Netanyahu and the Presbyterians: Calls for divestment, ‘Zionism Unsettled’ demonstrate complicated relationship between PCUSA and Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu

“Give peace a chance,” the adage goes, but in reality, some have become so enamored with the fighting that efforts to produce peace are thwarted.

Speaking to some 14,000 people at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Polity Conference held recently at the Convention Center in Washington, D.C., the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that peace would not only be good for Israel and the Palestinians, but the world.

Many Arab leaders today already realize that Israel is not their enemy, that peace with the Palestinians would turn our relations with them and with many Arab countries into open and thriving relationships.

“The combination of Israeli innovation and Gulf entrepreneurship, to take one example – I think this combination could catapult the entire region forward. I believe that together, we can resolve actually some of the region’s water and energy problems. You know, Israeli has half the rainfall we had 65 years ago. We have 10 times the population. … And which country in the world doesn’t have water problems? Yep. Israel.

“Why? Because of technology, of innovation, of systems. We could make that available to our Arab neighbors throughout the region that is not exactly blessed with water. We could solve the water problems. We could solve the energy problems. We could improve agriculture. We could improve education with e-learning, health with diagnostics on the Internet. All of that is possible. We could better the lives of hundreds of millions. So we all have so much to gain from peace.”


Stirring the pot

And yet the Presbyterian Church (USA) is demonstrating to the world an interest in stirring the proverbial pot instead of working toward a peace the preserves both the Israeli and Palestinian presence in the region.  At issue is a study guide for congregations called Zionism Unsettled and business before the denomination’s General Assembly calling for divestment from three companies whose business pursuits in Israel are considered non-peaceful by the PCUSA.

Although there have been calls to “Repair the breach” and attempts by the denomination to distance itself from the material, it is still being sold on the denomination’s web site and openly anti-Semitic comments are being allowed to stand in the follow-on to the original press release.

Some are seeking to restore relations between the PCUSA and the Jewish community, but there is also persistent support for Zionism Unsettled among recognizable Presbyterian leaders including the former stated clerk, Clifton Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick is quoted in the press release saying, ““I encourage pastors and congregations to take advantage of this new publication,” he said. “Zionism Unsettled provides a valuable opportunity to explore the political ideology of Zionism. Our congregations need to understand not only the humanitarian crisis or the specific policies involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but also to examine the basic framework that lies behind these policies and crises.”

If you Google Zionism Unsettled you can read the firestorm currently raging between Jews and Presbyterians. You will see that anti-Semites like David Duke have applauded the study guide – revealing that you if, in fact, you go far enough to the extreme left you will find your friends on the extreme right.


The issue of BDS

The conversation happening at the extremes is not only related to the publication and distribution of Zionism Unsettled but the ongoing calls for divestment from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett Packard.

Divestment is part of a larger strategy called BDS: boycott, divest, sanction. Netanyahu said of the BDS movement, “How can anyone fall for the BS in BDS?” and then affirmed that his highest aspiration is a peaceful two-state solution.

“Peace is Israel’s highest aspiration. I’m prepared to make a historic peace with our Palestinian neighbors, a peace that would end a century of conflict and bloodshed. Peace would be good for us. Peace would be good for the Palestinians. But peace would also open up the possibility of establishing formal ties between Israel and leading countries in the Arab world,” Netanyahu asserted.

And then he addressed the threat to the prospect of peace fomented by the BDS movement.

“Most people in the BDS movement don’t seek a solution of two states for two peoples. On the contrary, they openly admit that they seek the dissolution of the only state for the Jewish people. They’re not seeking peace, they’re not seeking reconciliation. But some of their gullible fellow travelers actually do believe that BDS advances peace.

“Well, the opposite is true. BDS sets back peace because it hardens Palestinian positions, and it makes mutual compromise less likely.

“But I think these are all important points, but not the critical important. The critical thing is that BDS is morally wrong. It turns morality on its head. This is the main point. And I can tell you, it’s not that Israel, like all states, is not beyond criticism. We have a boisterous democracy where everyone has an opinion. And believe me, no one in Israel is shy about expressing it – about anything. In Israel, self-criticism is on steroids.

“But the BDS movement is not about legitimate criticism. It’s about making Israel illegitimate. It presents a distorted and twisted picture of Israel to the naive and to the ignorant. BDS is nothing but a farce. Here’s why, listen: In dozens of countries academics are imprisoned for their beliefs. So the universities of which country does BDS want to sanction and boycott? Israel – the one country in the Middle East where professors can say, write and teach what they want.

“Throughout the Middle East, Christians are fleeing for their lives. So which country does BDS want churches to divest from? You got it – Israel, the one country in the Middle East that protects Christians and protects the right of worship for everyone.”


Concerns for humanity

The prime minister did not deny that there are legitimate humanitarian concerns on all sides. He did not deny the right of those who speak with critical tones about the government of Israel.  Nor did he give a free pass to those critics when they fail to levy similar criticism against human rights violators like North Korea, Iran and terrorists targeting Israelis from Gaza.

Senator Charles Schumer raised similar concern in his comments at the AIPAC Conference. “I believe that those who call for boycotts of Israel without calling for boycotts of other neighboring nations whose human rights records are in fact reprehensible are practicing, whether they know it or not, whether they admit it or not, a modern form of what we call anti-Semitism,” Schumer said.

That was language that the prime minister also levied, saying:

And from antiquity to the Middle Ages to modern times, Jews were boycotted, discriminated against and singled out.

“Today the singling out of the Jewish people has turned into the singling out of the Jewish state. So you see, attempts to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, the most threatened democracy on Earth, are simply the latest chapter in the long and dark history of anti-Semitism. Those who wear – those who wear the BDS label should be treated exactly as we treat any anti-Semite or bigot. They should be exposed and condemned. The boycotters should be boycotted.

“Everyone should know what the letters B-D-S really stand for: bigotry, dishonesty and shame.”

Which brings us back to the unsettling heart-truth behind Zionism Unsettled. This is not an effort to bring peace. Quite the contrary, this is an effort to erode the land from beneath the feet of the Jewish state.  That is not where the PCUSA’s mutually agreed upon Social Witness Policy stands and yet some Presbyterians are taking their stand against the legitimacy of the Jewish state of Israel.

Discussion of these matters will be writ large at the General Assembly meeting of the PCUSA, June 14-21 in Detroit, Mich.



Video of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech

Other videos from the 2014 Polity Conference


Comments 16

  • may God bless and defend Israel from the forces of evil that are arrayed against her…….may God open the eyes of those lip service Christians, thay ally themselves with those forces of evil…

  • Zionism Unsettled, page 56:
    Section 3 of this booklet declares that there is a positive side to the Zionist dream of creating “A New Jew.” At the same time it also recognizes what Palestinians uniformly claim: Zionism and the creation of “A New Jew” has a dark side that has resulted in almost a century of Palestinian humiliation, dispossession and death.
    “Dark side” reminds of Nazi propaganda posters picturing Jews with long beards and dark countenances slinking around street corners thirsting after the blood of Christian kids.

  • Zionism Unsettled, page 29
    After 1965, Vatican criticism of Israel was grounded in ethical, not theological, objections, and the need for peace necessitated a just solution based on sharing Palestine between the two peoples. Ethical objections to Israeli policies and practises toward the Palestinians prevented the Vatican from officially recognizing the state of Israel until 1993.

    ! Samuel 15:3:
    “Now goe and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheepe, camell and ass.” (The Holy Bible: 1611 Version, Hendrickon, 2011)

    What’s holding Israel back? We’ve given them the weapons. Finish the job!

  • Pcusa needs to focus on reviving spirituality in its churches and stop focusing on politics. This is the reason the members in the pews are leaving.

  • Anti smemitism is pervasive in the pcusa. Uninformed ministers using this guide from the pulpit are causing heated controversy in their churches and neighborhoods. The pcusa needs to focus on their own issues, such as of lack of spirituality in their own churches. The pcusa has many gigantic issues causing members to literally flee to other places of worship. their last concern should be politics. This guide has been fact checked by many prominent Jewish groups and has found in many cases to be erroneous, prejudiced, and inflammatory.

  • Zionism Unsettled, page 64:
    The eight-week format described in the box on page 65 is highly recommended.
    Before the series begins, aquaint yourself with the entire resource, including the DVD.
    Make sure that each session participant has his own copy.
    Hold your class in a comfortable space where all can see and hear.
    Display a large post-1967 map of Israel/Palestine to help in identifying the places discussed in the materials.
    Test your DVD player and screen ahead of each class.
    Page 24:
    In the post-1948 period the minority of Palestinians who remained behind became second-class citizens, subject to a system of military administration by a government that confiscated the bulk of their lands.

  • It is also interesting to me that in all of the criticism of “Zionism Unsettled,” I have yet to read of a single example of misinformation in the guide. You make assumptions about the guide based on what others are saying but you haven’t actually gone through it to see if it accurate. A prophetic witness is speaking the truth to the powerful and Israel is certainly the powerful player in this relationship. When the layman and others rant about how unfair it is without citing a single instance of incorrect information, it makes me think we are probably on the right track. Thanks be to God.

  • Zionism Unsettled, page 55:
    Nineteen years after the upheaval and dislocation of 1948, a second wave of Palestinian village demolitions occurred in the wake of the Six-Day war. Three villages a short distance northwest of Jerusalem were overrun in 1967 by the Israeli military. The residents were expelled and their houses razed. The former residents live in West bank refugee camps or in Jordan. On the site of the villages the Jewish National Fund in 1975 established Canada Park with funds donated by Canadian Jews.

  • I find it curious that the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, would use Israel’s ability to provide cleaner water as an example of how Israel is “good” for the Palestinian people and how their interventions could help Palestinians.

    Many Palestinian villages are “unrecognized” under Israeli law–especially those created by refugees when they were pushed out of their land and their homes destroyed. As an unrecognized village, they do not receive Israeli municipal services (access roads, electricity, sewers, and water.) Thus, they don’t even have access to this water that is being heralded by the PM. Most Palestinians collect the water they need from cistern they place on roofs. As the PM mentioned, rainfall is sparse. So, when these cisterns are targeted by Israeli military or destroyed because they are “illegal”–it is even more harrowing for the Palestinians.

    Israel controls Palestinian water. It is a tactic of oppression against people living in an apartheid (that is, people living in a society which segregates certain individuals and doesn’t give them full rights.) Just as Israel has taken control of the land, the “democratic” system, and the resources of Palestine/Israel. This is why the PM’s discussion of peace is a farce–Israel reminds in control and has little motivation to seek peace unless “peace” is defined as the willful submission of Palestinians to an Israeli controlled country.

    The BDS movement is a non-violent effort to promote change–namely the recognition of the Palestinians and the actions taken by Israel that have already been condemned by the U.N. Non-violent tactics show the commitment of Palestinians to a peaceful resolution–not peace for peace-sake, but rather peace that would promote freedom and liberation for all those living in Palestine/Israel. Rather than condemning this effort–we should applaud this effort that is being supported by the Palestine civil society (doctors, dentist, religious leaders, academics.)

    I believe that accepting what is happening in Israel–the occupation, the check-points, the military force pushing Palestinians off of their lands, the fear tactics, and the violations of human rights–I think this is a very difficult pill for particularly American Christians to swallow. Israel and the jewish people share a history with our own faith, and the U.S. has played a leading role in establishing Israel and footing the bill for their military. We also want to commend their role advancing human rights for women, religion (and even gays and lesbians). If we open our eyes to the human rights violations-, it means that we have to take responsibility for them as Americans who have paid for this to happen, who have traded the land and freedom of the Palestinian for some sense of comfort because of a fear of countries in the middle east–that we need a foothold in the middle east, and Israel is our only “ally.” And, as you’ve demonstrated in your article, critiquing what is happening in the middle east can lead to accusations of anti-semitism (something that is very real, and the church has had a horrible history of dealing with.)

    However, as Christians we are not to live in bondage to fear or ignorance. The Gospel of Jesus Christ clearly extends beyond the people of Israel, and calls for an inclusive church. This means caring for the widows, the orphans, and the disenfranchised in Palestine who have been displaced by the occupation of their land. It is a harder calling, and it goes contrary to culture. But Jesus never taught for his church to be a tool for governments to assert their will–we are held accountable to a higher power.

    I encourage other readers of the Layman to investigate this issue further. I was surprised to find that it was not simply an issue of “liberal or conservative” politics/theology. If you are suspect of the “Zionism Unsettled” guide, I encourage looking at other resources and direct accounts written by Palestinians.

    We do not define peace by what oppressors make it to be–but rather by a peace that reflects the Kingdom of Heaven and goodness for everyone.

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