Jewish Leaders Condemn Presbyterian Arson Threat

Jewish community groups joined Christians in condemning the arson threat made against the Presbyterian Church (USA) over its Middle East policy last week.

The anonymous arson letter, which was mailed to the PC(USA) headquarters in Louisville, KY early Thursday, threatened to burn down Presbyterian church in retaliation for “your anti-Israel and anti-Jewish attitudes.”

“I promise violence against Presbyterian Churches — They will go up in flames, bet your ass that’s a terrorist threat,” the letter, postmarked Queens, NY stated.

By “anti-Israel,” the letter was referring to the PC(USA)’s June decision to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

Jewish groups largely criticized the divestment decision as “mean-spirited” and biased against Israel. However, upon hearing the news of the hate mail sent to protest divestment, leaders from the Union for Reform Judaism and the Simon Weithenstal Center released separate statements expressing their solidarity with the PC(USA),

“We are disgusted and outraged by those who have threatened to use violence and arson against Presbyterian churches to protest the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s recent steps toward divestment from Israel,” said Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, and Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “The thugs who have made these reprehensible threats are far outside the mainstream of American Jewry, and we, the largest branch of American Judaism, condemn them forcibly, vigorously, and unequivocally.”

The two added that they will “of course continue to raise concerns about he Presbyterian Church (USA)’s policy, but, at the same time, we stand with the Presbyterian community in denouncing these threats.”

“They have no place, no place, in public debate,” the Jewish leaders said of the threats. The Union for Reform Judaism is the synagogue arm of the Reform Movement in North America, and represents 1.5 million Reform Jews in more than 900 congregations.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations with over 400,000 member families in the US, joined in the condemnation, saying it “repudiates any and all threats of violence against the Church,” in a statement.

“The Simon Wiesenthal Center deplores reported threats against the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) regarding its controversial decision to consider divestment from companies doing business with Israel,” the center said in a statement.

Meanwhile, according to the PC(USA) Communications Director Jerry Van Martyr, the FBI in New York have found several leads to the perpetrator.

“I have heard that some new evidence has surfaced. The FBI in NY is tracking them down,” said Van Martyr on Tuesday. “The last I talked to [the FBI], they were working on a couple of leads.”

However, Van Martyr explained information is not yet concrete.

There are no developments “that I have any concrete information on,” said Van Martyr. “I have not heard from them that there is a break. No new developments.”

Van Martyr also he hoped congregations near Queens, NY would heed to the advice by the PC(USA) stated Clerk to enhance security on the premises.

Said Van Martyr: “I hope that closer the congregation is to queens NY, the more vigilant they would be in heightening security.”