The proposals set forth by a Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) committee regarding the conflict between Israel and Palestinians will damage interfaith ties, said one of the nation’s largest Jewish human rights organizations.
PC(USA)’s recommendations reflect an “anti-Israel political agenda” and are not “balanced and fair” as the church leaders pledged its Middle East policies would be, said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, on Monday.
The recommendations by the denomination's Special Committee to Prepare a Comprehensive Study Focused on Israel/Palestine include a call for the U.S. government to withhold financial and military aid to Israel; end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank; and repent of its "sinful behavior" throughout the Middle East, including its "acquiescence" in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands.
Committee members also endorsed the "Kairos Palestine Document," written by Palestinian church leaders, which details the grievances of Palestinians living under Israeli control.
“Adoption of this poisonous document by the Presbyterian Church will be nothing short of a declaration of war on Israel and her supporters,” declared the Simon Wiesenthal Center. “It will negatively impact interfaith relations, and could have significant repercussions in the political domain, with 46 Members of the U.S. Congress and Senate who are Presbyterians.”
In 2004, the PC(USA) became the first mainline Protestant denomination to approve a policy of divestment from Israel. But the policy was unpopular with its members and was later rescinded.
A special committee was established by the 218th General Assembly in 2008 to “prepare a comprehensive study, with recommendations, focused on Israel/Palestine within the complex context of the Middle East.” The committee traveled through the Middle East in August 2009 and held its fourth and final meeting on Jan. 30. The final report will be presented to the 219th General Assembly in July.
The Jewish organization is calling for protest against PC(USA) leaders and for Presbyterian “friends” to speak out against the proposed policy towards Israel.
Christians, especially evangelicals, have long been the strongest supporter of Israel because of its significance in the Bible. But in recent years, an increasing number of Christians as well as evangelicals have become more sympathetic to the plight of Palestinians.
Palestinian Christians say the wall separating Palestinian territories have turned villages into prisons. They also complain that Israeli settlements control resources and that military checkpoints are humiliating.
“I can go on and on talking about human rights violations in Palestine,” said the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, senior pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, at an event in 2007 in Washington, D.C., to raise awareness about the suffering of Palestinian people.
“Unfortunately, somehow the world got used to this; maybe because it is the longest ongoing conflict,” said the Palestinian human rights activist.
He added, “When people look at Palestine, often they have the feeling there is a double standard when it comes to human rights, because the rights of the Palestinians are less than the rights of Israeli people.”
Prominent American pastors, both from mainline and evangelical churches, in the past few years have issued statements calling on the U.S. president to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by supporting the creation of a sovereign and secure Palestinian state alongside a secured Israel.
Church leaders who have publicly supported the two-state solution, which takes into account the suffering of Palestinians as well as the right of Israel to exists, include Dr. Joel C. Hunter, senior pastor of Northland Church in Orlando, Fla.; the Rev. Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago; David Neff, editor in chief of Christianity Today; the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church; and the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches.
The Obama administration supports and is working towards a two-state solution.