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Rabbi's Commentary Presbyterians Debate Anti-Israel Measures

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein

July 8, 2010

Dear Friend of Israel,

The Presbyterian Church (USA) one of the “mainline” Protestant denominations that used to make up the religious establishment in this country is once again embroiled in controversy for its stance on Israel. In the past, the denomination was at the forefront of the anti-Israel divestment movement. General Assembly the group has considered an array of resolutions and statements harshly critical of Israel.

As I write this, the PCUSA is again holding its General Assembly, and is once again considering adopting controversial statements against Israel. On the agenda this year is a report titled “Breaking Down the Walls” by the church’s Middle East Study Committee (MESC). Critics have lambasted the report for legitimizing doubts about Israel’s right to exist, for endorsing a notorious document authored by virulently anti-Israel Palestinian leaders , and for calling on both Iran and Israel to “refrain from nuclear arms proliferation” as if peaceful, democratic Israel and bellicose, authoritarian, Israel-hating Iran pose a similar threat to the Middle East.

But the tide may be turning against the anti-Israel faction in the PCUSA. It is significant and heartening to note that more and more people, including Presbyterians, are speaking out against the MESC report. One pastoral letter signed by a number of prominent Presbyterians called the report “unbalanced, historically inaccurate, theologically flawed, and politically damaging.” Guastav Niebuhr, a prominent religion writer and great-nephew of Reinhold Niebuhr, perhaps the preeminent Protestant theologian of the 20th century, said in a blog post co-written with Katharine Henderson that the report “strays from this path to peace-building and instead deals in neatly-assigned roles Israel as oppressor, Palestinians as victims.”

Still, the fact that such resolutions are even considered for approval at all is a sign that the anti-Israel sentiment in mainline Protestant denominations like the PCUSA runs deep. Despite their lessening influence, the decisions made by these denominations do have an effect on public opinion, and can help influence policy. That is why we must continue to hope and pray that their influence diminishes and that the influence of the majority of Christians who love and support Israel continues to rise.

The PCUSA likely won’t make a decision on “Breaking Down the Walls” until their General Assembly ends later this week. But there is much you can do as this denominational debate continues. First, you can stay abreast of these developments on our Stand for Israel blog. If you are a member of a PCUSA congregation, ask your pastor to speak out against this anti-Israel document. Voice your support for Israel in the political realm. And, of course, pray that the world will come to a truer understanding of the dynamics in the Middle East and stand united in support of God’s chosen people.

With prayers for shalom, peace,

Yechiel Eckstein

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
President

 

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