders in the United States sent a letter on a topic of concern, the PCUSA leadership might have stopped dead in its tracks. Disturbingly, that didn’t happen with this letter.

Even more disturbing was a pro-BDS letter signed by fewer than two dozen rabbis and trumpeted by a PCUSA committee that said it was tantamount to racism to suggest that the Jewish community opposes divestment. That doesn’t rise to the level of anti-Semitism. Yet the church leadership’s failure to challenge this outrageous comment certainly isn’t a measure of respect either.

* The divestment debate is actually about Christian Zionism—and it isn’t.

There is an intense struggle between left and right in American churches that plays out over many issues, including sexuality and Israel. The struggle is so intense that it drowns out the real debate over issues; Israel becomes a proxy for a much wider conversation.

We are told sometimes that we need to choose between friendship with liberal or with conservative Christians. Not true. We should not be forced to choose between neighbors and friends. Peacemaking requires a path that is faithful to all who seek peace, including Palestinians and Israelis, Christians, Muslims and Jews.

* The PCUSA has become irrelevant—and it hasn’t.

The membership of the PCUSA is dropping—rapidly. As with many of the “mainline” churches, it has lost half its members in 40 years, with one in five leaving in the past decade. The median age is 61 and fewer than one in 10 Presbyterians is aged 18 to 34. But there also is new life in many parts of the church—and little to celebrate in the exodus from other parts of the PCUSA. It is a major American institution and an important partner on a range of issues.

It helps no one if responsible voices bolt and leave behind a denomination less able to discern between peacemaking and radicalism.

* The debate is really about what Palestinian Christians want – and it isn’t.

The PCUSA has close connections with Palestinian Christians. They visit them, hear from them and care about them. They have skin in the game.

But there also are American denominations with sister churches in the Palestinian areas that have rejected divestment, most recently the Episcopal Church, which heard from Palestinian Christians who oppose divestment.

There are many myths about the Palestinian Christians. Some friends of Israel believe the only stresses that Palestinian Christians face are from Muslims. And many detractors of Israel have fabricated a story that the Palestinian Christian population is in free fall due to Israeli policies (it isn’t—the West Bank Christian population is actually increasing). Palestinian Christians do face stresses, as do Israelis.

* Not surprisingly, the story is far more complex than either “side” would have it. The battle continues.

Well, that is true.

The PCUSA passed a troubling boycott resolution. While there are committed Zionists who have supported a boycott of West Bank settlement groups, the effort in the PCUSA was led by groups that don’t support a Jewish state. For them it is incremental delegitimization.

Presbyterians have much to decide. Do they want their church to be positive or negative? One that understands that there are multiple narratives or just one version, with characters conveniently symbolized by American companies to reduce a painful conflict affecting real lives to a caricature of innocence and evil?

In the end, that is a Presbyterian conversation. And it isn’t.

Ethan Felson is the vice president and general counsel for the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

Presbyterian Church’s narrow rejection of divestment unlikely to slow anti-Israel push

Proponents of using economic pressure to force Israel out of the West Bank may have lost a key battle this week – by a hair’s breadth – but they have no intention of giving up.

That’s the message from backers of a divestment motion at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), which late Thursday night rejected a proposal to divest from companies selling equipment to the Israeli military in the West Bank.

The 333-331 vote, with two abstentions, at the church’s Pittsburgh gathering was the closest that the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement—aimed at undermining Israel’s occupation of the West Bank—has come to a win in a major American religious denomination.

Friday morning also saw the defeat, by a substantial margin – 403-175 – of a resolution that would have likened Israel’s West Bank presence to apartheid. But one divestment resolution – targeting only products manufactured in the West Bank – did pass, 457-180. Delegates also approved by a 70-vote margin a resolution supporting investment in companies that help build the West Bank economy.

“We are concerned, but think it’s unproductive,” Ethan Felson, vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the agency’s point person on interfaith relations, said of the vote to boycott West Bank products. 

However, the main focus of the proceedings and their aftermath was on the divestment issue—and Presbyterian and Jewish advocates of it vowed to press on.

“It appears that church commissioners were swayed by a fear that divestment would cause irreparable harm to Jewish-Christian relations,” said Rev. Katherine Cunningham, the vice-moderator of the church’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IMPN), which recommended divestment. “In reality, the divestment motion was supported by a broad alliance of Jews, Christians, and others who believe that nonviolent means such as divestment are an effective way to pressure the Israeli government into abiding by international law and respecting Palestinian human rights.”

The IPNM “will continue its efforts to alleviate the suffering of Palestinians and to help bring peace and justice to Israelis and Palestinians alike,” she said.

A 2011 church report found that Caterpillar supplies bulldozers for the demolition of Palestinian homes by the Israel Defense Forces, Motorola provides cell phone technology to West Bank settlements and Hewlett-Packard manages information technology for the Israeli Navy.

The Presbyterian Church-USA had voted in 2004 to approach corporations that they said were aiding Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, asking them to reconsider business with the Jewish state. That effort – which held back initial calls for divestment – was reaffirmed in 2006, 2008 and 2010.

Felson called the vote against divestment a victory even though it was closer than previous such votes in other religious movements. Most recently, in May the Methodist Church defeated similar divestment proposals by a two-thirds-to-one-third margin.

“This is a major milestone that despite the full-court press from the denomination’s main institutions, when presented to the rank and file, divestment doesn’t fly,” said Felson, who was at the convention lobbying church leaders to tone down the resolution.

While divestment is now off the table for the church, more efforts targeting Israel should be expected, said Rev. John Wimberly, co-moderator of Presbyterians for Middle East Peace. He also cautioned that the vote should not be seen as approval of Israel’s policies.

“The fact is there was an overwhelming consensus that the Palestinians are in a very bad place and we want to help them,” he said.

“The anger from the pro-divestment crowd towards Israel is not over,” added Wimberly, who opposes divestment. “As long as there are Israeli troops on the West Bank, there are going to be different ways in which that’s tackled. We don’t know what this will be, but we know it’s not going to be divestment moving forward.”

A number of Jewish groups pushed hard against the divestment resolution, and more than 22,000 Jews signed a letter organized by JCPA and the Jewish Federation of North America’s Israel Action Network urging the Presbyterian delegates to reject the divestment resolution.

Their letter followed an earlier one signed by 1,300 rabbis and sent to the church that called on Presbyterians to deepen their “understandings of the multiple narratives in the region” and “focus on positive steps including economic development, Palestinian state building, and a return to negotiations.”

Americans for Peace Now and J Street each called on the church to reject the divestment resolution, even though both those groups oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Rachel Lerner, the vice president of J Street’s education fund, said it was the means of divestment, not the end goal, that J Street opposes.

“This should not have been and this was not a choice about whether you support settlement expansion or peace in the region,” Lerner said of the Presbyterian vote. “This was a decision over a tactic, and that was what we wanted to emphasize.”

The Union for Reform Judaism welcomed the rejection of divestment, and expressed the hope that Thursday’s vote put the matter to rest.

“We hope that PC(USA)’s leadership and General Assembly will forego consideration of similar proposals at future gatherings and instead will work toward a more positive and constructive approach to promoting peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, a goal which we all share,” Rabbi David Saperstein, the director of Reform’s Religious Action Center, said in a statement. Those comments were echoed by other Jewish groups such as the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Jewish Voice for Peace, which supports BDS and has been labeled by the Anti-Defamation League as one of the top 10 anti-Israel groups in the United States, said it would not be dissuaded by the narrow loss of the divestment proposal.

“This is a historic moment in the struggle for dignity and justice, and I commend the PC (USA) for getting us this close to holding corporations accountable for profiting from the occupation,” said Rabbi Alissa Wise, the director of campaigns for Jewish Voice for Peace. The group, which includes Jews and non-Jews, sent members to Pittsburgh for the convention and lobbied on behalf of the resolution.

Boycott, divestment and sanctions put allies at odds

As a long-time advocate for peaceful resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I am pained that frustration over failure to achieve a just and lasting peace has led allies in the struggle to end up at odds over tactics like boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS).

Two years ago, the organization I head, J Street, was honored with an invitation to speak at a breakfast hosted by a Presbyterian Church (USA) peacemaking group—a long-time ally in the struggle for Middle East peace. But we attended with heavy hearts.

A PCUSA committee had just offered an alarming and problematic Middle East study report referencing J Street as a source of inspiration. We explained then, and have reiterated ever since, that, in our view, the one-sided, extreme rhetoric that accompanies the Global BDS Movement makes a mutually agreeable solution more difficult to achieve, not less. Thankfully, at that time, the Church heard our arguments and rejected the divestment resolutions.

[Related: PCUSA could mean end of Jewish-Presbyterian dialogue]

Now, two years later, PCUSA is poised again to consider divestment this week at its General Assembly. As an activist, as an ally and as someone to whom the future of Israel and Palestine matters enormously, I’m hoping they will once again avoid this unproductive path.

As the Presbyterian Church knows, the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been clear for decades: the establishment of two states, living side by side in peace and security; a mutually acceptable resolution of the refugee issue; and a shared Jerusalem. For years, the PCUSA has supported a two-state solution on this basis.

I would say to the Church’s leaders as they again consider joining forces with the BDS Movement, that the Movement’s rhetoric and tactics are not only a distraction, but a genuine threat to conflict resolution. Even the limited divestment approach under consideration by PCUSA falls under the rubric of larger BDS efforts to place blame entirely on one side of the conflict. Such an approach encourages not reconciliation, but polarization. Further, too many in and around the BDS movement refuse to acknowledge either the legitimacy of Israel or the right of the Jewish people as well as the Palestinian people to a state.

Pro-peace, pro-Israel advocacy has gained traction in the American Jewish community by embracing the mutuality inherent in the two-state solution. We reject a zero-sum approach, which says that to be pro-Israel means one must be anti-Palestinian—or vice versa. We seek a win-win solution.

We want to see Israel thrive as a Jewish homeland and a democracy, and we want to see a Palestinian state established, because Palestinians deserve to live in dignity in their own state too.

Thus, the Jewish pro-peace, pro-Israel community calls for an end to settlement expansion, the promotion of human rights, securing Israel’s future as a Jewish democracy and establishing a thriving Palestine. We call for bold American and international diplomatic initiatives, starting with a push to define mutually-agreed borders.

But turning to tactics like BDS deepens divisions and fails to promote reconciliation.

I understand that frustration is rising over diplomatic stagnation, and I know that advocates for peace are attracted to tactics like BDS that create the impression of action. But, to date, pursuit of these tactics has promoted little more than debate and division—and done nothing to facilitate movement toward reconciliation.

Advocates for peace and two states are fighting an uphill and increasingly urgent battle. Just as the opportunity to achieve a two-state peace grows narrower, the debate over BDS is sapping the resources of those working for peace by creating new and deep divisions among those who should be allies working together for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

If PCUSA disregards the voices of its Jewish allies in the quest for a two-state solution and votes to support divestment, it won’t bring a just peace any closer. It will merely lose the good will of many American Jews and further dissipate the energies we so desperately need to apply to the task at hand.

At base we share a common goal: to see the establishment of a two-state resolution of the conflict. Everything we do needs to be geared toward that goal. Several American Christian organizations have made the choice to continue the fight for two states by advocating for bold American leadership in achieving a two-state solution on Capitol Hill and embracing positive steps, including economic development, programs that foster reconciliation and other constructive work, for the shared benefit of Israelis and Palestinians alike.

I call on PCUSA to do likewise—to not move away from its natural allies, but to stick with us. Reject divestment, and embrace full-on pursuit of the diplomatic efforts necessary to create genuine and lasting peace for Israel and the Palestinian people.

Jeremy Ben-Ami is the president of J Street, the political home of the pro-Israel, pro-peace movement.

Presbyterian committee approves Israel divestment

The country’s largest Presbyterian church has agreed to vote by week’s end on divesting its portfolio from three companies that it is says has resisted the request to stop providing services that aid Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly’s Middle East Committee voted 36 to 11 with one abstention in favoring of divesting its portfolio from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions. The Committee said the company’s helped “Israel’s use of their products in violations of Palestinian human rights.”

The group recommended the church put those funds instead into companies “engaging in peaceful pursuits in Israel and Palestine.”

The Church’s full convention, being held in Pittsburgh, is expected to vote either Thursday or Friday on the proposal.

Ethan Felson, vice president of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs, is at the convention and is speaking with Church leaders about toning down the resolution, according to a JCPA spokesman.

A 2011 church report found that Caterpillar supplies bulldozers for the demolition of Palestinian homes, Motorola provides cell phone technology to West Bank settlements and Hewlett-Packard manages information technology for the Israeli Navy.

Divestment: What the Presbyterian vote could mean

In the next few days, the 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA (PCUSA), will convene in Pittsburgh. If delegates pass any one of several resolutions calling for punitive economic measures against Israel, the Church will have capitulated to one of the worst assaults on Jewish integrity coming from any church group since the Holocaust. That blow to Jewish history, belief and aspiration is contained in the Kairos Palestine Document (KPD), ironically, a document unknown to most Presbyterians.

About two-and-a-half years ago, KPD was penned by a group of Palestinian Christians. Redolent with Scriptural references, it is a powerful appeal for Christian sympathy for the plight of Palestinians.

KPD is also, however, a frontal assault on the very legitimacy of Israel, and an attack on Judaism itself. The Kairos Palestine Document justifies (but does not recommend) terrorism. It assigns all the blame to Israel for the Middle East’s problems. It acknowledges nothing about Palestinian terror, rocket attacks, or the teaching of virulent anti-Semitism in schools, on Palestinian Authority television, and in mosques.

It denies any Biblical link between the Jewish people and the Holy Land. It rewrites modern history as well, by promoting the canard that Israel was created in sin, an imposition of Western colonialists, driven by guilt for the Nazi Holocaust, on the backs of the true owners of the land. It conveniently ignores 3,500 years of a Jewish presence in the Holy Land, and erases a 150 years of peaceful up-building of the land by Jews before the establishment of the state.

It gets even worse. Kairos’ appeals to Scripture take the classic form of Replacement Theology, in which all references to the Jews in the Bible, all covenants with them, are replaced, as Christians become the New Jews. The old Jews, thereby, become the discards of history. (Christians invoked Replacement Theology, together with the charge of deicide, for centuries to justify persecuting Jews). Finally, this document culminates in a core political demand of Israel’s enemies: the cessation of all US military aid to Israel, and for economic boycott, divestment and sanctions against the Jewish state.

[Related: Church of Nativity gets Heritage status over U.S., Israel objections]

Jewish leaders voiced their dismay and outrage when a PCUSA recommended adoption of Kairos at the 2010 General Assembly. KPD made a mockery of the 1987 Presbyterian document, “A Theological Understanding of the Relationship Between Christians and Jews.” The 1987 document contained seven theological affirmations, among them that the identity of the Church “is intimately related to the continuing identity of the Jewish people”; that both “Christians that Jews are in covenant relationship with G-d”; and a pledge that they would “put an end to the teaching of contempt for the Jews.”

KPD devalued the identity of the Jewish people, denied any continuing covenant, and was contemptuous of the way Jews looked at themselves, their beliefs and the centrality of their Land.

While Kairos was not formally adopted, it was “lifted up for study,” “along with a pledge to Jewish groups that a new spirit of fairness to all sides would soon prevail.”

It never happened. A new study guide on the Middle East that was just released betrayed that promise.

While it was supposed to provide two perspectives on the Middle East, it did nothing of the sort.

At the General Assembly that begins this week, PCUSA will vote on a number of resolutions incorporating the worst influences of Kairos. A call for divestment has the backing of a prestigious standing committee of the Church. Passing any one of the anti-Israel resolutions will mean that Presbyterians have responded to the call of Palestinians with nothing less than a repudiation of the principles that governed dialogue with Church leadership for decades.

Their votes will not help a single Palestinian but will leave Jews little choice but to end all ties with Presbyterian leadership, and ignore their unfair and unfaithful pronouncements on Israel in the future.

The Jewish community has some difficult lessons to absorb from this fiasco masquerading as dialogue.

We have to clearly articulate that any group’s inability to come to terms with Israel as a Jewish state is not only a deal-breaker, but also a signal of contempt for Jews and Judaism.

It is almost beyond belief that as the ground literally burns beneath the Christian faithful in Egypt, Nigeria and Iraq that PCUSA stays fixated in aiding and abetting the de-legitimizing of Israel. All other mainline Christian denominations have either rejected or shelved divestment measures. If Presbyterians go it alone, they will have made an unnecessary but clear choice between the narratives of two people.

A huge number of ordinary Presbyterians reject the actions of their church leadership. They enjoy a mutually warm and respectful relationship with Jewish friends. Those valued friendships will continue.

But as far as PCUSA denominational leadership, the upcoming vote may bring us to the end of the road.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the director of interfaith affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

This essay originally appeared at