Israel Has No Right to Exist?

Once again this summer in St. Louis, our General Assembly commissioners will be asked to 1) declare that Israel has no right to exist and 2) create yet another study wasting limited mission dollars, and 3) change positions to align the PC(USA) with the BDS movement. An overture containing a letter from a group of “Palestinian Christian organizations” will be put before the GA for endorsement (Overture 29 from the Presbytery of San Francisco). Incredibly, this list of “organizations” contains no actual Christian religious denominations. The letter was originally sent to the World Council of Churches and can be read here. We expect that in addition to presentation to the PC(USA) for endorsement, it will be circulated at several other church conferences by the BDS movement’s followers.

One would hope that a letter from Christians would carry a message of peace, reconciliation, truth and respect for the legitimate rights of both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples (rights affirmed and reaffirmed repeatedly by past General Assemblies). This letter, however, does nothing of the sort. It is instead riddled with hateful statements and falsehoods. The letter declares:

That Christians should support and defend the Israel-targeted Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) Movement. The 2014 General Assembly explicitly disavowed the BDS movement: “This action on divestment is not to be construed or represented by any organization of the PC(USA) as divestment from the State of Israel, or an alignment with or endorsement of the global BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement.” Since the BDS movement seeks the elimination of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, the St Louis GA would need to change radically two policy positions established by prior Assemblies: 1) disavowing any PCUSA alignment with the BDS movement and 2) the PCUSA’s historical policy favoring two states for two peoples—one for Palestinians, one for Israelis.

That Christian support for the right of the State of Israel to exist is based on a “twisted theological premise,” implying that Christians who support Israel are heretics. This argument only applies to the most extreme elements of the Christian Zionist movement. It has not been a part of the PCUSA’s ongoing commitment to Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.

That the Balfour Declaration (a statement in support of the right of the Jewish people to self-determination and statehood) was “unjust and unlawful” and calls for an “apology” and “compensation” from countries that supported the establishment of the Jewish State of Israel. To the letter’s authors, the very existence of Israel is a crime. Only the most radical elements of the anti-Israel movement believe the Balfour Declaration was “unjust and unlawful.”

That Israel is an “apartheid state” while Palestinians seek nothing more than peace, freedom and justice. This argument ignores the well-documented reality of violent Palestinian factions committed to killing Jews and destroying Israel.

That Israel is a “colonial state.” This argument promotes the oft-repeated lie that the Jewish people have no connection to the land while Palestinian Arabs are “indigenous,” a flagrantly hateful and soundly disproven characterization that does nothing but promote violence.

In addition to the call to endorse the letter, an additional overture (Overture 25 from Grace Presbytery) calls for a Presbyterian “task force” to be created to “study” this letter and report back to the 2020 General Assembly. At a time when GA budgets are under enormous pressure, do we really need to reinvent this wheel? The last GA took an action to dialogue with leaders of the BDS movement. This action unwittingly empowered a number of General Assembly staff and others to take a very expensive trip to the Middle East. How many more of these expensive studies and trips do we need when other major mission initiatives go unfunded or underfunded?

We are saddened by the fact that support for this letter has gained approval and concurrence from even a few of our presbyteries. Consecutive general assemblies for decades have recognized the legitimate right of both the Palestinian and Jewish peoples to freedom and self-determination, and this recognition of mutual rights is the only path that can lead to peace. Here for example is a statement made by the 2016 GA:

On this Item [08-06], the General Assembly acted as follows: As disciples of Jesus Christ, the Prince of peace, of the people of Abraham and the lineage of David, we stand with the people of Israel, affirming their right to exist as a sovereign nation, and we stand with the Palestinian people, affirming their rights to exist as a sovereign nation. Therefore, the 222nd General Assembly (2016) affirms Footnote 8, which emphasizes a preference for a two-state solution. The assembly also affirms our desire to stay in conversation with our partners in Israel who work for peace. Finally, the assembly expresses its opposition to any efforts to deny or undermine the rights of the Palestinian people or the Jewish people to self-determination.

These overtures and the letter they praise are the antithesis of the sound and Christ-based position for which Presbyterians are noted. The overtures do not make a compelling case to spend precious resources (staff time and dollars) on two years of “study,” when such resources could be directed to genuine mission efforts consistent with Christian values. Adoption of these overtures by the upcoming General Assembly would be unconscionable, indefensible, and incompatible with long-established principles of Christian and Presbyterian peacemaking.

Enough is enough. The PCUSA cannot force the Israelis and Palestinians to make peace by taking ever more radical positions at the behest of the BDS movement. We need to do the work of Christian peacemaking, not keep passing overtures that create division rather than reconciliation and spend money that can be much more effectively used elsewhere.