from Pressure Points

The PCUSA Against Israel

June 27, 2018

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In the year 2000 the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) had 2.5 million members. Now it is down to 1.4 million. and the number is still falling. The age profile of members, according to a Pew study, suggests how this happens: 38% of members are 65 or over, while only 8% are under age 29. The denomination is also 88% white, and making no apparent inroads into Black, Asian, or Hispanic communities. But perhaps the members simply lack time to expand, given the time they must dedicate to condemning Israel.

The PCUSA’s 223rd General Assembly (GA) has been meeting, and Israel is one issue that continually attracts the attention of these GAs when they assemble every two years. I think it fair to say PCUSA has shown more hostility to Israel over a longer time than any other denomination. For example, at the GA last week a resolution was passed 393-55 demanding that the real estate firm RE/MAX stop doing business in Israeli settlements in the West Bank or in East Jerusalem. Another resolution asked Israel to be in compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (no similar demand of North Korea, Iran, Cuba, China, Russia, Venezuela, etc etc). Another referred to Israel as an apartheid state. A resolution that would have terminated the church’s reference to Israel as a “colonial project” failed. A resolution against legislation (usually at the state level) that opposes BDS (boycotts, divestment, sanctions) passed. Perhaps worst of all, a resolution on the violence along the Israel-Gaza border was rejected as insufficiently critical of Israel—because it also mentioned Hamas. An amended resolution was proposed that removed all mention of Hamas, and it passed 438-34.  

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The American Jewish Committee (AJC) condemned PCUSA: "The Church remains obsessively critical of Israel in its national utterances. For many years and in myriad ways, the PCUSA has gone beyond legitimate criticism of Israel and embraced demonization of the Jewish state."

Obsession and demonization are strong terms, but they seem accurate. I will admit I don’t understand why this happens in the PCUSA, but in many cases a small group of activists can hijack gatherings like this GA. Still, it has been going on year after year, so one has to assume these resolutions reflect the views of the member churches and their own members. Perhaps the only comfort available for those who agree with this criticism is that those churches and their members are fewer in number every year. But the AJC remains positive: it "remains grateful for its Presbyterian friends who have labored hard to change the course and tone of anti-Israel deliberations and have mitigated anti-Israel resolutions and overtures at successive PCUSA GAs." One can only wish them good luck in the apparently uphill struggle they are waging.

 

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