The Presbyterian Church’s Enduring False Witness

For most of the past decade, the Presbyterian Church (USA), (a mainline protestant denomination with a shrinking membership), has produced and distributed a number of texts about the Middle East.

The texts vary significantly in content and tone, but the one thing these texts have in common is that they promote a distorted view of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In the narrative offered in these texts, Israel is singularly responsible for the continued existence of the conflict. The misdeeds of Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (and Arab and Muslim leaders throughout the Middle East) are downplayed or simply ignored.

 The overarching impact of the texts produced by Presbyterian institutions is to promote suspicion and fear toward the Jewish state and its impact on the Middle East and the international system. Sometimes they promote suspicion toward Israel’s Jewish supporters in the United States. In these texts, the Jewish people, their institutions and their homeland are depicted as a malign and central force in history in both the U.S. and the Middle East. By varying degrees, these texts promote a Judeocentric and Judeophobic view of domestic and international politics.


These materials are produced in the hopes that they will be used as discussion guides by local churches and undermine support for the Jewish state on the part of the denomination’s rank and file.


It is unclear if these texts affect public opinion in the U.S., but they do have a significant impact on debate at the denomination’s General Assemblies that are held every two years and at which Israeli policies are regularly scrutinized and condemned.


The following is a summary of some of distorted texts distributed by the PC(USA) over the past few years.


“Cradle to Our Faith”


Since 2008, the denomination has sold “Cradle to Our Faith: The Enduring Witness of the Christians of the Middle East” through its website. Interestingly enough, this text, produced by the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the PCUSA (an organization established by the denomination’s 2004 General Assembly), offers false witness about the region.


For example, it falsely reports that Israel’s Christian population has, along with other countries in the region, “experienced a drastic decrease in numbers.” This is not true.


Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reports that in 1949, there were 34,000 Christians living in Israel. In 2008, when the booklet was published, there were 152,000 Christians. That is an increase of 347 percent. In reference to the Arab Christian population, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics reports that in 1999, there were 107,000 Arab Christians living in Israel; in 2008, there were 122,000. Again, another increase.


This document also falsely reports that “Most Arab citizens of Israel—Christian and Muslim—cannot serve in the military,” and therefore cannot obtain educational and social services based on military service. In fact, Arabs are not required to serve in Israel’s military, but they may enlist and a small number of them do.


All of these misstatements were offered to support an underlying anti-Judaic trope – that the Jewish state is mistreating Christians in the 21st Century just as Jews mistreated followers of Jesus in the years after Christianity’s birth.


The document makes this very argument on page 12: “Today, Christians in Jerusalem are a powerless minority, as were new believers at the time of Jesus.” Several years later, Father Gabriel Naddaf, an Orthodox Priest in Israel, countered this myth with the obvious truth: Israel is the one country in the Middle East where Christians are safe and have an obligation to protect, not undermine the Jewish state.


The lack of safety endured by Christians in the Middle East was downplayed in the document, which reports that Christian-Muslim relations in Egypt were “good” despite well-documented hostility toward Coptic Christians in that country. Things got much worse in the years after “Cradle to Our Faith” was published, but even before the booklet was released in 2008, Coptic Christians were regular targets of physical attacks and were periodically forced to pay the jizya tax to extremists Muslims in Egypt. If these things had taken place in Israel, they would have been highlighted and condemned, but because they happened in Egypt, they were downplayed by the booklet’s authors.


“Steadfast Hope”


In 2009 the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church USA, , produced, “Steadfast Hope: The Palestinian Quest for Peace,” which says Israeli control of the water supply in the West Bank “leaves Palestinians thirsty.” The document fails to report that per capita water consumption on the part of Palestinians in the West Bank has increased since 1967 as the result of Israeli investments in the water delivery system in that area. (These improvements are documented in a report published by the Begin-Sadat Center in 2012.) In 1967, the residents of the West Bank consumed on average, 254 liters of water per day. In 2012, they consumed 383 liters per day.


“Steadfast Hope” describes the PLO’s founding as an innocent effort to crea
te a “secular” and “democratic” state, omitting that it was founded in 1964 in the hopes of achieving Israel’s destruction. The PLO charter declared the UN Partition vote in 1947 illegal and Israel’s establishment in 1948 “entirely illegal, regardless of the passage of time,” and called for the destruction of the “Zionist presence” in the former Palestine. This was not about the “occupation” or the presence of Israelis in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip (which came three years after the PLO’s founding), but about Israel’s very existence.


“Steadfast Hope” also describes Israel’s preemptive attack on Egypt in 1967 as motivated by “the goal of expanding the boundaries of the state.” In fact, as Gershon Goremberg reported in his 2007 book, The Accidental Empire, “irredentism – claims to territory beyond the borders – receded from political debate” in Israel in the years prior to the Six Day War. All this demonstrates that the Six-Day War was a war of self-defense, not expansionism.


To further confuse the matter, “Steadfast Hope” falsely accuses Israel of preemptively attacking Jordan and Syria when in fact Israel attacked these countries after they shelled Israel first.


In 2011, the IPMN produced a second edition of “Steadfast Hope,” which was largely unchanged from the 2009 edition.


First Kairos Study Guide


In 2010, the IPMN produced a study guide promoting the Kairos Palestine Document (“A Moment of Truth”) issued by Palestinian Christians in December 2009.  This text does not give readers the information they need to fully analyze the Kairos Palestine Document (KPD), but instead promotes it in an unreflective manner and ultimately asks readers to accept, without challenge, claims put forth by Palestinian Christians who authored the text. Clearly, The Kairos Document was worthy of some scrutiny. It asserted for example, that “if there were no occupation there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity.”


This is simply untenable. Israel was regularly and repeatedly attacked before the Six Day War during which it came into possession of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Hamas has regularly attacked Israel after it withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005. It’s not Israel’s presence in the West Bank that has caused Palestinian violence, but mere existence of a Jewish state.


There is another problem with “A Moment of Truth” that was highlighted by Duane Alexander Miller and Philip Sumpter in an academic paper published in December 2013: “The document claims that Palestinian Christians ‘… must resist evil of whatever kind’ […] But in 16 pages of single-space print, there is not a single mention of the intolerance and even violence that Christians in Palestine experience at the hands of some Muslims.”


The IPMN-produced study guide fails to address what the Central Conference of American Rabbis called the KPD’s “supersessionist and antisemitic nature.” For example, the Kairos Document condemns the use of scripture to affirm Jewish claims to the land, while using scripture to affirm Palestinian claims to the Holy Land, the CCAR reported in a resolution it passed in 2013. (For more information about the problems with the Kairos Document “A Moment of Truth,” read this article here.)


People who rely on IPMN’s study guide will learn nothing of these problems but instead, are encouraged to spread the propaganda with leading questions such as “Who do you know that would benefit from this study …?”


Such behavior is dishonest and irresponsible.


Middle East Study Committee


Also in 2010, the denomination’s Middle East Study Committee (established by a 2008 vote of the church’s General Assembly) produced a document called “Breaking Down the Walls.”


The text included an “historical analysis” written by Frederic Bush and Nahida H. Gordon that omitted crucial facts about the Arab-Israeli conflict and demonized the Jewish state. For example, they described Ghassan Kanafani (who was killed by the Israelis in 1972) as a non-violent writer despite the fact that he was a high-ranking member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) who met with the perpetrators of of the Lod Airport Massacre during which Japanese terrorists hired by the PFLP killed 26 people and injured 80 others.


Fortunately, this “historical analysis” was removed from the report by the PC(USA)’s General Assembly in 2010 and was subsequently replaced by a number of “personal narratives” about the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Second Kairos Study Guide


In 2011, after the IPMN produced its whitewash of the Kairos Document (discussed previously), another PCU
SA group, the Middle East Monitoring Group, produced its own “study guide” to the Kairos Palestine Document. This group, created by a 2010 vote of the denomination’s General Assembly, did not exhibit the same level hostility toward Israel that was expressed by the IPMN, but it still whitewashed the KPD, merely stating that while many theologians endorsed the text, others “took issue with various aspects of its theology and contextual analysis.”


It also fed into the notion that the population of Palestinian Christians was “dwindling,” when in fact, this population, had increased in the previous decades. Despite these faults, this study guide was the denomination’s least objectionable treatment of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It still fell far short of the truth telling expected of a credible religious body.


“Zionism Unsettled”


In late 2013, the denomination began distributing “Zionism Unsettled,” an IPMN-produced text that was so hateful and distorted that it was lauded on the website of David Duke, a former Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan and a Holocaust denier who has denounced Israel during talks in Iran. The site cheered the text as “ a major breakthrough in the worldwide struggle against Zionist extremism.” The site also proclaimed that the church had issued “a formal statement calling Zionism “‘Jewish Supremacism.’”


The text promoted a number of falsehoods. For example, it stated that debate about Zionism in both Christian and Jewish communities in the United States was “stifled” In fact Christians and Jews have been fighting amongst themselves and each other for decades about Israel’s founding and policies.


Another big lie offered in the text was that Jews had it good in Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East, even Iran. In fact, Jews were subjected to terrible mistreatment as dhimmis in Muslim countries throughout the Middle East. Moreover, the U.S. State Department has repeatedly reported about the discrimination and oppression endured by Jews in Iran.


This document was so dishonest and antagonistic toward the Jewish people that eventually, officials in the Presbyterian Church (USA) stopped selling the publication through its website.




All of these documents, taken together, indicate that something is seriously wrong with the Presbyterian Church (USA). 


On repeated occasions, PC(USA) elites have allowed the church’s resources to be used to broadcast a fundamentally dishonest view of events in the Middle East that has left the denomination fundamentally ill-equipped to respond to the ethnic cleansing of Christians in Iraq and Syria and unable to respond to ongoing threats to human rights in other places such as Egypt, Nigeria, Syria and Pakistan.


In light of these documents, it should come as no surprise that the denomination’s General Assembly has failed to draw attention Arab and Muslim offenses against human dignity while it exhibits an obsession with the Jewish state, which is portrayed as singularly responsible for the hostility directed at it and for Palestinian suffering.


In a world where huge numbers of Arabs and Muslims would march the Jewish state up a scaffold for destruction, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has allowed its resources to be used to tell a story that portrays Israel as a deserving target of this enmity.


Responsibility for this scandal is shared by every member of the PC(USA) whether they pay attention to the inner workings of the denomination or not because simply put, they pay the bills for the church.


They fund and give license to this hate.


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