We, Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, agree with Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson that the Presbyterian Church USA has been consistent in its condemnation of anti-Semitism. PFMEP has been proud of these statements, reminding us that for nearly 2000 years, Christians have offered words that have harmed the Jewish community and, tragically, have led to violence and bloodshed. When we forget our own PCUSA standards, the evil of anti-Semitism rears its ugly head.
However, we strongly condemn the State Clerk’s attempt to use these statement as a way to dismiss the angry reaction from the U.S. Jewish community to his offensive Dr. King Day letter. He cannot decide on his own what the American Jewish community should find offensive, or what constitutes anti-Semitism. By his logic, men should decide what is sexist and misogynistic, or white people should define what is racist. The Stated Clerk does not get to make that decision. The Jewish community has the right to define what is anti-Semitic. Church history reveals that when we, Christians, ignore their cries, Jews die. Perhaps the Stated Clerk should apply the PCUSA statements rather than using them as proof texts.
While PFMEP condemned the Stated Clerk’s statement on Martin Luther King, Jr Day for being offensive to the Jewish community, we were not the only ones to signal our concerns. He was roundly condemned by Jewish organizations in the United States for the language he used from such groups as the Anti-Defamation League and the Americans for Peace Now. He created a consensus of indignation in a Jewish community that usually has a wide range of opinions.
Americans for Peace Now is one of the organizations that is most critical of the policies of the State of Israel toward Palestinians, yet APN can distinguish between just criticism of the State of Israel and hate language. APN offers the following on the Stated Clerk’s remarks, “Such language evokes antisemitic tropes and risks further stoking hatred. It also harms efforts to pursue an effective peaceful solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To solve a problem, you must first accurately diagnose it. Rev. Nelson failed to do so.”
The ADL goes even further, stating, “Reverend Nelson, ADL views this construct as nothing less than antisemitism. Your demonizing language towards Israel appears to question the validity of Jewish statehood, and the morality of Jews and Judaism. By your formulation, unless they act against Israel, Jews (specifically American Jews) are implicated and judged guilty. This not only holds all Jews accountable for Israeli policies, but essentially demands that Jews deny an integral aspect of their Jewish identity, that of a connection to Israel, their historic homeland, and to Jewish self-determination.”
The Stated Clerk talks about having difficult conversations with the Jewish community about Israel and the treatment of Palestinians. However, how is he to be taken seriously given his language, action and refusal to acknowledge the antisemitic tone and content of his own words? Longstanding relationships between Presbyterians and Jewish congregations are being strained in reaction tot he Stated Clerk’s vitriol, intruding upon trust and mutual respect enjoyed over the years.
It has now been over a week since the attack on Colleyville, and unlike our brothers and sisters in other main line denominations, there have been no words from PCUSA to condemn the attack nor words of support for our Jewish neighbors who once again are under assault by anti-Semitism.
Our Stated Clerk’s Dr. King Day letter and following rebuttal to the criticism of it are a failure to lead. Instead of building on grassroot relationships between Jewish and Presbyterian congregations, the State Clerk’s words and actions are undermining these relationships and hinder the good work being done locally. Presbyterians deserve better leadership from our Louisville leadership for the sake of the Gospel and our common mission with Jewish congregations. An acknowledgement by the Stated Clerk that the words he wrote were harmful to the Jewish community and interfaith work is needed. Now!
Rev. Todd Stavrakos
Rev. Jill Schaeffer, PhD
Rev. Deborah Cenko
Rev. Chris Holland