Two years ago, American Jewish community relations groups were busy
patting themselves on the back for achieving a signal victory in
turning back the attempt by anti-Israel radicals to hijack the
Presbyterian Church USA.
After the Presbyterians became the first Protestant church to embrace
divestment from companies doing business in Israel in 2004, Jewish
groups worked hard to overturn the decision. When the church voted to
back away from this stand in 2006, it was rightly seen as a triumph not
just for friends of Israel, but for the tactic of outreach itself as
years of tenacious diplomacy paid off.
The celebrations seem to have been premature.
The release of a document by the church last month titled "Vigilance
Against Anti-Jewish Bias in the Pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian Peace"
was supposed to help its members guard against anti-Semitic rhetoric
when discussing the Middle East.
Instead, it is a compendium of charges aimed at deligimitizing the
Jewish State. The church release avoids discussing Arab support for
terrorism and, rather than serve as a warning against bias, it serves
as a justification for anti-Israel invective since it places the sole
blame for the conflict on Israel, rather than on those attempting to
destroy it. If anything, it should serve to reinvigorate those who have
been pushing for divestment, which is nothing less than a declaration
of economic war on Israel and the Jewish people.
In itself, this should justify the outrage and the feelings of betrayal
that have been voiced by a wide spectrum of centrist and liberal Jewish
denominations and organizations that worked to reverse the previous
Presbyterian stand on Israel.
But also buried in the document is a strand of thought that is relevant
not only to this battle for the soul of a powerful mainline liberal
Protestant church, but to the mindset of American Jews themselves.
Amid a laundry list of anti-Israel measures in the Presbyterian
statement including opposition to the security fence that effectively
ended the Palestinian suicide bombing campaign was the assertion that
"Christian faithfulness, as well as the policies of our church, demands
that we maintain our commitments … to criticize forms of Christian
That meant that in the same document in which they urged its members to
avoid couching their attacks on Israel in ways that could be labeled
anti-Semitic, the Presbyterians specifically attack fellow Christians
who have lent their support to the idea that the Jewish people have a
right to sovereignty over their historic homeland.
In particular, they singled out Evangelicals such as Pastor John Hagee,
who was flogged out of the camp of Republican presidential candidate
John McCain for saying the Holocaust was caused by the Jewish sin of
failing to make aliyah.
To support the contention that Christian Zionists are wrongheaded, the
Presbyterian document cited Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the leader of the Union
for Reform Judaism, who in a December 2007 speech warned Jews to avoid
alliances with the pro-Israel Christian right.
Yoffie, whose Reform movement joined the coalition of Jewish groups
that condemned the Presbyterian reversal, is not happy about this. He
told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that he is "infuriated" about the
Presbyterians "embedding" his words in a "doctrine that is so hostile
While some of Yoffie's criticisms of Hagee are not completely
off-target particularly his reaction to Hagee's foolish talk about
the Holocaust, for which the pastor has since apologized the Reform
leader is right to be embarrassed.
But rather than merely being annoyed by the church's chutzpah, he ought
to be rethinking his own bashing of right-wing Christian Zionists.
Indeed, the Presbyterians' renewed flirtation with anti-Zionism should
serve as a wake-up call for the vast number of American Jews who have
clung to their prejudices about Evangelicals, despite the sea change in
the Protestant world that has occurred in the last generation.
In the past, Jews instinctively looked to mainline liberal Protestant
churches, like the Presbyterians, the Methodists, Lutherans and
Anglicans, who have all been debating divestment measures against
Israel in recent years, as allies. At the same time, Jews generally
assumed that Evangelicals, who generally lived outside the coastal
urban enclaves where Jewish life has thrived in America, were liable to
But in the America of 2008, it is precisely the Evangelicals of the
Christian right who are instinctively supportive of Israel, while our
traditional allies on the Christian left are flirting with a theology
that demonizes Israel and the Jews.
Though the gap between the Christian right and most Jews on domestic
issues is still vast, when it comes to the life-and-death questions of
Israeli survival and opposition to terror, it is the people who look to
the Hagees of the world for leadership, rather than to the
Presbyterians, who stand with Israel.
Unfortunately, that isn't good enough for many Jews who never tire of
making unsupported and utterly false accusations that the Evangelicals
actually hate Jews and want to destroy us. It is little surprise that
this has only encouraged the Presbyterians to use this issue to bolster
their own attempt to isolate Israel.
The point here is not to claim that the Christian right has become
Israel's only American friends, though they are among the most active
The fact is, most of the rank-and-file members of the mainline churches
who are dabbling in anti-Zionist rhetoric and considering divestment
don't support the campaign against Israel. Indeed, it is doubtful even
after all of the controversy of the past few years, that most are even
aware of the fact that their spiritual home is being hijacked by
radical left-wing elements.
OUTREACH MUST CONTINUE
As frustrated as many Jews are with the Presbyterian betrayal, the
outreach campaign carried out by Jewish community relations councils
across the country must continue.
Most American Protestants rightly see Israel as sharing common
democratic values with the United States and want nothing to do with
the sort of anti-Zionism that has won a foothold among mainline church
activists. They need to understand that their silence will be taken as
complicity with the actions of these radicals. They must understand
that their churches cannot pretend to be friends with their Jewish
neighbors while supporting an economic war on the Jewish state. And
they must be prodded to take action to rescind such measures enacted in
But, at the same time, American Jews must cease living in the past when
it comes to understanding the contemporary religious and political
landscape of America. At a time when Hamas, Hezbollah and their Iranian
sponsors are plotting a new Holocaust for Israel and its six million
Jews, treating those Protestants who actually love Israel as hateful
pariahs is a strategy devoid of truth or sense.