Last week’s editorial titled “Watershed Moment” was indeed that. The discourse about the Presbyterian Church (USA), their General Assembly and the commissioners who voted in it reached a new low, using language that is just as extreme and irresponsible as that of the anti-Israel activists behind the divestment, boycott and apartheid resolutions.
To say that there is a cancer in the PC (USA) is inflammatory and uncalled for in response to a process that ultimately opposed divestment, largely in response to and out of respect for Jewish concerns.
The author rightly asserts that the commissioners who opposed divestment did not speak out as loudly about
boycott. Divestment from companies whose products are used by the Israel Defense Forces, such as HP, Caterpillar and Motorola, whose goods are all part of the security apparatus which aims to reduce terror attacks in Israel (in addition to its supporting role in the territories) is one thing. Supporting the economy of the West Bank settlements, whose continued growth makes the likelihood of a two-state solution look less and less viable is another. The vast majority of Americans, Jewish and Christian want to see the two sides reach an agreement that facilitates the formation of two states for two peoples, living side by side in peace. It is time that we take control of the discourse away from the extremists on both sides and let our voices be heard.
The battle with our Presbyterian neighbors is over for now, but will replay in two years when the PC (USA) meets again. Couldn’t we use this time to everyone’s advantage by finding a way to work for peace that does not divide us from our longtime allies and partners in this church and the various others that are struggling with the same issues? The Presbyterian Church voted to invest in peaceful pursuits that promote coexistence. There are many Israelis and American Jews who are doing just that through local, national and international organizations working for peace. Just one local example: Pittsburgh Area Jewish Committee (PAJC) Life Trustee Mark Frank is working with Bill Strickland, the visionary behind the Manchester Bidwell Corporation, to build a career training center for disaffected Israeli Arabs and Jews with a focus on the arts in Akko, Israel. They need money to make it happen and would welcome support from any Jews or Christians who care about peace in the Holy Land.
The editorial concludes by stating that the “growing anti-Semitic sentiment” in the church will cause irreparable harm to Jewish-Presbyterian relations “if nothing changes.” Irreparable harm will come from unfounded accusations such as that, actually. And yes, something does need to change. What needs to change is the silence of the majority of American Jews and Christians who know that Israel must remain a democratic, Jewish state and that the occupation is an existential threat to that end. The onus is on the rest of us to distance ourselves from the extremists within our own religious community and act accordingly. Only thus can we hope to avoid fighting this same battle repeatedly.
We cannot keep our heads in the sand and our fingers in the dyke forever; we must stand up for the two state solution — for Israel’s sake and our own.
(Deborah Fidel is executive director of PAJC; Marshall Dayan is president of PAJC.)
I was most grieved to read the July 12 Jewish Chronicle editorial, which declared “There is a cancer in the PC (USA)” and “growing anti-Semitic sentiment within the church,” and by the cartoon which declared that in the PC (USA) there is “growing anti-Israel sentiment.”
While I personally reject divestment as a strategy for Middle East peace, I welcome the debate about strategies for a solution to the stalemate in the lands, which we all claim to be holy, and reject the accusation that such conversation is either anti-Semitic or anti-Israel. The writer, while pointing to the PC (USA) could just as easily have inserted the name of almost every Protestant Christian denomination in the United States; for most of our traditions are wrestling with similar issues.
Many of our denominations have made great strides in coming to grips with our anti-Jewish attitudes, teachings and liturgies since the Shoa and Vatican II’s Nostra Aetate (Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions). We have renounced supersessionism (the belief that Christianity is the fulfillment of biblical Judaism, and therefore that Jews who deny that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah fall short of their calling as God’s Chosen people), and seek to be in dialogue about our respective religions and common ancestry. But, we also wrestle with how best to “accompany” our Christian siblings in the Middle East, particularly in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Thus, we often have heated discussions about divestment, positive investment and embargos against products from the settlements. Just because my own Evangelical Lutheran Church in America rejected divestment as an accompaniment strategy on behalf of our Christian kin and in the name of peace, doesn’t mean that we are free of the “cancer” of which the editorial writer accuses.
Denominational meetings, like the just concluded Presbyterian General Assembly and Convention of the Episcopal Church or the ELCA Assembly, which will be in Pittsburgh next August, are not the best places to discuss the fine points of controversial issues. Nor are hastily convened conversations by the Jewish community just a few weeks prior to such gatherings to tell their side to these groups helpful either. In both cases we end up talking at each other, instead of with and to each other.
Trust and mutual respect are fragile commodities; they take a great investment of time, energy and listening to establish and maintain. Before we lob the accusations of “cancer,” “anti-Semitic” or “anti-Israel” at any of our Abrahamic kin, let us find a way of investing in consistent, intensive conversation among our diverse Christian, Muslim and equally diverse Jewish constituencies about that which makes for peace with justice for all residents of those lands we call holy.
Pastor Don Green
(The author is executive director of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania.)
(Editor’s note: Upon further consideration, the Chronicle regrets its use of the word “cancer” in the July 12 editorial. However, we must continue to stand by our references to the words “anti-Semitic” and “anti-Israel” to describe certain actions and statements at the General Assembly. Israel was accused of “ethnic cleansing,” which is tantamount to genocide. And the apartheid resolution, which was clearly false, as church leaders ultimately determined, would have demonized the Jewish state, and provided a powerful weapon for Israel’s enemies. Nevertheless, it attracted considerable support at the G.A.)
More is expected
After several readings of the editorial, “Watershed moment” (July 12), I cannot get past the following sentence that ends this column. “If nothing changes to correct growing anti-Semitism within the church ...” How have you come to such an untrue, dishonest and inflammatory conclusion?
The central issue for many who followed, as well as participated in the PC (USA) convention was how to end the 45-year occupation of the West Bank by Israel, and how to end the Israeli settlement enterprise that threatens to overwhelm what land remains for the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Political pressure, either from within Israel or from the United States or European Union, has not slowed down the seizure of Palestinian lands by Israeli settlers, often done with the encouragement of the current Israeli government or done illegally and in defiance of Israeli law.
A recent statement made by the Levy Commission, charged to look into the legal status of the West Bank, stated that there is no “occupation” at all. Do you think any West Bank Palestinians were interviewed? What was the point of such a commission?
Political and diplomatic efforts have failed to resolve this conflict. Few nonviolent tactics remain. One of those is an economic boycott of goods manufactured in West Bank settlements, applying serious and sustained economic pressure on the settlements. Why is this being called “growing anti-Semitism” by you? Because this boycott is aimed at Israelis? If American citizens unlawfully took Mexican lands to create settlements and we protested that, would we be anti-American?
I reject the charge of anti-Semitism leveled at the PC (USA). As a Jew who has been involved in the struggle for peace and justice for both peoples, I believe we must, as a community, stop labeling every criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic to avoid any serious public discussion of the issue. As a newspaper of this Jewish community, The Jewish Chronicle has a responsibility to raise the level of discussion, not resort to cynical and cheap stereotyping. This is not journalism. It’s propaganda. Many in this community expect better from you.