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Jewish Groups Accuse Presbyterian Church of Facilitating Anti-Israeli & Anti-Semitic Sentiment


"...a gathering place for anti-Jewish tirades."

At the same time people of diverse faiths are coming together on the issue of the contraceptive mandate, it seems there's a divisive battle raging between Jewish organizations and the Presbyterian Church (USA). The problems between the two faith groups center upon charges from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), among other groups, that allege that the Presbyterians, through their Israel-Palestine Mission Network (a missions arm), have made anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish statements.

The JCPA, which seeks to be a unifying voice for issues pertaining to Jews, put out a press release that made its qualms with the PC(USA) known. The document, which was issued on Feb. 6, begins:

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs called on the Presbyterian Church (USA) to take concrete actions to address the anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, and at times anti-Semitic content that has been all too common in the church’s Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN-PCUSA).  The Israel Palestine Mission Network of the PCUSA (IPMN-PCUSA) is a group chartered by the PCUSA General Assembly and advised by members of the denomination's national staff.   IPMN-PCUSA’s policies, programs, social media and other communications are a wellspring of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel invective, according to extensive research conducted by the JCPA and the Israel Action Network, an initiative of The Jewish Federations of North America in partnership with JCPA.

Naturally, one would wonder what evidence the JCPA has that its rival is being biased against both Jews and Israel. The release continues (you can read the full list of complaints and allegations here):

For example, at an opening program of the IPMN-PCUSA annual conference, the Rev. Craig Hunter said "greed and injustice is a cancer at the very core of Zionism."   In a 2010 letter to church delegates, the IPMN-PCUSA falsely accused the Jewish community of intimidating Presbyterians by sending a letter-bomb to the church’s headquarters and setting fire to a church. IPMN-PCUSA tweeted an article proclaiming “Jewish power + Jewish hubris = moral catastrophe of epic proportions.”  IPMN-PCUSA also has supported virulently anti-Israel resolutions including those equating Israel with Apartheid and has been a vocal supporter of the anti-Israel boycott, divestment, and sanction movement.

"We have been concerned by the transformation of the IPMN-PCUSA into a gathering place for anti-Jewish tirades," JCPA Chair Dr. Conrad Giles said in the statement. "We cannot remain silent while a group chartered by a mainstream church tolerates language that reflects the darkest times in the Christian-Jewish encounter.  These attitudes cannot find a home in the Presbyterian Church (USA)."

The American Jewish Committee, another pro-democratic Jewish group, also sent out a similar release on the same day. "When American church leaders allow extremists in their own community to dictate the direction of church activity on an issue as complex as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they weaken the stature of the church in the eyes of all," AJC’s director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations said in the group's official response.

IPMN-PCUSA, though, didn't back down, retract or apologize as a result of these critiques. In fact, the group responded with a press release of its own on Feb. 8, writing:

For the record, the Israel Palestine Mission Network is not an anti-Semitic organization. It does oppose Israeli government policy that sustains illegal occupation and violates Palestinian human rights every day. The IPMN is also a proponent of open dialogue and debate about the issues that prevent a just peace. The truth is that the JCPA, the American Jewish Committee (AJC) and other “pro-Israel” organizations do not desire open and free discussion about these issues in America, and when they don’t want to talk about the facts on the ground, they resort to slanderous smear campaigns. [...]

This year the JCPA concern comes in trying to stem the unstoppable tide of a growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. Presbyterians and Methodists are leading the way in the faith community, along with many other Christian, Jewish and secular grassroots organizations across the United States, to stop profiting from the Israeli Occupation. The BDS movement is saying the government of Benjamin Netanyahu is wearing no clothes; you can’t say you want a just peace and at the same time build settlements on Palestinian land at break-neck pace.

And this is only a portion of the scathing press release (the rest can be read here). So, with neither side willing to pare down the rhetoric and angst, it seems there is a stalemate. That being said, the controversial IPMN-PCUSA Facebook page has been shut down, causing some to claim that the Presbyterian Church was well aware of the improper and allegedly offensive content that was posted. In a statement published on its web site, the church arm responded to the closure, writing:

IPMN has been a presence on social media sites Facebook and Twitter over the last eighteen months, providing links to stories on Israel and Palestine that are not easily found in the mainstream U.S. media. [...]

As our “fan base” has grown on Facebook to over 2100, so have the comments, both positive and negative. At present, Facebook does not provide a setting where fans can “like” and “share” links without posting comments that need to be monitored. Since IPMN has no paid staff, we will not be able to keep our Facebook page going, until such a time as new posting settings are made available. Until then, IPMN will post links to articles, commentary, videos, etc. on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/IPMN

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) recaps its version of the issues that have unfolded between the two sides, inevitably placing blame on the Presbyterians regarding how they've handled the situation:

Presbyterian leaders were given multiple warnings about the problem before the JCPA went public with its concerns. Starting in 2009, CAMERA corresponded regularly with the denomination's leaders in Louisville about this problem, but they did nothing even as the IPMN-PCUSA's Facebook page became a focal point for anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic imagery and commentary. [...]

Eventually, the JCPA started gathering a collection of the hateful postings on the IPMN's Facebook page for a report about the organization. The JCPA then started to distribute a draft version of its findings to members and leaders within the denomination, which apparently prompted the IPMN-PCUSA to delete its Facebook page.

There's not much room for agreement here, especially considering that both sides view their opponent as discriminatory and biased. In the end, the debate is certainly a grand one that requires more in-depth scrutiny. This latest spat, though, may be setting the stage for more drama to come.

Editor's Note: It is important to note the difference between the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Presbyterian Church in America. The former is the larger, more liberal of the two, with 2.3 million members and 11,000 congregations. PC(USA) has taken other leftist positions on issues such as gay marriage) The latter is much smaller, but is regarded as the more conservative denomination. As of 2000, it had 1,450 congregations and more than 306,000 members. There are also other denominations within the larger Presbyterian Church.

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