Presbyterian Peacemakers Offer Contradictory Messages About Jewish Sovereignty

The Presbyterian Church (USA) will debate numerous proposals regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict at its upcoming General Assembly scheduled to take place in Minneapolis in early July 2010. One overture submitted to the General Assembly by the San Francisco Presbytery declares Israel guilty of the crime of apartheid. Other resolutions call on the denomination to rebuke Caterpillar for continuing to sell its products to Israel.

Setting the stage for the debate is a lengthy report issued by a Middle East Study Committee created by the PC(USA)’s General Assembly in 2008. The report of this committee (now available here) includes a number of letters to various stakeholders, a theological treatise on how the denomination should address the conflict, a list of recommendations from the committee itself and a distorted history of the Arab-Israeli conflict written by two members of the committee.

In the committee’s letter to its “American Jewish Friends,” the committee includes states the following:

We want to be sure to say to you in no uncertain terms: we support the existence of Israel as a sovereign nation within secure and recognized borders. No “but,” no “let’s get this out of the way so we can say what we really want to say. We support Israel’s existence as granted by the U.N. General Assembly. We support Israel’s existence as a home for the Jewish people. We have said this before, and we say this again. We say this because we believe it; we say it because we want it to be true.
The letter then goes onto state that the committee is nevertheless distressed by “the continued policies that surround, sustain, and consolidate the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights, in particular.” On this score, the committee seems unable to acknowledge that Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 only to see an increase in rocket attacks from Hamas, a group that seeks Israel’s destruction.

This is troublesome, but what is more troublesome is the historical analysis submitted by the committee. This document, written by committee members Nahida H. Gordon and Frederic W. Bush, is explicitly anti-Zionist.

The document’s authors reveal their anti-Zionist agenda when they compare the influx of Armenians into pre-1948 Palestinians with the influx of Jews into the region during the first half of the 20th century. The overall assessment is that the Armenians were well behaved guests while the Jews were violent marauders.

Here is how the document describes Armenian immigration into pre-1948 Palestine:

The Armenians came to Palestine to seek refuge with a wish to live, raise their families, and contribute to the culture of their new home. They embraced the culture, learned the language, shared its cuisine, and most importantly contributed to the rich diversity of Palestinian society. Deep friendships and lasting family connections were common among the newly arrived Armenians and the indigenous Palestinians. Tragically, the Armenian-Palestinians were uprooted once more in 1948–1949 during the Nakba, the expulsion of Palestinian Christians and Muslims by the newly arrived Jewish settlers from Europe.

The authors report that when the Armenians came into Palestine, they joined a pre-existing community of Jews who “spoke Arabic, lived peacefully on the land with Christian and Muslim Palestinians, shared its cuisine, and enjoyed Palestine as did their Christian and Muslim neighbors. They were part of a multicultural Palestine, without whom Palestine would have lost some of its rich diversity and heritage. Friendships between these Jewish Palestinians and their Christian and Muslim neighbors were common.” The narrative continues as follows:

So why did things change? They changed with the mass immigration of Jewish refugees from Europe to Palestine during the first half of the 20th century. These refugees came to Palestine to escape centuries of segregation, expulsion, murder, and the horrors of their holocaust during World War II. They were a traumatized people who, rather than integrating into the existing Palestinian society as the Armenians had done earlier, eventually came to displace the Palestinians. They took the land of Palestine from a majority of its inhabitants at gunpoint. The land dispossession by the state created by these European immigrants continues to the present time to further add to the widely dispersed 1948 Palestinian refugee population. Tragically, the government of these immigrants continues to nurture the belief that security comes only from military might. Not surprisingly, Palestinians responded with violence to their displacement. Violent elements in both the Israeli and Palestinian communities have repeatedly frustrated efforts at reconciliation. (Emphasis added.)
This passage reveals an explicit hostility toward the notion of Jewish sovereignty. The message offered here is that if the Jews who entered Palestine in 1948 had only been better behaved – and acted more like the Armenians who came previously – then none of the tragic history that took place after 1948 would have happened. 
The remainder of the document goes onto portray Israel’s creation as an illegitimate act. Resolution 181, for example, merely “recommended” partition and was only approved as a result of cajoling by the Truman Administration, which was itself harassed by the Jewish lobby in the U.S. into pushing for the creation of a Jewish state. (Never mind that the vast majority of the American people supported the creation of a Jewish state.)
The premise here is that Israel’s creation was a sin that should not have taken place, and would not have taken place if it weren’t for the machinations of the Jewish lobby in the United States. To the authors of this text, the Holocaust was not a moral shock that demonstrated the legitimacy of pre-existing Jewish nationalism, but was merely a precursor to the dispossession of the Palestinians by the Israelis.
According to this narrative, the hostility exhibited by Arab leaders before the 1948 War is not all that important. (The Arab countries that attacked Israel in 1948 were merely “protecting” the Palestinians from expulsion, the authors assert.)

The message of this document is that Israel’s creation was a fundamentally illegitimate act that colors everything it has done in the years since 1948. In other words, everything Israel does is tainted by the original sin of its creation. Readers who examine this historical analysis closely will find that it applies a utopian standard to Israel’s creation, and makes the adherence to this standard a condition for its continued existence.

The anti-Zionist message inherent in this document should not come as a surprise. In an article published before the study commit tee report was made public, the Presbyterian News Service reported that there was some controversy in the study committee over the language acknowledging Israel’s right to exist. The report states:

Israel was built on the ruins of Palestinian land and culture,” said Nahida Gordon, a committee member and Palestinian American who teaches at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland. “I take this personally — my personhood as a Palestinian has been obliterated. Palestinians are being erased as human beings. To say this [‘the right of Israel to exist’] is to give Israel a pass on the way Israel was created and denies the legitimacy of the Palestinian people.”
At the suggestion of the Rev. Susan Andrews of Hudson River Presbytery, the committee added the following footnote: “The phrase ‘the right of Israel to exist’ is a source of pain for some members of our study committee who are in solidarity with Palestinians, who feel that the creation of the state of Israel has denied them their inalienable human rights.”
Ultimately, this document denies the right of the Jewish people to a homeland because this right could not be exercised without the shedding of blood. The unspoken premise is that if Israel could not be founded by a bloodless act of God, it should not have been founded, period.
This metric has never been applied to any other nation state except Israel.

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