May 19, 2019

A Personal Reflection on General Assemblv Actions on Israel and thePractice of Conversion

I have devoted almost my entire professional career to fostering interfaith understanding, respect and cooperation. In recent years I feel that I have exhausted my soul trying to balance a deep desire for this part of my calling with decisions and actions at the highest levels of the denomination that result in diametrically opposite outcomes. At the General Assembly (GA) meeting in June, delegates voted to move toward having the General Assembly Mission Council selectively divest the denomination’s portfolio of certain firms doing business with Israel (i.e. the Caterpillar Corporation because the government of Israel allegedly uses its machines to destroy the homes of terrorists) by 2005, to condemn the wall separating the West Bank and Gaza, condemning Christian Zionism (and by the choice of words, indirectly castigating Zionism or the restoration of a Jewish homeland), and to support active missionizing of Jews. As most of my friends in the rabbinic community, I struggle with many of the decisions of the Israeli government. Like most people in the world, I do not see an easy solution to the crisis that besets the Palestinians and the Israelis. I have a hard time with the existence of and the suffering in the refugee camps. And I am outraged by the genocidal madness of the terrorists who target Jewish civilians. Still, I passionately hold the hope that a just peace (in governance and territory) can be crafted between Israelis and Palestinians, and I resist believing that such hope will not be realized in my lifetime. I hold my fragile hope and prayer in spite of the intentions of radical Islamic groups and related terrorist organizations that have vowed to settle for nothing less than the complete destruction of Jews started by Hitler, and the destruction of the State of Israel. The actions of the GA regarding divestment and the wall are clearly ill-informed, provocative, and a reflection of the confluence of two dangerous streams: first, in our denomination the trend to take decisions that are grounded in political correctnessfacts and nuances be damned-and, globally, a wave of actions beginning with the Durban Ant-Racism Conference in 2001 that continue to seek to de-legitimize and marginalize Israel. Regarding the security wall that is being built to separate Palestinians and Israelis, the General Assembly failed to recognize two critically important truths: first, that the decision was a nationally regretted action-of-Iast resort and second, that with its construction there has been a profound decrease in terrorist acts against Israeli citizens-the wall is doing what it was intended to do: isolate terrorists and deny them unfettered access to commit their murderous crimes. Our nation has its provocative wall going up along the frontier between Mexico and the US, but the General Assembly has not suggested that the denomination’s portfolio be divested of firms building our wall. the debate rhetoric at GA resounded with ignorantly dangerous and inflammatory comparisons of Israel to Apartheid South Africa-there is no truth in such rhetoric, but the damage was done even though the final resolutions did not use such language. This denomination carefully divested its portfolio during the crisis in South Africa, but it has done little else of such magnitude in this risky venue since. For instance, it has not called for divestment of firms doing business in China, one of the world’s worst offenders of human and religious rights, and we’ve not taken divestment actions against nuclear N. Korea or Iran, and not against Sudan for Durfur (with one exception before Darfur reached the headlines). We have not divested ourselves of firms doing business in Saudi Arabia (remember where the 9/11 hijackers came from and where the bin Laden funding has found favor and laundering). The action against Israel is selectively discriminatory, provocative and harmful. One does not need to do more than scratch the surface to determine the animus of those who promoted this action. This denomination has consistently and mildly decried violence in the Middle East. It has not, to my knowledge, however, forcefully and publicly condemned Mr. Arafat, the arguable leader of the Palestinian Authority (arguable given the displeasure of the Palestinian population with his style of corrupt, violent, and dishonest leadership) nor the heinous crimes of the various terrorist groups operating in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. What our leaders have done is offer weak support of Israel’s right to exist and expressed concern for refugees but remained frail in its stand against the genocidal, anti-Israel, anti-United States terrorists. Regarding missionizing Jews, the GA took a frail and arguably meaningless stand that did not condemn actively seeking the conversion of Jews to Christianity. And, it also did not suspend funding of so-called Messianic Fellowships (they give every appearance of being synagogues thereby dishonestly drawing potential converts) that are using new church development monies to exist and expand their work of conversion. We cannot have it both ways. But this action was a tip of the hat to the evangelical wing of the denomination. One wonders about vote trading between the politically correct liberals and the evangelical wing of the church-strange bedfellows to say the least. On one level, the vote against Christian Zionism was good news. Christian Zionists need all of the Jews scattered around the world to take up residence in Israel. Arguable, once the Diaspora is complete the Messiah will culminate history, sending the “unsaved” to eternal damnation while the “saved” claim their eternal reward. Most Christian Zionists love Israel conditionally and treat Israel as an object to achieve their theological ends. The GA action is bad news because, in very nuanced language, it challenges the right of Israel to exist as a state. Once again, we cannot have it both ways.

There are certainly a number of people who are cultural and religious antiSemites in our denomination. Most of our leaders and our denomination, generally, are not anti-Semitic, however, the effect of these kinds of actions is anti-Semitic. Such actions encourage the evil terrorism of Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and most certainly the likes of groups supported by bin Ladin that exist only to annihilate Jews and Israel. What we have in the recent votes of the GA are shortsighted, ill-informed, and unstudied actions that turn traitor on the firm stand of an earlier GA (1987) to “never gain participate in, or contribute to, or (insofar as we are able) to allow the persecution or denigration of Jews.” This GA has given aid and comfort to terrorism and encouraged it with gutless resolutions that satisfy the bureaucracy’s need to appear to be politically correct. This constant flow of political correctness (Cuba, Elian Gonzales, Communism generally, etc. led Westminster’s Session to withhold funds from the National and World Councils of Churches. With both sadness and outrage, if the GA C moves forward with divestment recommendations in ’05, the day will finally and regrettably come when I will ask the Session to publicly divest this congregation of its significant annual contribution to all judicatories of this denomination (presbytery, synod, and general assembly). In the meantime, I shall recommend to the Session that all funds (General Mission and Per Capita) earmarked in ’05 for any and all Presbyterian judicatories be placed in a trust account pending the report to GAC and any resulting actions.

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