The Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA) was created by the denomination’s 2004 General Assembly and charged with educating Presbyterians about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Sadly, the organization has pursued this mission by fomenting contempt for Israel and American Jews in the United States.
And in November 2009, the IPMN posted a link to an anti-Semitic video on youtube titled “I am Israel” that attributed a fabricated quote (“We control America”), to Ariel Sharon to buttress its assertion that Israel directs American foreign policy.
In response to complaints, the IPMN removed the links mentioned above, but the organization’s anti-Jewish animus is still present in its outreach to the Presbyterians in the U.S. Fortunately, this animus has been detected and condemned by Presbyterian blogger Viola Larson and Will Spotts, a former member of the PC(USA).
IPMN Condemning Proposed Interfaith Document
The IPMN’s ongoing animus is evident in a memo it sent to the PC(USA)’s General Assembly Mission Council about “Christians and Jews: People of God,” a document regarding Christian-Jewish relations that is on the agenda of the denomination’s upcoming General Assembly.
This “People of God” document is notable in its efforts to warn Presbyterians not to employ classical themes of anti-Judaism in their discussion of the Arab-Israeli conflict and to avoid depictions of Zionism “that distort that movement” and as a result “can all too easily demonize Jews.”
Given the tendency of some Presbyterians commentators to demonize Israel or speak of Zionism in disparaging terms, such warnings are clearly necessary. For example, one Presbyterian writer has suggested that Jews who attempt to live in the land of Israel without being rooted in Christ “will be cast out and burned.” Another Presbyterian commentator has compared Jewish settlement in Palestine before, during, and after the Holocaust to a killer-weed destroying a rose bush in his back yard. (For more details, please see “The U.S. Presbyterian Church’s Renewed Attack on Israel,” published by the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs and scroll down to the section titled “A Bait and Switch Episode.” Also read the section after the heading “If You Would Have Heard the Screams of the Zionist Lobby.”)
The IPMN memo says there is much to affirm in the “People of God” document but reports that it is also marred by “fatal flaws.” These flaws include a failure to describe “the ongoing blockade” of the Gaza Strip and the failure to describe “the crimes against humanity reported in the Goldstone Report.”
By neglecting the reality on the ground, this report would “make nice” with certain American Jewish organizations to avoid unwarranted charges of anti-Semitism. These are the organizations that have provided financial and political support for the Israeli occupation and colonization of Palestinian lands since 1948, and used threat and intimidation to censor debate about Israel within and without the Jewish community.1 A report that confesses Christian guilt for the past and calls for changes in our theology and practice but neglects to mention the contribution of American synagogues to the oppression of Palestinians over the past six decades appears to us as inauthentic interfaith dialogue. [Note: As indicated above, this passage includes a footnote which directs the reader to a paragraph that will be quoted and analyzed below.]
The above paragraph is a clear attempt to cast the blame for Palestinian suffering and Israeli “colonialist” policies onto the shoulders of unnamed Jewish organizations and synagogues in the U.S. without taking into account a number of realities. First, Israel came into possession of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in a defensive war against enemies who had sworn the destruction of the Jewish state. Secondly, Israeli leaders have made numerous land-for-peace offers that have been refused or ignored (by the Arab League in 1967, Arafat in 2000 and by Mahmoud Abbas when Ehud Olmert was Israeli Prime Minister.
The IPMN memo gets even uglier in the previously mentioned footnote that reads as follows:
The package (a bomb?) sent to 100 Witherspoon St in 2004, the fire in a Rochester church, the picketing of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship event at GA when Professor Norman Finkelstein was a featured speaker, and the many visits of teams of Jewish neighbors to local Presbyterian churches are examples of these tactics. This type of censorship and intimidation is so frequent that Jewish Voice for Peace has created a special website to document it. See www.muzzlewatch.com. [Note: The “package” mentioned in the IPMN’s memo was according to the PC(USA)’s news service, a letter threatening to commit an act of arson.]
This passage obliquely blames an act of arson and a threat on PC(USA) on “certain American Jewish organizations” despite the fact that the attacks were condemned by numerous Jewish organizations in the U.S. as documented by the PC(USA)’s own news service.
As it turns out federal investigators had linked the man who mailed the letter, Jeffrey A. Winters “to Internet postings expressing suicidal thoughts and struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder and to written threats to mental-health organizations.” These details prompted the PC(USA)’s Stated Clerk Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick to report that the church was holding Winter “in prayer,” adding “He appears from what we know to be a troubled person. We care about him.” (Louisville Courier-Journal, Feb. 4, 2005)
These details indicate that Winters’ letter did not represent an effort on the part of Jewish groups in the U.S. to censor or intimidate the PC(USA) into remaining silent about the Arab-Israeli conflict. These details didn’t stop the IPMN from portraying it as such, however.
What Church? Which Fire? When?
The IMPN’s memo also describes a “fire in a Rochester church” as an example of the “tactics” used by Jewish organizations “to censor debate about Israel” both inside and outside the Jewish community. It is unclear exactly what church fire the memo is referring to. Efforts to determine via a Nexis search what church fire IPMN is talking about were unsuccessful. CAMERA has also sent emails (on the morning of May 18, 2010) to officials at the IPMN in an effort to provide details, but has yet to receive a response.
CAMERA did find on the PC(USA)’s website, a report of a church fire in Pittsford, New York, located on the outskirts of Rochester that took place in May 2004. This fire erupted during a lightening storm and does not appear to be an act of arson and consequently, cannot be described as part of a “tactic” to “censor debate about Israel.” Muzzelwatch.org, the website invoked as a source about efforts to censor and intimidate critics of Israel has no information about any fire in a Rochester church.
Unless the IPMN can provide more details, it appears that the memo is a ham-handed attempt to depict Jewish groups in the U.S. as the enemy within American society.
What makes this attempt so egregious is that Jewish groups in both the U.S. and Israel condemned the threats against the PC(USA) that took place after the denomination’s General Assembly passed the divestment resolution in 2004. Moreover, Presbyterian leaders in New York City consulted with Jewish officials in the city about how to respond to the threats. This is logical because of the Jewish community’s expertise in dealing with such threats. The ADL has numerous resources devoted to this issue.
This is relevant because it highlights the IPMN’s attempt to implicate, without a shred of evidence, Jewish groups in the U.S. as a source of terrorist threats against Israel’s critics when in reality, the Jewish community has typically been the target of such threats.
The irony is this: Instead of demonstrating the “fatal flaws” of the “People of God” document, the IPMN’s memo assailing the document demonstrates why it is needed.
Anti-Semitism the Fault of Israel
This irony becomes particularly evident in that section of the memo where the IPMN blames anti-Semitism on the actions of the Israeli government. In a paragraph complaining about the Christian-Jewish document’s expression of concern about “a worldwide increase in Anti-Jewish Rhetoric and Actions” IPMN activists state:
This statement needs to be contextualized. This “anti-Jewish rhetoric” does not arise out of a vacuum, or some inchoate reservoir of anti-Semitism. In fact, the case can be made that it is a reaction to the actions of the state of Israel. And that this is related to the American Middle East wars, which, combined with the U.S. defense of Israel internationally, fuels anti-Jewish stereotypes and some classic anti-Semitic beliefs.
Like many other so-called “peacemaking” documents issued by mainline institutions, this passage fails to take into account the manner in which extremists in the Middle East have been able to enlist the help of international bodies and components of civil society in the West – such as the Presbyterian Church (USA) – to portray Israel as a unique enemy to human rights and peaceful international relations.
For example, the UN’s anti-racism conference held in Durban, South Africa in 2001 turned into an anti-Semitic hate fest where organizers told Jewish attendees that their safety could not be guaranteed. And only the most obtuse observers can ignore that manner in which anti-Israel activists in the United States invoked anti-Jewish polemics in their attacks on Israel’s legitimacy during the winter of 2008-2009 and during Israel’s fights with Hamas and Hezbollah in 2006.
Even with the “People of God” document’s mention of rising levels of anti-Semitism, this behavior has not attracted much attention from PC(USA) which, in the years after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, offered its support to Muslims and Arabs in the United States and has reminded the American people not to engage in anti-Muslim or anti-Arab stereotyping. The PC(USA) has also drawn attention to the problem when it occurs. By way of comparison, some Presbyterians have, as noted above, trafficked in anti-Jewish polemic in reference to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Now that the PC(USA)’s General Assembly is set to affirm “The People of God” document (which encourages people to find ways to speak about the Arab-Israeli conflict in a manner that does not demonize the Jewish people), the IPMN objects.