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Presbyterian Church Struggle Continues, Jews Suffer the Consequences


IPMN obama.jpg

Images like this were posted on a Facebook page run by the IPMN-PCUSA.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) has called on the Presbyterian Church (USA) to rein in the anti-Zionist and in some instances, anti-Jewish rhetoric proffered by its education and peacemaking organization, the Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the PC(USA). In a press release issued on Feb. 6, 2012, the JCPA, an umbrella organization of 125 local Jewish federations and 14 national Jewish organizations, called on the denomination to “take concrete actions to address the anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and at times anti-Semitic content that has been all too common in the church's Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN-PCUSA).” The American Jewish Committee issued a similar statement that day as well.

The JCPA, which lauded the Presbyterian Church at the end of its General Assembly in 2010 for trying to reduce the level of anti-Israel demonization in its peacemaking efforts in reference to the Arab-Israeli conflict, was quite explicit in its criticism of the IPMN-PCUSA, stating the organization's “policies, programs, social media and other communications are a wellspring of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel invective…” At the heart of the controversy was the IPMN-PCUSA's Facebook page, which had become a focal point for anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic commentary on the internet.

What makes the controversy so lamentable is that Presbyterian leaders in Louisville had been given numerous behind-the-scenes warnings about the IPMN-PCUSA's tendency to demonize Israel and American Jews, but these warnings went unheeded, as did numerous public complaints from people inside and outside the denomination.

Presbyterian leaders and staffers knew that the IPMN-PCUSA trafficked in ugly anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic messages but failed to rein in the organization and distance the church from the group's hateful messaging. Initially, Presbyterian officials asserted that the organization was somehow outside of their jurisdiction, but even after they tacitly admitted they had authority over the organization, they said nothing about the hateful anti-Jewish messaging emanating from the IPMN-PCUSA.

Eventually, the IPMN-PCUSA took down its Facebook page, but only after the JCPA did extensive research on group's anti-Israel and anti-Semitic messaging, which has been a problem for years. The research was shared with Presbyterian leaders, who apparently warned the IPMN-PCUSA of the impending controversy.

Whatever happened, it is clear that the JCPA's report played a major role in the disappearance of the IPMN-PCUSA's Facebook page.

Initially the IPMN-PCUSA said the shutdown of its Facebook page was only a temporary move that would last until the organization figured out how to monitor the postings on the page. Later, the IPMN-PCUSA announced the shut down would be longer term and that its online posting would be restricted to the organization's Twitter account, which remains a veritable pipeline of anti-Israel propaganda.

Then, on Feb. 8, 2012, the IPMN-PCUSA issued a press release that denied the charge of anti-Semitism and then went on to portray American Jewish groups such as the JCPA and the American Jewish Committee as a blight on the American body politic.

Not very reassuring.

Broken Promises, Missed Opportunities

Vituperative commentary like this was supposed to be a thing of the past after the denomination's 2010 General Assembly in Minneapolis. After years of controversy over how to respond to the Arab-Israeli conflict, pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian activists told their church that they had come to a new understanding over how best to advocate for peace between Israelis and the Palestinians. This understanding – dubbed the “Miracle in Minneapolis” – was embodied in a statement issued by prominent Presbyterians hoping to bring an end to the ongoing church struggle that had plagued their denomination for years and prevent further damage to their church's reputation that this church struggle had caused. In the statement, church leaders who had previously been antagonists in the debate over the Arab-Israeli conflict proclaimed they had sought and found “a new way of being a church” and were going to provide a “model” for ending the conflict in the Middle East. This statement was signed by, among others, Carol Hylkema, moderator of the IPMN-PCUSA. The new paradigm that the church would embrace was described as follows:
We have learned that we do not have to choose between our commitments.  We have learned that we can risk trusting people with whom we were afraid to engage.   We have learned that addressing the conflict in the Middle East cannot be a question of winners and losers.  We must model how the conflict itself will be resolved:  if someone loses, everyone loses.  Beyond any expectation, we find ourselves discovering a new model of ministry together, a model committed to seeking, hearing, and responding to the fullness of narratives and commitments with the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, Jews, Christians and Muslims.

This “new way of being a church” was embraced after a number of prominent Presbyterians condemned a hostile, contradictory and error-laden “Middle East Study Report” that was placed before the General Assembly for approval by anti-Israel partisans within the denomination. This report was so ferociously one-sided that J Street, which helped arrange congressional visits for Richard Goldstone, chief author of the now-discredited Goldstone Report, came out against the document. Even one of the members of the committee that authored the report assailed the text at the General Assembly.

The “Miracle in Minneapolis” was more than a renewal of fellowship among Presbyterians, but an assurance to Jews in the United States that the anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish polemics that emanated from the denomination's and its institutions for the past decade would come to an end. In response, a number of Jewish organizations welcomed the compromise in a statement issued by the JCPA for its actions, and CAMERA issued a statement as well. The response was cautious, but hopeful.

The hope communicated in these statements was misplaced. In the months since the 2010 General Assembly, the anti-Israel activists in the PCUSA have exhibited the same anti-Israel (and anti-Jewish) animus that dominated their activism prior to the 2010 General Assembly.

In particular, the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA), an institution created by a 2004 vote of the General Assembly, used its Facebook page to demonize Israel and engage in a persistent campaign of Jew-baiting, just as it had used its blog prior to the 2010 General Assembly. The press release issued by the JCPA provides some details:

The IPMN-PCUSA Facebook page includes a cartoon of President Obama wearing weighty Jewish star earrings to suggest Jewish control of the American leaders, a common theme on the site. The IPMN-PCUSA has posted articles that accuse Jews of controlling Hollywood, the media, and American politics - and blaming Israel for the American housing and economic crisis. IPMN-PCUSA's communications chair also posted her opposition to a two-state solution and the existence of a Jewish state, something which she terms "anachronistic.” The same IPMN leader, Noushin Framke, clicked "like" on the Obama cartoon with the Jewish stars and another post that Hamas should keep Israeli Gilad Shalit hostage until Palestinians are granted a right of return.

Yes, that's what she did.

IPMN leader Noushin Framke encouraged Hamas – a terrorist organization responsible for suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israeli civilians – to hold onto Corporal Gilad Shalit as a bargaining chip in its fight with the Jewish state, which neither she nor Hamas thinks should exist. This is not an exaggeration. In one Facebook comment Framke made her opposition to a Jewish state explicit, writing that “the only *just* solution is ONE binational states, with equal rights for all the citizens.” She continued:

YES, this means NOT a Jewish state, whose idea is an anachronism, anyway. The world has gone to pluralistic societies that are inclusive, and Israel going in the other direction, getting more an more exclusionary, which results in extreme racist nationalism.

Such anti-Zionism is allegedly against the policy of the PCUSA, whose leaders defend the church against charges from anti-Israel bias by stating it affirms Israel's right to exist and condemns terrorism. Nevertheless, no one from the denomination's headquarters in Louisville publicly announced that this was the case.

These are not the only outrageous statement Framke has made. Under one posting, documented on CAMERA's blog, Snapshots, Framke, declared that Israeli soldiers in the West Bank "are not human beings."

This is demonization pure and simple, proffered by a prominent “peace” activist within the PCUSA. Not only did Framke hold a leadership position within IPMN-PCUSA, she has also served on the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) committee that has been a focal point of anti-Israel divestment activism inside the denomination.

IPMN's animus toward Israel is truly is a thing to behold. At its annual meeting in October, 2010, Rev. Craig Hunter gave the opening worship sermon in which he stated:

The modern nation of Israel resembles the ancient nation of Judah, not only in the gathering darkness, but in the greed and injustice that has corrupted the people as a whole. That greed and injustice is a cancer at the very core of Zionism. It is the desire to have a nation free of Palestinians, for Jews alone, a Jewish state for me and mine, that fed the Zionist movement from the very beginning.

Arab-Israelis comprise approximately 20 percent of Israel's population.

Jews have been ethnically cleansed from virtually every Muslim-majority country in the Middle East.

And yet Rev. Hunter states that it is Israel is afflicted with “the desire to have a nation free” of the other.

With his sermon, Rev. Hunter brought shame onto the PCUSA and to the local church where he serves as a pastor.

Sometimes the IPMN's animosity borders on the absurd. During the 2011 Christmas season, the organization posted a cartoon on its Facebook page that showed two Israeli soldiers harassing Santa Claus. One soldier rummages through Santa's bag of gifts, another searches Santa himself for weapons. Santa himself has his hands up against a concrete section of the security barrier. A church steeple can be seen off in the distance. The soldier rummaging through Santa's toys has a hooked nose, giving the image an obviously anti-Semitic touch.

Clearly, this is not the “model” for ending the Arab-Israeli conflict that prominent Presbyterians said they were going to provide after the denomination's 2010 General Assembly.

In short, the IPMN-PCUSA never changed its behavior despite the fact that its leader, Carol Hylkema, was one of the people who signed onto the statement regarding a “new way of being a church” at the 2010 General Assembly.

A Long Standing Pattern

In retrospect, it was probably unreasonable to expect the IPMN-PCUSA to change its behavior as a result of what happened at the 2010 General Assembly. In the years and months before the assembly, the organization had engaged in some pretty ugly Jew-baiting. It demonized Israel and then demonized American Jews who responded to these attacks.

In 2009, the IPMN-PCUSA's blog promoted anti-Israel incitement from the website of Al Manar, a Hezbollah-controlled television station that was the original source of the libel that 4,000 Jews stayed home on Sept. 11, 2001. Al Manar, which was designated as a “Global Terrorist Entity” by the U.S. Department of Treasury in 2006, spoke falsely of Israeli “bids to desecrate” the Al Aqsa mosque. The article also reported that Israeli officials allowed Jewish settlers to enter the compound and “desecrate the holy site” when in fact, Israeli officials have worked to prevent Jewish groups from setting foot on the site.

The organization's blog also promoted another article that falsely accused Israel of digging a tunnel under the Al Aqsa Mosque – a charge is regularly leveled at Israel in an effort to promote hostility toward the Jewish state. This was the type of stuff the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem said to incite riots against Jews in the 1920s and 30s.

In late 2009, the IPMN's blog linked to an obviously anti-Semitic video titled “I AM ISRAEL” that accused Israel of controlling American foreign policy.

And in a memo to church leaders about a document regarding Presbyterian-Jewish relations issued prior to the denomination's 2010 General Assembly, the IPMN-PCUSA falsely implicated Jewish groups in the U.S. as a source of terrorist threats against Israel's critics and attacks against Presbyterian churches.

In sum, the IPMN-PCUSA has offered two messages to Presbyterians and to the American people. The first message is that Israel is a uniquely sinful nation guilty of oppressing the Palestinians who are in no way responsible for the continued existence of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israeli use of force is not a response to Palestinian violence but is instead rooted in a flaw in Israel's national character and in Zionism as a movement.

The second message is that by supporting such a monstrous nation, American Jews are a threat to American democracy and an insult to American values.

It was a down and dirty campaign that invoked the PCUSA's good name.

Institutional Denial and Dishonesty

The denomination's leaders in Louisville never reined in the IPMN-PCUSA, nor did they distance the denomination from the organization's hateful messaging, even when it contradicted official PCUSA policy.

On this score, they cannot claim ignorance. CAMERA regularly complained to leaders in the PC(USA) about the IPMN's behavior before and after the denomination's 2010 General Assembly. Initially in response to CAMERA's complaints, denominational officials pretended the IPMN-PCUSA was an independent entity.

Eventually, denominational leaders obliquely admitted they were responsible for what the organization said and did, but still did not intervene in a manner sufficient to solve the problem.

The denial of responsibility became evident in October 2009, when CAMERA wrote to Rev. Gradye Parsons, the denomination's stated clerk, telling him that the IPMN-PCUSA had posted anti-Israel incitement from the Hezbollah-controlled Al Manar television station. CAMERA asked Parsons to “condemn the posting on IPMN's website and distance the PC(USA) from its content.” (CAMERA did not ask Parsons to intervene in the inner workings of the organization itself, despite the fact that it is part of the PC(USA), as will be discussed below.)

Parsons responded by asserting that the IPMN-PCUSA “operates as an independent organization with full control over their website.” Rev. Jay Rock, the PC(USA) staffer responsible for the denomination's interfaith relations, took this line as well in his correspondence with CAMERA, stating the IPMN was “not part of the organizational structure” of the PC(USA). He wrote “it is not accountable to any office, nor does it report to any staff person in the PC(USA) structure, it also, like the other networks, receives no funding from the church.”

At this point, it's necessary to review a few facts about the IPMN-PCUSA.

First, it is named The Israel Palestine Mission Network of the … Presbyterian Church (USA).

Second, the organization was created by a vote of the 216th (2004) General Assembly of the … Presbyterian Church (USA).

Thirdly, at the time of Parsons and Rock's denials, donors who wished to contribute to the IPMN-PCUSA had to write a check to the … Presbyterian Church (USA). (This is still the case.)

Lastly, at the time of Parsons and Rock's denials, the denomination itself solicited funds for the IPMN-PCUSA through its website and PC(USA) staffers were listed as advisors to the organization. As of this writing (Feb. 7, 2012), the link on the denomination's website to solicit funds is dead, but is still listed on the organization's website.

Clearly, the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is part of the … Presbyterian Church (USA).

Denominational officials abandoned the line that the IPMN-PCUSA was independent of the denomination, when, after the 2010 General Assembly, CAMERA sent a detailed letter about the IPMN-PCUSA's anti-Israel and anti-Jewish messaging to the PC(USA)'s newly elected moderator, Cynthia Bolbach.

Bolbach told CAMERA to contact Rev. Hunter Farrell, the person who oversees the denomination's mission networks who in subsequent phone conversations reported that the denomination was in the process of creating a set of guidelines that organization's must follow in order to remain part of the denomination's mission network. Groups that did not adhere to these guidelines would ultimately have to separate from the denomination.

In a subsequent email, Rev. Farrell stated that these guidelines would be decided at the September 2011 meeting of the denomination's General Assembly Mission Council. (The minutes of this meeting do not provide any detail about these guidelines, so it is unclear what actually happened in reference to these guidelines.)

In any event, Farrell tacitly admitted what Parsons and Rock previously refused to acknowledge – the Presbyterian Church (USA) was ultimately responsible for the actions of the IPMN-PCUSA and had the authority necessary to stop the organization from demonizing Israel and American Jews in the name of the church.

A Problem of Leadership, Not Governance or Polity

All of this discussion threatens to distract readers from an important point. The challenged posed by IPMN-PCUSA's rhetoric is not one of polity or governance, but of leadership. Presbyterian leaders simply did not lead. Presbyterian shepherds simply did not protect their flock from the hostility put forth by the IPMN-PCUSA which had been well-documented by PCUSA blogger Viola Larson who at one point warned the PCUSA was going to be “shattered on the point of anti-Semitism.” After declaring “As a Presbyterian organization IPMN has proven to be anti-Semitic at its core,” she wrote:

At this moment we as a denomination have so much to lose. Our integrity, our goodness, our hope, will all be shattered on the anti-Semitism among us. We will take away with one hand what God is trying to put into the other, the righteousness and holiness of God. If we spit on his ancient people we will eventually spit on God.

People may not agree with her theology regarding the Jewish people, but the denomination cannot say it wasn't warned about the actions of the IPMN. Larson wrote a couple of dozen posts about the actions of the organization. She put it out there in black and white when she spoke openly about “the anti-Semitism plaguing” the PCUSA.

Page Finally Shut Down

Larson (and everyone else's) warnings went unheeded until Jan. 26, 2012 when IPMN-PCUSA took down its Facebook page and announced on its Twitter account that the organization's Facebook page was offline “until we can work out coverage for monitoring of comments and posts.” The problem was not that the IPMN-PCUSA failed to monitor its Facebook page for anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic posts and comments. The problem was that the organization itself posted some of the hateful cartoons and statements.

A few days later, the IPMN-PCUSA announced that it would restrict its social media presences to Twitter and its blog. The problem, according to the IPMN-PCUSA was not its own messaging, but with Facebook itself. Facebook “does not provide a setting where fans can “like” and “share” links without posting comments that need to be monitored,” the IPMN-PCUSA stated.

The organization took a more truculent tone when it responded to the JCPA's press release with a statement of its own on Feb. 8, 2012. In a pronouncement reminiscent of President Richard Nixon's “I'm not a crook” denial, the IPMN-PCUSA assured its supporters that “For the record, the Israel Palestine Mission Network is not an anti-Semitic organization.” The statement then goes onto to demonize the JCPA and the American Jewish committee as trying to stifle “open and free” discussion about Israeli government that sustains “illegal occupation and violates Palestinian human rights every day.”

On this score, Rev. David Fischler, a pastor in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and a blogger who has worked assiduously to confront anti-Semitism in the PCUSA, debunks many of the arguments offered in press release quite nicely:

“Open and free discussion” sounds great, and is normally what one should aim for. In the case of the extreme anti-Israel left, however, what that means is that every voice–no matter how vicious, bigoted, false, or mendacious–deserves an equal hearing. Hence you get IPMN links to the toxic swill of people like Gilad Atzmon, whose idea of “open and free discussion” is claiming that Israel is worse than Nazi Germany and that there's no such thing as a “Jewish people.” By all means, let's have that “open and free discussion,” but without the haters, please.

Elsewhere he writes:

As I have pointed out repeatedly, […] IPMN feels no compunction about giving people who cannot be considered anything but anti-Semitic a platform or a shout out. They've pointed their members repeatedly in the direction of people who claim that the U.S. is controlled by Jews, that Israel was behind 9/11, that “Jewish money” controls American elections, and so on. They link to Internet publications and sites that sell and trumpet the “truth” of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, deny the Holocaust, and call for the destruction of Israel if not the Jewish people. You can deny you're anti-Semitic all you want, but when you are willing to grant that Gilad Atzmon, Stuart Littlewood, Gordon Duff, Stephen Lendman, Ilan Pappe, James Wall, Veterans Today, Salem News, Occupied Palestine and their ilk are legitimate “news sources,” you've lost the argument.
 
The IPMN-PCUSA ironically accuses Jewish groups of mischaracterizing the outcome of the PC(USA)'s 2010 General Assembly, which made significant changes to the Middle East Study Committee's report on the Arab-Israeli conflict. The organization asserts there was “no substantial difference” between the report as it was submitted to the General Assembly and what was finally approved. This itself is a bizare mischaracterization. A whole section of the report – the one-sided historical analysis – was deleted entirely.
 
Will PCUSA leaders in Louisville step in to correct the IPMN-PCUSA's misstatement of fact?
 
Probably not.
 
Again, it's not a problem of governance.
 
It's a question of leadership, a commodity that has been in very short supply in the PCUSA.

Conclusion

As a result of the PCUSA's leadership failure, Presbyterian activists and the institutions they control can be counted on to regularly demonize Israel and Jews. And when Jews defend themselves and their state from these attacks, these activists and institutions respond with more demonization.

People inside the denomination have worked heroically to stop this cycle, but their efforts have failed, largely because the denomination's leaders in Louisville have not addressed the anti-Jewish animus that motivates the so-called peacemaking activists who have assailed Israel and Jews at virtually every one of the church's General Assemblies since at least 2004.

The vast majority of Presbyterians in the denomination do not share this animus, but those who do have been able to use the church's resources and name to spread their message.

Consequently, anti-Semitism has become one of the most salient characteristics of the PC(USA)'s witness to the American people.


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