The rich heritage of our Christian faith is inseparable from the historical land of Israel, and our deep connection to Israel provides us an unwavering spiritual foundation as followers of Jesus. It is heartbreaking and disappointing when members of our community turn their backs on Israel; sadly, this seems to be all too common these days.
On July 8, the Presbyterian Church USA’s (PCUSA) annual General Assembly passed a resolution declaring that the government of Israel’s laws, policies, and practices toward the Palestinian people “fulfill the international legal definition of apartheid.”
The resolution compared Israel’s policies in the West Bank to race relations in South Africa during the apartheid era, further alleging that Israel’s laws privileged Jewish people over Palestinians and relegated the latter to live in “reserves and ghettos.” In declaring that Israel had denied its Palestinian residents “freedom of residence” and the “right to a nationality,” the committee called on Church members to support ending Israel’s purported apartheid.
This is not the first time members of the PCUSA have levied such accusations against the state of Israel. Earlier this year, one Church leader described Israel’s policies toward the Palestinian territories as an “occupation” and likened it to “21st-century slavery.”
The notion that Israel is an apartheid state is abhorrent. The fact is that the Jewish people have experienced almost two thousand years of persecution by those who identify as Christian, and the Jewish State has spent its entire existence threatened by conflict and destruction. Only recently have relations between the Jewish and Christian communities begun to heal; this resolution turns back the clock on all the progress our two communities have made.
By accusing Israel of apartheid, and by ignoring the complexities and historical facts of the present Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the recent decision by the PCUSA is all but asking for the delegitimization and destruction of Israel.
As Christians, we respect the inherent dignity of every person irrespective of their ethnic or religious background. Our faith calls on us to be emphatically “pro-humanity.” In turn, we must work toward and pray for peace for all the communities who call Israel home as well as their neighbors across the region.
A declaration of Israel as an apartheid state by a prominent Christian church does nothing to realize this peace. Instead, it undercuts the opportunity for peaceful coexistence and betrays our providential calling to be “pro-humanity.”
And the implications of the PCUSA’s resolution go well beyond the Middle East; the reality is that these accusations of apartheid can lend credence to those who seek to — often violently — target the Jewish people.
Let us not forget that the most horrific and violent acts of erasure toward the Jewish people in history, which took place in Nazi Germany before and during World War II, began with the dehumanization and forcible removal of Jews from German society. The PCUSA’s resolution, which alleges that Israel has relegated Palestinians to second-class citizens and forced them into ghettos is not only untrue but waters down those very same injustices which Jews faced in interwar Europe.
By effectively accusing the entire Jewish homeland of similar evils as those perpetrated by the Nazis or the apartheid government of South Africa, the PCUSA opens the door for antisemitic hate to live on in the United States.
I have long sounded the alarm about the threat of antisemitism. In 2021, the Anti-Defamation League reported more than 2,700 incidents of antisemitism targeting American Jews, the highest number since the organization began tracking such data in 1979.
It is a poison that the Jewish people have had to deal with for generations. As Christians, we need to be building systems of support to help our Jewish brothers and sisters combat antisemitism. And this is especially true in our churches, where antisemitism has often gone unchallenged.
Antisemitism, including anti-Israel bias, has no place in our churches. It is immoral and should be routinely rejected by Church leaders and community members. The Church cannot go around the wagon on this again. As Christians, we have a moral obligation to stand up solidly for a Jewish State where Jews can feel safe and secure.
Scott Phillips is the CEO of Passages, a nonprofit organization offering Christian college students a fresh and innovative approach to experiencing the Holy Land.