A call for Justice and Tolerance in Israel and Palestine

For decades, Presbyterians have taken a position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that calls for a just and sustainable peace, based on recognition of the rights of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. Successive Presbyterian General Assemblies have called for the Holy Land to be shared through the two-state solution: a peaceful and democratic Palestine living alongside the Jewish state of Israel. We at Presbyterians for Middle East Peace (PFMEP) strongly support this long-established position. We believe that Christians are called to act as peacemakers, helping parties in conflict achieve reconciliation.

Recently the PC(USA) on-line “church store” began distributing a “congregational study guide” of a forthcoming publication titled “Zionism Unsettled.” The “study guide” was compiled by the Israel-Palestine Mission Network (IPMN), an advocacy group describing itself as an organization that “speaks to the Church, not for the Church.” We take no issue with this group, or anyone else, expressing their opinions and exercising their rights of free speech. Our concern, however, is that this material will be seen and is already being seen by much of the outside world as an official document of the Presbyterian Church (USA). As a case in point, a recent article about this material appeared on the website Electronic Intifada entitled Zionism is a ’false theology,’ says new Presbyterian study guide.

Zionism refers simply to the movement for a homeland of the Jewish people in Israel. “Zionism Unsettled” has contributors to the document stating that Zionism is a “false theology.” The materials repeatedly describe Jewish immigrants to Israel as “colonists” who took “Palestinian land” from the Palestinian people. Zionism is described by the study guide’s project coordinator as an “oppressive ideology” comparable to “Jim Crow” segregation in the American South and apartheid in South Africa. The document quotes a Palestinian writer as saying “Zionism was (and remains) not just about the colonization of Palestinian land, but also about colonizing minds — Jewish, Arab, European, American.”

The materials contain inflammatory statements and depictions that are misleading and in some cases flagrantly untrue. The study guide states “Israeli and American myths of origin are similar and derived from the same biblical sources,” implying the Jewish connection to the land of Israel over the last 3,500 years is a “myth.” Israeli Jews are described in disparaging terms for claiming a right to live in the land, while contributors see no problem in freely using the term “Palestinian land” to describe the entire region. The truth, of course, is that the land has been shared for thousands of years, and that both peoples have a right to be there. To claim otherwise is the worst form of injustice.

“Zionism Unsettled” is neither a peacemaking document nor part of any genuine peacemaking effort. It is instead another hostile document reflective of the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement, represented within the PC(USA) by the IPMN. The sum of its message is that Jews have no right to the land, only Palestinian Arabs. Opponents of the peace process are already praising this document and describing it as produced by the Presbyterian Church (USA). Are we as a church prepared to embrace such a message? We think not.