Presbyterian Church (USA) Scrapes the Bottom of the Antisemitic Slippery Slope
In 2014, the Presbyterian Church (USA) became the first Protestant mainline denomination to call for divestment from Israeli companies. When the PCUSA reversed itself in 2016, we at the Simon Wiesenthal Center cautioned against too much optimism.
The goal of the anti-Israel lobby, we said, was not just to punish Israel economically, but to put the Jewish state on the defensive about its policies, its self-defense, and its very existence. The PCUSA introduced all those elements into their church’s conversation. Since then, it has been a fast track down the slippery slope of antisemitism.
We wish that we were wrong in our prediction about PCUSA. Sadly, we were not.
No Jews were invited to committee meetings in preparation for the PCUSA’s upcoming General Assembly, but “Jews” were very much in evidence. A raft of anti-Israel resolutions, all of them unthinkable just eight years ago, were discussed and passed. And it’s not a huge surprise.
Over the last several decades, PCUSA has lost hundreds of thousands of members, and many dozens of churches.
When it comes to Israel, the PCUSA initially focused on the alleged evils of “the occupation.” Now its hate has vastly expanded, from discussions on withholding military aid from Israel, to labeling Israel as “apartheid” and supporting the Kairos Palestine statement — a pseudo-theological document that denies the connection between Jews and the land to which they were attached since Biblical times. PCUSA also gives a moral pass to Palestinian terrorism.
PCUSA’s fig leaf self-description as supporting both sides in a complex dispute has been dropped, leaving PCUSA’s naked anti-Israel worldview on full display.
Over the years, the PCUSA would mourn the destruction in Gaza without mentioning the thousands of rockets launched from Gaza into Israel. Throughout, however, PCUSA was careful not to attack Jews. At most, it was “Zionists” who were guilty.
But now, they’ve dropped the pretense. The commissioners who spoke at recent meetings spoke openly, not about Israelis, but about “Jews,” and things “Jewish” — such as, “The Israeli regime … advances one group, Jews, over another, Palestinians.”
The final spiral actually began last year, with a statement by PCUSA’s Stated Clerk, J. Herbert Nelson, who conveyed in the style of Louis Farrakhan: “The nation of Israel has declared Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.” He then went on to demand that Jews in America use their power to rein in their errant brothers and sisters. He thus channeled multiple stereotypes about Jews — collective guilt and monetary power — all while antisemites were attacking Jews walking the streets of New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other US cities.
None of this happens in a vacuum. The World Council of Churches (WCC), representing some 500 million Christians in 110 countries, has been antagonistic towards Israel since its inception in 1948.
The WCC’s hostility towards the Jewish state reached its nadir with the election of the Rev. Jerry Pillay of South Africa to its top position. Speaking to a PCUSA group in 2014, he advocated for global BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions), whose mission includes the dismantling of Israel, and has been recognized as fundamentally antisemitic by foreign governments and a number of US states. He has spoken of the “exclusionary and violent character of the Israeli Zionist project,” and decried the creation of a Jewish state “on the land of Palestine.”
In self-defense and with unmitigated chutzpah, Rev. Pillay wrote, “I sincerely value and cherish my Jewish friends and the Jewish community and faith.” Claiming to cherish the Jewish faith while ignoring the connection between Jews and their historic homeland is the equivalent of professing love for all Christians — except for those who believe in Jesus.
What churches say still has influence — from world diplomacy to the board room.
But today, we live in interesting times. We used to look to faith leaders for moral guidance. Now we invoke corporate CEOs. Want to know what’s wrong with BDS? Here is what Unilever said in reversing Ben & Jerry’s boycott of Israel:
Unilever “…rejects completely and repudiates unequivocally any form of discrimination or intolerance. Antisemitism has no place in any society. We have never expressed any support for the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement and have no intention of changing that position.”
We will continue to work with Christians of all denominations to defeat the efforts of all who seek to demean, degrade, and ultimately destroy the Jewish people’s return to Zion.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the Associate Dean and Director of Global Social Action for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He is a co-chair of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the director of interfaith affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center.