I attended the PCUSA GA and will be leaving Detroit shortly. I will be writing about it at greater length. Here are some reflections - written on my iPhone.
I do not think the vote to divest in three American companies doing business in Israel is the most important issue - in spite of the headlines. While American Jews understandably see this move as joined at the hip with BDS, the resolution specifically says that it isn't an endorsement of the wider boycott movement. There is no doubt that some activists hope that the church will move in the direction of BDS, I am equally convinced that there are many people who sincerely see themselves as supporters of Israel and do think that this isn't a boycott of Israel at all - just of three companies doing business with Israel. They hear of violence in the region, want it to stop, and think this is the way forward. They are tired of the conflict.
Patronizing language was used in support of this measure, about showing Israel "tough love" by groups such as the Electronic Intifada-who most certainly don't love Israel at all. If this isn't BDS, it certainly feels like it. But not all the commissioners who voted for this resolution understand our sensitivities and are not our enemies. Many sincerely consider themselves pro-Palestine, pro-Israel and pro-Peace.
In my opinion most upsetting aspect of the GA was the decision to keep the study guide "Zionism Unsettled" available on the church website. The study guide is vile, describes Zionism as a "cancer," and denies is the theological legitimacy of a Jewish state altogether. It is a supersessionist document riddled with crude anti-Judaism. Israel aside, self-respecting Jews can have no truck with people who have produced such a profoundly disrespectful, threatening document. But most of the commissioners, and certainly most Presbyterians, have not read it.
While the church says that the Presbyterian "Israel Palestine Mission Network" speaks "to the church, but not for the church," this disclaimer is not convincing. The IPMN and receives 501(c)(3) coverage through the church, and the study guide is available only on the church's website. The pro Israel "Presbyterians for Middle East Peace" group is completely independent of the church. Further, church professional staff were actively promoting divestment-although this will be denied.
The church's own statistics show that 74% of Presbyterians favor strong diplomatic and military relations with Israel and 76% want good relations with the Jewish community. Clearly, the anti-Israel trend in the organization is not reflective of the pew. A small group of radicals, abetted by the outlier "Jewish Voice for Peace," have learned to manipulate the system and did it well.
It is necessary to make a distinction between the Presbyterian pew, the Presbyterian pulpit, the local presbytery, and the national organization.
Rather than break relations with local Presbyterian churches, there's all the more reason to redouble our efforts of dialogue. Not only do we have many Presbyterian friends, but MOST Presbyterians are our friends. We should not abandon them, especially now. By the same token, I think we have no alternative but to break all formal relations with the *national* church and, perhaps, certain local presbyteries. Our door should remain open but, for starters, the "Zionism Unsettled" study guide to be renounced before reestablish relations on a national level.
There was little understanding that it was profoundly disrespectful to the Jewish mainstream to parade out Jewish outliers to use against us. Because a marginal group uses the name "Jewish Voice for Peace," doesn't mean the rest of us like war. I have pointed out that the JVP rabbinic group has only one rabbi who heads a congregation - only to be angrily corrected that they have THREE(!) Truth is that virtually no synagogue would tolerate a JVP rabbi. Compare their small committee of rabbis, and not all of them ARE rabbis -the list includes cantors, students and persons of dubious credentials who wouldn't be eligible to join major rabbinic organizations- with the 1750 rabbis who signed a letter urging Presbyterians to reject divestment. JVP has received far too much attention and has been accorded a legitimacy they do not have.
Comments were made by the
Jewish Voice for Peace that we must "allow" Presbyterians to make their own decisions. They have that right, of course, and don't need our permission. And we, also, have the right to make our own decisions.