NEW YORK (JTA) — The Jewish world has been shaken by the decision of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to divest from three companies that it claims “further the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”
The denomination has placed itself squarely on the side of the divestment movement that seeks to hold Israel solely to blame for the plight of the Palestinian people. It did so, furthermore, over the opposition of many Presbyterian pastors and lay leaders.
Despite protests to the contrary by the denomination’s leaders, the church’s embrace of divestment is an affront to the Jewish community.
The insult is made worse by the release earlier this year by the church’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network of a vehemently anti-Zionist congregational study guide, “Zionism Unsettled.” This ahistorical and wildly biased broadside impugned the Jewish connection to the Land of Israel and the very legitimacy of this core element of Jewish identity. While the church’s recent General Assembly did pass a resolution stating that “Zionism Unsettled” does not represent the denomination’s views, the study guide remains for sale on the church’s website.
Regrettably, the church — which often has been a partner of the Jewish community on critical social justice issues — has been on a 10-year road to this moment. At the Presbyterians’ 2004 General Assembly, the church’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee called for a “phased, selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel.” Since then, within the church, Israel has often been compared to South Africa’s nefarious apartheid regime.
Even worse, these ostensibly political actions are part of a warped theological framework that delegitimizes any Jewish attachment to the land of Israel. This theological structure represents a wholesale denial of Jewish history, Jewish experience and Jewish religious strivings to live in covenant with God.
Irrespective of repeated statements by the denomination’s leaders that the church loves its Jewish friends, the real problem is what the church thinks about Judaism. The truth is that the denomination is theologically unreconciled with the Jewish community.
Whereas many other Christian denominations have grappled seriously with anti-Jewish theological traditions, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has failed to do so.
In the late 1950’s, Pope John XXIII contemplated how the Catholic Church might have contributed to an atmosphere that produced the Holocaust. He reevaluated the history of church-based anti-Judaism: the historical Christian belief that the Jewish covenant with God had been broken by perfidy, and that God had chosen a new covenantal partner, the church.
The process initiated by John XXIII led to the Second Vatican Council’s 1965 declaration Nostra Aetate, which made four remarkable claims: 1) that Jews are not now –and never were – collectively responsible for the death of Jesus, 2) that God’s covenant with the Jews is eternally valid, (3) that Jews should never be treated as if God had abandoned or cursed them, and (4) that anti-Semitism has no place whatsoever in Christianity.
Today, Jews and Catholics continue to work at deepening understanding and cooperation. Even when Jews have had political differences with the church, these were discussed with an attitude of respect for the …read more