Presbyterians water down their anti-Israel resolution

By Ellen Tumposky, July 15, 2010
The Presbyterian assembly prays after voting on its Israel report

The Presbyterian assembly prays after voting on its Israel report

American Jewish groups are expressing cautious relief after the US Presbyterian Church diluted what had threatened to be a venomously anti-Israel report at its General Assembly.

The church's 700 delegates in Minneapolis last week passed a revised Middle East Study Committee Report that unambiguously recognised Israel's right to exist and accepted the need to stem the flow of weapons into Gaza.

The group also declined to endorse portions of the Kairos report by Palestinian Christians, which backs armed resistance to Israel, and voted down resolutions calling for divestment and labelling Israeli policy as apartheid.

The outcome was praised by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which released a statement on behalf of 13 Jewish organisations.

"In recognising Israel's security needs while striving to remain faithful to the church's Palestinian Christian partners, the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church has embraced a more thoughtful approach to Middle East peacemaking," the statement said.

Yitzchok Adlerstein, director of interfaith affairs at the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, said the Presbyterians' actions stood in welcome contrast to the recent report issued by British Methodists, which was highly critical of Israel.

That "betrayal" of Jews by the Methodists, Mr Adlerstein said, "is the result of a global push by the Boycott / Divest/Sanction movement. Most Jews unfortunately are still asleep as to what this movement would like to see and how insidious and how widespread it is."

The Presbyterians avoided a "showdown" with the Jewish community, he said. "We did not get everything we hoped for; we did succeed in thwarting the acceptance of a horrific report."

The Rev Bill Harter, co-convenor of Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, said the church tried to achieve balance.

"Partisanship was rejected; peacemaking was affirmed. There was an effort to recognise the legitimate aims and aspirations of both parties and to try as a church to situate ourselves where we had a credible role in bridging gaps and as a peacemaker."

He cited in particular the decision to replace a "one-sided narrative" about Israel with eight narratives - four from a Palestinian perspective, four from a Jewish perspective.

Not all Jewish groups were pleased, though. Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, said the Presbyterians "at best averted a rupture between the Church and the Jewish people" and criticised recommendations against US aid to Israel as long as Israel creates new settlements on the West Bank.

Mr Adlerstein said considerable antipathy to Israel remains in the mainline Christian denominations, which are determined to separate themselves from Christian Zionists in the evangelical wing of the church.

"We'll have to work a lot harder in the next couple of years to make sure the poison doesn't spread. We all have our work cut out for us on both sides of the Atlantic," he said.

Last updated: 12:50pm, July 15 2010