Sunday, December 21st, 2014
The Layman Online > 2014 General Assembly (PCUSA) > “The Things that Make for Peace” – An open letter to the Presbyterian Church USA

“The Things that Make for Peace” – An open letter to the Presbyterian Church USA

AS PASTORS AND LEADERS, we are deeply disturbed by the escalating conflict within the PC(USA) over the Church’s policies toward Israel/Palestine. Conflict over these issues, of course, is nothing new; what is new is the focus and tone of that conflict. For decades, the PC(USA) has argued passionately over how best to express our opposition to the 1967 Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. But through all that time, we have consistently maintained that we oppose the occupation, not Israel.

This has now changed. With the publication of Zionism Unsettled, a “study guide” on Zionism produced by the PC(USA)’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network, and a series of overtures pending before the 2014 General Assembly that reflect its arguments, we are no longer debating how the occupation should end, but whether Israel should exist. Zionism Unsettled announces this shift from its opening section, saying: “put simply, the problem is Zionism.” It makes no distinction between different forms of Zionism, arguing that any form of Zionism is inherently discriminatory. Some forms of Zionism have been violent and exclusionary; the same is true of any form of nationalism (American, British, Chinese, Palestinian, etc.). But to argue that any Jewish desire for any form of statehood within their historic homeland is inherently discriminatory is not only patently false but morally indefensible. And the conclusion is obvious: if Zionism is the problem, then ending Zionism (i.e., Israel) is the solution.

It is telling that one of the earliest and loudest affirmations of Zionism Unsettled was by David Duke, perhaps the most notorious white supremacist and anti-Semite in the United States today, who said:

In a major breakthrough in the worldwide struggle against Zionist extremism, the largest Presbyterian church in the United States, the PC(USA), has issued a formal statement calling Zionism “Jewish Supremacism” — a term first coined and made popular by Dr. David Duke.

The reality that David Duke would endorse a Presbyterian study guide available for purchase on the PC(USA) website is sickening to us, and should give all Presbyterians great pause in considering the arguments and language of this document and Zionism Unsettled’s ideological relationship to the overtures coming before the General Assembly.

The most obvious connection between the two is in the overture that actually calls for the denomination to reconsider its decades-long support for a “two-state solution” to the conflict, meaning a secure, independent Israel with a Jewish majority living in peace alongside a viable, independent Palestine. To do so would mean that the PC(USA) would now find a “one-state solution” acceptable: a state in which Jews would no longer have a majority, which means an end to the state of Israel. In affirming a one-state solution, the PC(USA) would ironically be adopting the “exceptionalism” that Zionism Unsettled purports to reject: exchanging its prophetic call for justice and peace for all peoples for an ideological privileging of one people’s rights and aspirations over those of another. This, quite simply, cannot happen.

Zionism Unsettled’s rejection of a future for Israel also connects it to the debate over divestment. Many Presbyterians have long feared that divestment overtures have not simply been about addressing the business practices of individual corporations, but rather about pushing the denomination into the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (“BDS”) Movement. The great problem with the BDS Movement is that, for many of its supporters, the goal is to bring an end to not just the 1967 occupation of Palestinian lands, but to having an independent state of Israel at all. It is this problem that makes the BDS Movement so distressing to the overwhelming majority of American Jews, and why they are so concerned about the PC(USA) engaging in divestment. Now, it’s true that some people support divestment to seek justice for Palestinians and do not support eliminating the state of Israel. Yet it is not clear whether they can even claim to be a majority within the BDS movement. If our strategies do not clearly express our motives and goals, i.e., that we want to establish justice, security, self-determination, and peace for both Palestinians and Israelis, then we need different strategies. This is why we oppose divestment.

Zionism Unsettled also demonstrates one of the most significant flaws in the argument that Israel is practicing apartheid. It argues that Zionism is “like other colonial movements,” thus equating Zionism with the European colonialism. To affirm that Zionism is colonialism, though, would require us to believe that Israelis, like white South Africans and other colonial powers, have no legitimate claim to any share of the land in question. White South Africans were European colonists who came to a land to which they had no connection, invaded it, and claimed absolute sovereignty over it on the basis of European “manifest destiny.” Yet any responsible review of the history of the Holy Land must acknowledge that Jews have been present there for literally thousands of years, and have a legitimate, though certainly not exclusive, claim to it. The PC(USA) is morally obligated to mount a vigorous critique of the settlement enterprise as aggression which threatens both the basic rights and welfare of Palestinians and Israel’s basic character and integrity as a democracy. But to raise the accusation of apartheid negates the legitimacy of Israel having any share of the land, and pushes us from challenging the current occupation to denying the ancient Jewish connection to and presence in the Holy Land. The PC(USA) cannot allow itself to do that.

We believe that current GA policies are where the denomination should continue to stand if it wants to bear an authentic witness for justice, hope, and peace in the region: strong support for a negotiated two- state solution with a secure, Jewish and democratic Israel alongside a viable, independent Palestine; a substantial critique of unjust Israeli policies and practices against the Palestinian people, particularly the settlement enterprise, which is one of the greatest threats to achieving a two-state solution; a condemnation of violence perpetrated by either Israelis or Palestinians; and a commitment to economic investment in the Palestinian Territories to make the goal of an independent Palestine more achievable. We urge the commissioners to protect this strong witness by voting against the misguided and damaging overtures advocating BDS, alleging apartheid, and reconsidering support for the two-state solution.

We reject that a two-state solution is “impossible,” that we must choose between the well-being of the Palestinian people and the well-being of Israelis, that there is not enough justice to go around for both peoples, and so we must pick one over the other in a “zero-sum game.” Scripture tells us that “nothing is impossible with God,” and history itself is filled with impossibilities that have been overcome. We hope and pray that the church will not abandon its historic commitment to insisting upon the fullness of justice, security, well-being and peace for both peoples through our words and concrete actions. And we have faith that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide us as we discern what that means this summer and in the time to come.

signitures
J.C. Austin: director of Christian Leadership Formation, Auburn Seminary | The Rev. Dr. Katharine Rhodes Henderson: president, Auburn Seminary | Susan Andrews: Moderator, 215th General Assembly (2003) | John Buchanan: Moderator, 208th General Assembly (1996) | Joanna Adams: Pastor Emerita, Morningside Presbyterian Church, Atlanta, GA | Fred Anderson: Pastor, Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, New York, NY | Alison Bennet: elder, Saint Mark Presbyterian in North Bethesda, MD | Currie Burris: pastor, Silver Spring Presbyterian Church, Silver Spring, MD | Cynthia Campbell: President Emerita, McCormick Theological Seminary and Interim Pastor, Highland Presbyterian Church, Louisville, KY | Mike Cole: General Presbyter, Presbytery of New Covenant | Bill Crawford: senior pastor, Larchmont Avenue Church | Larry Hayward: Pastor, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Alexandria, VA | Greg Horn: pastor, Presbyterian Church of Upper Montclair | Mark Hostetter: associate pastor, First Presbyterian Street (NYC) | Roy Howard: Pastor, Saint Mark Presbyterian Church, North Bethesda, MD | Cynthia Jarvis: Minister, The Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill Philadelphia, PA | Jim Kitchens: pastor, Calvary Presbyterian Church (San Francisco) | Chris Leighton: Executive Director, The Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies, Baltimore, MD | Michael Lindvall: Pastor, Brick Presbyterian Church, New York, NY | Lib McGregor Simmons: Pastor, Davidson College Presbyterian Church | Sean Miller: pastor, Potomac Presbyterian Church | Blair Monie: Pastor, Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church, Dallas TX | Richard Mouw: president, Fuller Theological Seminary | Gustav Niebuhr: Associate Professor in Religion & Media, Syracuse University | Bill Teng: Pastor, Heritage Presbyterian Church, Alexandria, VA | John W. Vest: moderator, Presbytery of Chicago | Jon Walton: Senior Pastor, The First Presbyterian Church, New York, NY | George Wirth: Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, Atlanta GA | Thomas Yorty: Senior Pastor, Westminster Presbyterian Church, Buffalo NY | Affiliations are listed for identification purposes only.

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About the author: Carmen Fowler LaBerge

Carmen Fowler LaBerge heads the ministry of the Presbyterian Lay Committee as its President and Executive Editor of its publications, including The Layman.

3 comments

  1. Chris says:

    the text that some of you cannot read:

    AS PASTORS AND LEADERS, we are deeply disturbed by the escalating conflict within the PC(USA) over the Church’s policies toward Israel/Palestine. Conflict over these issues, of course, is nothing new; what is new is the focus and tone of that conflict. For decades, the PC(USA) has argued passionately over how best to express our opposition to the 1967 Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. But through all that time, we have consistently maintained that we oppose the occupation, not Israel.
    This has now changed. With the publication of Zionism Unsettled, a “study guide” on Zionism produced by the PC(USA)’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network, and a series of overtures pending before the 2014 General Assembly that reflect its arguments, we are no longer debating how the occupation should end, but whether Israel should exist. Zionism Unsettled announces this shift from its opening section, saying: “put simply, the problem is Zionism.” It makes no distinction between different forms of Zionism, arguing that any form of Zionism is inherently discriminatory. Some forms of Zionism have been violent and exclusionary; the same is true of any form of nationalism (American, British, Chinese, Palestinian, etc.). But to argue that any Jewish desire for any form of statehood within their historic homeland is inherently discriminatory is not only patently false but morally indefensible. And the conclusion is obvious: if Zionism is the problem, then ending Zionism (i.e., Israel) is the solution.

    It is telling that one of the earliest and loudest affirmations of Zionism Unsettled was by David Duke, perhaps the most notorious white supremacist and anti-Semite in the United States today, who said:

    In a major breakthrough in the worldwide struggle against Zionist extremism, the largest Presbyterian church in the United States, the PC(USA), has issued a formal statement calling Zionism “Jewish Supremacism” — a term first coined and made popular by Dr. David Duke.

    The reality that David Duke would endorse a Presbyterian study guide available for purchase on the PC(USA) website is sickening to us, and should give all Presbyterians great pause in considering the arguments and language of this document and Zionism Unsettled’s ideological relationship to the overtures coming before the General Assembly.

    The most obvious connection between the two is in the overture that actually calls for the denomination to reconsider its decades-long support for a “two-state solution” to the conflict, meaning a secure, independent Israel with a Jewish majority living in peace alongside a viable, independent Palestine. To do so would mean that the PC(USA) would now find a “one-state solution” acceptable: a state in which Jews would no longer have a majority, which means an end to the state of Israel. In affirming a one-state solution, the PC(USA) would ironically be adopting the “exceptionalism” that Zionism Unsettled purports to reject: exchanging its prophetic call for justice and peace for all peoples for an ideological privileging of one people’s rights and aspirations over those of another. This, quite simply, cannot happen.

    Zionism Unsettled’s rejection of a future for Israel also connects it to the debate over divestment. Many Presbyterians have long feared that divestment overtures have not simply been about addressing the business practices of individual corporations, but rather about pushing the denomination into the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (“BDS”) Movement. The great problem with the BDS Movement is that, for many of its supporters, the goal is to bring an end to not just the 1967 occupation of Palestinian lands, but to having an independent state of Israel at all. It is this problem that makes the BDS Movement so distressing to the overwhelming majority of American Jews, and why they are so concerned about the PC(USA) engaging in divestment. Now, it’s true that some people support divestment to seek justice for Palestinians and do not support eliminating the state of Israel. Yet it is not clear whether they can even claim to be a majority within the BDS movement. If our strategies do not clearly express our motives and goals, i.e., that we want to establish justice, security, self-determination, and peace for both Palestinians and Israelis, then we need different strategies. This is why we oppose divestment.

    Zionism Unsettled also demonstrates one of the most significant flaws in the argument that Israel is practicing apartheid. It argues that Zionism is “like other colonial movements,” thus equating Zionism with the European colonialism. To affirm that Zionism is colonialism, though, would require us to believe that Israelis, like white South Africans and other colonial powers, have no legitimate claim to any share of the land in question. White South Africans were European colonists who came to a land to which they had no connection, invaded it, and claimed absolute sovereignty over it on the basis of European “manifest destiny.” Yet any responsible review of the history of the Holy Land must acknowledge that Jews have been present there for literally thousands of years, and have a legitimate, though certainly not exclusive, claim to it. The PC(USA) is morally obligated to mount a vigorous critique of the settlement enterprise as aggression which threatens both the basic rights and welfare of Palestinians and Israel’s basic character and integrity as a democracy. But to raise the accusation of apartheid negates the legitimacy of Israel having any share of the land, and pushes us from challenging the current occupation to denying the ancient Jewish connection to and presence in the Holy Land. The PC(USA) cannot allow itself to do that.

    We believe that current GA policies are where the denomination should continue to stand if it wants to bear an authentic witness for justice, hope, and peace in the region: strong support for a negotiated two- state solution with a secure, Jewish and democratic Israel alongside a viable, independent Palestine; a substantial critique of unjust Israeli policies and practices against the Palestinian people, particularly the settlement enterprise, which is one of the greatest threats to achieving a two-state solution; a condemnation of violence perpetrated by either Israelis or Palestinians; and a commitment to economic investment in the Palestinian Territories to make the goal of an independent Palestine more achievable. We urge the commissioners to protect this strong witness by voting against the misguided and damaging overtures advocating BDS, alleging apartheid, and reconsidering support for the two-state solution.

    We reject that a two-state solution is “impossible,” that we must choose between the well-being of the Palestinian people and the well-being of Israelis, that there is not enough justice to go around for both peoples, and so we must pick one over the other in a “zero-sum game.” Scripture tells us that “nothing is impossible with God,” and history itself is filled with impossibilities that have been overcome. We hope and pray that the church will not abandon its historic commitment to insisting upon the fullness of justice, security, well-being and peace for both peoples through our words and concrete actions. And we have faith that the Holy Spirit will continue to guide us as we discern what that means this summer and in the time to come.

  2. Terry Cocking says:

    Very well stated. PCUSA needs to stop trying to conform to today’s society, stop playing politics, and get back to the Bible and Jesus Christ!

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