The Presbyterian Church USA's Obsession With Israel

Institutional anti-Semitism becomes too apparent to ignore.

The Presbyterian Church USA (PC-USA) assembled in Portland, Oregon for its 222 General Assembly, lasting from June 18-25.  Once again, latent anti-Semitism in the form of controversial resolutions on divestment from Israel became a major issue in the proceedings.  Delegates from 171 PCUSA presbyteries, representing the 1.57 million members, along with other participants and observers from around the world, gathered in Portland for the biennial General Assembly (GA).

Elements from within the PCUSA displayed their unrestrained prejudice against the Jewish state when according to the former Vice President of the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Alan Wisdom, only one resolution about the Middle East entailed “anything besides the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” He described the PCUSA GA as an “onslaught of anti-Israel legislation.”

Wisdom further explained that “of the six items placed before the assembly’s Middle East Issues Committee, five aimed harsh criticism at Israel.” Only one issue raised gently concerned itself with the threats to Middle Eastern Christians.  That resolution does not even bother to identify the threat as being Islam and Muslim radicalism and jihadism.  Instead, it qualified the threat coming from “unnamed religiously based actors in the region.”

The multiple anti-Israel resolutions proposed divesting from companies doing business in the Jewish state, with one specifically called the PCUSA, to prayerfully consider Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against the State of Israel.  Israel alone was singled out.  The only vibrant democracy in the Middle East where religious freedom exists and is flourishing, where human and civil rights are sacrosanct, was vilified.  Yet, Arab Palestinian Muslim terrorism, authoritarianism, anti-Semitism, incitement against Israelis and Jews, and denial of human rights and religious freedom has been ignored.  

There were no “overtures,” i.e. resolutions against the most notorious dictatorships in the Middle East including the Islamic Republic of Iran, which tramples on basic human rights, denies religious freedom to Christians, Jews, or Baha’is, hangs youthful dissidents, gays and lesbians, and oppresses its minority Kurdish, Baluchi, and Ahwazi people.  The hypocrisy and glaring bias displayed by the PCUSA General Assembly was obvious when the worst human rights offenders in the Middle East including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Assad of Syria, and a host of other Middle East Muslim states did not get mentioned, let alone subjected to BDS.

Religion News Service (RNS) appeared with a headline on June 25, 2016 that read “Presbyterian Vote to continue pressure on Israel.” The RNS article reported the following overtures that PCUSA approved at its biennial assembly: “A report of a committee charged to evaluate the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The report was approved 429-129 with an amendment that affirms the right of the people of Israel to exist as a sovereign nation.” Critics said that the report questioned the right of Israel to exist as the sanctuary for Jews it was created to be. Delegates rejected a minority report that referred to the adopted report as “pugnaciously flawed.”

There was a call for a “prayerful study” of the BDS movement and opposition to BDS.  The approval of this overture trumped a move to end any church affiliation with BDS, a global campaign (BDS was founded by Qatari-born Palestinian Omar Barghouti, who received his education at Tel Aviv University!) to apply economic pressure to Israel, and boycott its institutions and products.  

Another overture related to Middle East Issues urged the realty company RE/MAX to stop sales of property within Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.  Prior to the GA, supporters of the overture said they received a letter from RE/MAX CEO Dave Liniger stating that the company “will no longer receive any income from the sale of Jewish settlement properties in the West Bank”

Gary Ratner, Senior Executive of StandWithUs, who participated in the PCUSA GA, pointed out that “the real tragedy as it related to Israel is that while the vast majority of Presbyterians in the pews and appointed commissioners are fair-minded and have a favorable view of Israel, unfortunately, the information they receive from the headquarters leadership is biased due to their pro-Palestinian bent.  It is ironic that the Middle East Issues Committee has only found it proper to discuss Israel/Palestine while ignoring the genocide in Syria, Iran’s nuclear quest, and the mayhem in Yemen and Libya.  Moreover, the Committee’s so-called “experts,” who the commissioners rely on, are known to hold a pro-Palestinian bias.  In speaking to some of the commissioners, I discovered that they are not aware of the nature of the anti-Israel overtures presented, and then, when they are made aware of the facts, they are actually shocked and dismayed.” 

The BDS movement is not content with applying economic pressure to Israel. It clearly seeks the destruction of the Jewish state. The Palestinian-Arab founders of the BDS movement sought to succeed in harming Israel where Palestinian terror and Arab states wars against Israel have failed.  Neither caused Israel to succumb, and in fact, Israel has prospered through it all.  The BDS campaign is a continuation of war against the Jewish state.  The Arab states too, have had economic boycotts that sought to constrict Israel’s economic activities, and isolate it politically.  Today, many of the Arab states trade with Israel albeit, “under the table.”  The fact that western Christian churches such as the PCUSA are willing to engage in a war against the Jewish state, under the bogus guise of “helping the suffering Palestinians,” is nothing less than latent anti-Semitism.  

The BDS movement, if anything, has hurt Palestinians living in the West Bank by jeopardizing their livelihood. In an interview with this writer, Palestinian-Arab-Muslim human rights activist Bassem Eid expressed his outrage at the BDS movement’s hypocrisy.  He characterized the BDS campaign against Israel and specifically against the companies operating in Judea and Samaria as “genocide for the Palestinian economy.”  Bassem explained that 92,000 Palestinians are working in Israel, and an additional 15,000 in Judea and Samaria.  Should these Palestinians lose their jobs, their extended families and the Palestinian economy would be undermined.  Bassem angrily exclaimed, “I would like to ask who appointed the BDS to speak on behalf of the Palestinians?” He added, “The BDS movement is operating in Europe and the U.S., but has no presence in the West Bank and Gaza, or even in the Arab world.  These BDS people are exploiting the Palestinian suffering, and much like the UN and UNRWA, are making a nice living off our backs and our suffering.”

In preparation for the 222 session of the PCUSA General Assembly in Portland, Oregon, the Presbyterian for Middle East Peace (a grassroots group of Presbyterian lay and clergy volunteers who want the PCUSA to be an effective peacemaker in the Middle East) issued a booklet titled Reformed and Reforming: a Word of Hope. In it they conclude that “The determination to divest has overridden the reasoned researched thinking that used to be the foundation of the PCUSA’s social policies.”

A clear pattern has emerged from the recent PCUSA GA’s in Pittsburgh (2012), Detroit (2014) and now Portland. It is an obsession with Israel.  No other countries are slated for divestments, even the most outrageous violators of human rights.   Nathan Sharansky, a dissident in the former Soviet Union and author of The Case for Democracy, established the 3D test for anti-Semitism: Demonization, Double Standard, and De-legitimization of Israel. The elements within the PCUSA that have repeatedly pushed overtures against Israel qualify as latent anti-Semites by applying double standards, seeking to demonize Israel as an oppressor of Palestinians, and partnering with Palestinians in waging a campaign to delegitimize Israel.