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May 05, 2008

PC(USA) Interfaith Office Acknowledges Anti-Jewish Motifs and Stereotypes in Commentary About Arab-Israeli Conflict

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has made a stunning admission: "Examples of ... anti-Jewish theology can unfortunately be found in connection with PC(USA) General Assembly Overtures [regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict]."

The statement, available on the denomination's website here, reads in part as follows:

We Presbyterians can celebrate the extent to which we have been able to rid our teaching, preaching and actions of [anti-Jewish] prejudice. We take these principles and commitments seriously and we believe that the official policies and statements of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) live up to this standard.

However, we are aware and do confess that anti-Jewish attitudes can be found among us. Our conversations with Jews in the last several years have renewed our concern to guard against anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish motifs and stereotypes, particularly as these find expression in speech and writing about Israel, the Palestinian people, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and steps toward peace. Once again, many Presbyterians have become aware that strains of an old anti-Jewish tradition are present in the way we ourselves sometimes speak and in the rhetoric and ideas of some writers that we may read regarding these matters.

Examples of such an anti-Jewish theology can unfortunately be found in connection with PC(USA) General Assembly overtures, such as the overture on Confronting Christian Zionism, adopted by the 216th General Assembly in 2004. Some of the authors cited in the rationale of that overture make use in their writings of arguments suggesting or declaring that the Jewish people are no longer in covenant with God, or make statements that echo the medieval Christian claim that the Jews are to blame for the crucifixion of Christ. The rationale and background sources cited in any overture are not General Assembly policy, but Presbyterians need to read such materials with awareness of these themes of classic anti-Jewish teaching.

When our analysis or critique of the Israeli-Palestinian situation employs language or draws on sources that have anti-Jewish overtones, or clearly makes use of classic Christian anti-Jewish ideas, we cloud complicated issues with the rhetoric of ignorance or subliminal attitudes, or the language of hate, and undermine our advocacy for peace and justice. Critical questions such as ending the occupation of Palestinian territory by Israel or the future of Jerusalem are complex and difficult. It does not help to import stereotypes, anti-Jewish motifs or classic ideas of Christian anti-Jewish theology into our discussions.

Similarly, in a few materials that have been circulated by Presbyterians, one finds characterizations of Zionism that distort that movement. They do not accurately present the history of the Zionist movement or acquaint readers with its internal debates and ethical concerns. Instead, Zionism is often presented as a monolithic force or merely as an extension of European colonialism and result of anti-Semitism, and nothing else. In such materials, the problems and suffering of the Palestinians are attributed solely — and inaccurately — to Zionism alone. The origins, development and practices of Zionism and its relationship to the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian situation are much more complex than such a picture presents.

Presbyterians who read writers speaking about Israel, Palestine, Israeli-Palestinian peace and related issues (such as Christian Zionism in its various manifestations) must always read with an especially critical eye, alert to any and all anti-Jewish ideas and bias. Despite problematic passages and ideas, much of what these writers say can be helpful in describing aspects of the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Nevertheless, it is our responsibility to read our sources thoroughly and not to accept anything in them that is anti-Jewish or anti-Semitic.

While the statement does not name specific texts that express anti-Jewish theologies, the 2004 overture ("Confronting Christian Zionism") does encourage Presbyterians to read books such as Rev. Dr. Gary Burge's Whose Land, Whose Promise. This book includes several troublesome passages. For example, he interprets John 15:16 as meaning:

God’s vineyard, the land of Israel, now only has one vine, Jesus. The people of Israel cannot claim to be planted as vines in the land; they cannot be rooted in the vineyard unless first they are grafted into Jesus. Branches that attempt living in the land, the vineyard, which refused to be attached to Jesus will be cast out and burned. (Whose Land? Whose Promise? page 176)

The overture also encouraged Presbyterians to read a statement from Sabeel regarding Christian Zionism.

It also encourages people to read the work of Don Wagner, who equated the "one hundred year process of Zionist occupation in Palestine" to a "killer-vine" destroying a rose bush in his back yard in his 2003 book, Dying in the Land of Promise.

Posted by dvz at May 5, 2008 03:45 PM


The 2004 overture "On Confronting Christian Zionism" also directly quotes Dr. Gary Burge's “Christian Zionism, Evangelicals, and Israel�? It uses 6 paragraphs.

At one point, Burge describes elements of Christian Zionism that he (and apparently the Presbytery of Chicago) rejects:

“God’s covenant with Israel is eternal and unconditional. Therefore the promises of land given to Abraham will never be overturned. This means that the church has not replaced Israel and that Israel’s privileges have never been revoked.�?

This was in the rationale for the Chicago overture - though the presbytery did omit Burge's last two words: "despite unfaithfulness".

This document (the overture mentioned) also draws on Mennonite sources that are equally disturbing.

I must say, though, that I am shocked that this statement was made by the PC(USA)'s Interfaith Office.

Posted by: will spotts at May 8, 2008 01:53 AM

I believe that a good and thoughtful examination of the entire Israel Experiment is now due. It is not racist to ak why America feeds and arms the Jews. We are living in desperate times and a good debate is in order. I am a Jew, and I do not worry about racism when reality is the problem. Israel has no meaning until such a discussion takes place.

Posted by: Bobby Wightman-Cervantes at October 30, 2008 12:06 PM

I'll amend my last post by adding that the Jews bear a lot of responsibility for their problems. Being Jewish brands me an inferior individual and I deal with it. But do I smell? Some say I do.

Posted by: Bobby Wightman-Cervantes at December 6, 2008 11:53 AM

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