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Presbyterian Jihad

By Richard Baehr, July 19, 2004

Jewish liberals received a shock last week. The liberal Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) declared war on Israel at is annual General Assembly meeting, approving a divestment campaign from Israel with 87 percent of the vote, casting the Holy Land as the new South Africa. The shock was doubly painful since liberal Jews believe that liberal churches are supposed to be their allies in all kinds of common fights.

Jewish liberals frequently warn that Christian conservatives are not allies of the Jews and do not share Jewish values. There is a genuine fear by liberal Jews that other Jews might walk off the liberal plantation, and create bonds politically with Christian conservatives as a result of their support for Israel. Some Jews might even vote Republican.

(Imagine that!) These criticisms have grown louder as Christian conservatives have become a very strong force supporting Israel in its war with Palestinian terrorism. Liberal Jews have even attacked that support, claiming it is based on Scripture, rather than on any real shared values, hence is not the kind of support Israel supposedly needs. According to this school of thought, liberal Christians who support Israel, presumably would do so for the right reasons, whatever those might be. (Israel's socialist economy? Its imperial judiciary?)

Of course, any liberal Jew who had an actual conversation with a Christian conservative supporter of Israel would be surprised to find out that the support for Israel is based on a variety of reasons, and not "just Scripture". It is ironic, of course, that among the "People of the Book," support for Israel based "on Scripture" is used as a metaphorical putdown. But for many Jews, secular humanism and liberalism has become their real religion of choice, whatever lip service they may pay to actual Judaism. The columns of Paul Krugman and Nicholas Kristof have become the modern Talmud.

Christian conservatives find it easy to provide many justifications for their support of Israel. They include the common struggle the United States and Israel have with terrorism and Islamic radicalism; the fact that Israel is the single most reliable ally of the United States in the United Nations; and that Israel shares the democratic values of this country. All of these factors make Israel unique in a region of despotic authoritarian Arab regimes, that all routinely oppose the United States on virtually all international issues.

The action of the Presbyterian Church (USA) dealt the long-held liberal pieties a serious body blow. The PCUSA, with this action, became the first significant national church group or body to agree to a divestment campaign against Israel. There does not appear to have been much controversy on the resolution, which passed by 431-62.

Showing their strong interest in ecumenism, the Presbyterians also voted not to end any attempts to convert Jews. This conversion issue has always been a traditional bogeyman for liberals in their attacks on conservative Christian churches. Remember again that the liberal Jews believed (at least until recently) that the Presbyterians were their natural political allies with whom they shared common bonds, rather than the conservative Christians who support Israel in many cases more ardently than many Jews do.

The divestment campaign in colleges and universities has been a dismal failure, and until yesterday had gone nowhere Not a single school approved a divestment campaign. Part of this may be because college trustees tend to be more conservative and non-political, when it comes to investment decisions, than their radicalized faculty and their agitated leftist and Muslim students would like them to be.

Whatever their politics, college trustees do not want to upset some of their large contributors. Liberal Christian churches do not have to worry about Jewish fundraising support drying up. It is a certainty that the action of the Presbyterian Church (USA) will revive the divestment campaign on campuses.

The leftist Presbyterians apparently thinks that now is the time to pile on Israel and force it to "behave better" with the Palestinians. The Church strangely did not pass any resolutions at their General Assembly this year about the slaughter of black Muslims in the Sudan by Arabs, and they never passed any resolutions in prior years, when the Sudanese Arabs chose to slaughter black Christians. They were silent when the Rwanda genocide occurred, as well. But hey, what're a few million black African lives when Muslim olive trees are being cut down near the "green line"?

Needless to say, the Presbyterians' resolution against Israel is entirely silent on the subject of Palestinian terrorism or suicide bombing, or the incitement to martyrdom and Jew-killing in the Palestinian media, mosques, summer camps and official government statements.

Like other liberal Christian churches (the Lutherans, the Episcopalians, the Unitarians, the United Church of Christ, the Quakers) the hatred and condemnation of Israel has grown so strong that advocates for Israel are not permitted to make presentations to these congregations anymore. If Jews want to speak abut Israel, they have to be from the far-Left, and they must come to trash Israel (and help bury it). On the other hand, any representative of the International Solidarity Movement is sure to draw a full house and be warmly welcomed.

Without question, the action by the Presbyterians will guarantee that other liberal Christian churches will seriously consider passing similar resolutions. Even the liberal Anti-Defamation League was taken aback by the actions of the Presbyterian Church, and Abraham Foxman strongly condemned the actions taken. Why is it, with all the troubled spots in the world, only Israel is a pariah for this liberal denomination, and the selected punishment for its "misbehavior" is economic strangulation?

The PCUSA has a $7 billion investment fund, and many companies that do business with Israel will now be off the investment screens for their investment advisors (a good chunk of Nasdaq to begin with). Hopefully, the Church's investment portfolio return will suffer from this.

For years, the Israel-haters have tried to link Israel to South Africa, and even more outrageously, to the Nazis. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has now legitimized this slander. For this, they should be ashamed -- or simply shamed.

Jewish Groups Eye Presbyterian Moves

Barbara Pash Assistant Editor

AUGUST 13, 2004

Last week, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism sent an action alert to its rabbis. The Union for Reform Judaism has done the same with its rabbis and congregations. In addition, the Orthodox Union is working on the issue.

The cause of alarm are two policy resolutions passed at the 216th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the governing body for the approximately 3 million Presbyterians in this country. At its meeting last month in Richmond, Va., the PC (USA) General Assembly, by a vote of 431-62, approved a resolution, or "overture," as it is officially called, that endorses divestment of the church's $7 billion portfolio from multi-national companies conducting business with Israel. The second resolution, passed by a vote of 260-233, continues national funding for Avodat Yisrael, a controversial Messianic congregation outside of Philadelphia.

After the vote, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, URJ's president, and Rabbi Paul Menitoff, executive vice president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, representing the Reform rabbinate, criticized the resolutions in a public letter to Rev. Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the stated clerk of the General Assembly.

Rev. Kirkpatrick responded to the Reform leaders' letter by stating that the General Assembly "took a number of actions concerning our relations with the Jewish community, as well as the situation of Israel and Palestine."

He stated that the divestment resolution calls for starting a process of phased selective divestment from business causing harm, directly or indirectly, to Israelis and Palestinians. He further stated that the funding resolution was a procedural decision regarding authority for local projects.

In a follow-up letter to Reform leaders, Rev. Kirkpatrick expressed "regret" that the resolutions caused concern, and agreed to meet with them this fall, according to Mark Pelavin, associate director of the URJ's Religious Action Center and director of the Commission on Interreligious Affairs of Reform Judaism, in Washington, D.C.

Mark Waldman, director of public policy of USCJ's Seaboard Region, in Washington, D.C., said that Conservative rabbis were alerted to the resolutions, provided with "talking points" and encouraged to hold conversations with local Presbyterian clergy.

"We have not sent a letter to the Presbyterian Church. This is the only official action we've taken," said Mr. Waldman. The resolutions are "disturbing and hurtful. We believe they create a different climate. But we feel a grass-roots dialogue is an effective way to go."

Likewise, the Orthodox Union is taking a grass-roots approach. Betty Ehrenberg, director of international and communal affairs at the New York-headquartered OU, called the resolution on divestiture "upsetting," and said the OU "has decided to approach it on a personal level, through various rabbis and their local [Presbyterian] counterparts." She said that the OU has continuously opposed any proselytizing activity aimed at Jews.

The Anti-Defamation League and B'nai B'rith both issued statements condemning the Presbyterian Church's resolutions. The American Jewish Committee sent a private letter to Rev. Kirkpatrick protesting the resolutions, and public letters to other Christian organizations. The Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz had editorials condemning the divestiture resolution.

Despite a shrinking membership, the PC (USA) remains one of the strongest Protestant denominations in this country, according to the Reform's Mr. Pelavin. The "main-line" Protestant denominations such as Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist and United Church of Christ "pay a great deal of attention to each other," he said.

This makes the PC (USA's) divestiture resolution particularly worrisome to him. "The Presbyterians are the first main-line church to do this [divestment resolution], but we are starting to hear rumors about others," said Mr. Pelavin.

Still, Mr. Pelavin said he was surprised to see the divestiture resolution come before the PC (USA's) General Assembly, even though among main-line churches there has been a trend in recent years to view Israel "through the prism of their traditional concern for the underdog, for those they feel have been denied their rights. Somehow, that has become the Palestinians. But that support comes completely without context" of Israel's security imperatives.

Rabbi Charles Arian, the Jewish scholar at the Baltimore-based Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies, made a distinction between the divestiture resolution and the funding resolution. About the former, he said that as far as he knew, no other national church body has taken a divestiture position, although the issue has been simmering in the Episcopal Church.

The PC (USA) voted to initiate a "process" of divestment, said Rabbi Arian, "and that process needs to be watched carefully. But it is not quite the same thing as a blanket divestment."

Rabbi Arian was more emphatic about the resolution that continued funding for Avodat Yisrael, the Messianic congregation. More than a year ago, the institute was approached by Presbyterian ministers in Philadelphia who were concerned about Avodat Yisrael itself and about its implications for Christian theology.

The ministers had even taken out advertisements in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, expressing their opposition to this congregation. "It wasn't just a question about Messianic Judaism but about Christianity, too. How can this be a Presbyterian church?" said Rabbi Arian.

Scott Hillman, director of Jews for Judaism, a national counter-missionary organization based in Baltimore, confirmed that many Presbyterian leaders nationally and in Philadelphia disagree with Avodat Yisrael. He said his organization has been contacted by Cynthia Jarvis, of PC (USA), who heads a group concerned about Presbyterian-Jewish relations, and Mr. Hillman has been following the issue closely.

Said Mr. Hillman: "The Presbyterians will say, 'This is not new, we've been trying to convert Jews,' and that is true, they have. But they've been saying , 'You need to convert to Christianity.' What is new [with Avodat Yisrael] are the deceptive tactics. It says, 'You will become a fulfilled Jew."

Copyright 2003 the Baltimore Jewish Times

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