US church versus Israel
Ynetnews special: America’s Presbyterian Church increasingly anti-Israel, anti-Semitic
Most of America’s presidents since James Madison were members of the Presbyterian Church. It has the reputation of being the wealthiest and most mainstream among US churches. Presbyterians gave to the United States dozens of presidents, Supreme Court justices, secretaries of state (Condoleezza Rice is daughter of a Presbyterian priest,) cabinet officials and members of Congress. Even pastor Billy Graham, known as “the ear of US presidents,” has been a dedicated Presbyterian.
However, in recent years, the US church appeared in the headlines for a virulent anti-Israel campaign in which money, theology and politics are mixed together.
Pro-Palestinian activists, allied with anti-Jewish Protestant zealots, won a victory in 2004 when the church divested its $8 billion portfolio from companies doing business with Israel. A few days ago the Presbyterians and three other US Protestant denominations endorsed the Palestinian UN bid for statehood.
Meanwhile, the church just hold a conference in Louisville titled “Bible, Land and our Theological Challenge”. It embraced the “Kairos Document,” which says that Israeli security policies are “a sin against God”, likens the security fence to “apartheid”, rejects the Jewish State, supports terrorism when it talks about the “thousands of prisoners who languish in Israeli jails”, and proclaims that “resistance to the evil of occupation is a Christian’s right and duty.”
At the Louisville’s symposium, Rev. Eugene March, professor emeritus of Old Testament at Presbyterian Seminary, said the Jewish right to the holy land is “invalid,” while Rev. Gary Burge, professor of New Testament at Wheaton College, said that “Jesus subverted the land politics of Judaism” and criticized “the territorial worldview of Judaism.” It is hard to imagine uglier slander.
The Presbyterian Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment just urged the General Assembly to fully embrace the so-called BDS movement and to divest from Caterpillar, Inc., Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola (a decision is expected in few months.) The Presbyterians own hundreds of thousands of shares of stock in these companies through their pension fund for retired workers and through foundations. The church accused these companies of selling helicopters, cellphones, night vision equipment and other items Israel uses to enforce its “occupation.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called the campaign “a recipe for Israel to disarm” and the Presbyterians’ actions “functionally anti-Semitic.” The church’s 2010 report, titled “Breaking Down the Walls” – characterized as “toxic” by the Anti-Defamation League - legitimizes doubts about Israel’s right to exist and calls on the United States to withhold military aid to Israel.
According to the Camera watchdog group, the Mideastern Mission Network of the Church promoted anti-Jewish incitement even through Hezbollah-controlled television station al-Manar, including false allegations about Israel tunneling beneath the Temple Mount (which in the past have incited violence in Jerusalem.)
This week in Atlanta the Presbyterian Church hosted another symposium, “From Birmingham to Bethlehem”, likening Martin Luther King to the Palestinians. A main speaker was a Palestinian cleric, Father Naim Ateek, whose influence in contemporary Protestantism is immense, not least through his Sabeel Centre in Jerusalem. Ateek’s denunciations of Israel include imagery linking the Jewish State to the charge of deicide that for centuries fueled anti-Jewish bloodshed.
Writing in the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Adam Gregerman observed that theologians like Ateek “perpetuate some of the most unsavory and vicious images of the Jews as malevolent, antisocial, hostile to non-Jews.” For example, Ateek wrote about “modern-day Herods” in Israel, referring to the king who the New Testament says slaughtered the babies of Bethlehem in an attempt to murder the newborn Jesus.
Indeed, many voices in the US are now suggesting that the Presbyterians have left behind the commitment “never again” to “participate in, contribute to, or … allow the persecution or the denigration of Jews” (from the 1987 Statement on the Relationship Between Christians and Jews.)
In the Middle Ages, the “mystery plays” that portrayed the Jews as the executioners of Jesus helped fuel burnings at stake and pogroms, until the Holocaust drove dark theology underground. The Presbyterian Church is now staging a XXI century mystery play, in which Israel is the Jew of the world.
Giulio Meotti, a journalist with Il Foglio, is the author of the book A New Shoah: The Untold Story of Israel's Victims of Terrorism