Leaders of New Jersey’s Jewish community are considering whether to withdraw from coalitions with the Presbyterian Church on both national and local levels if its governing body approves two documents deemed as one-sided in their criticism of Israel.
At its General Assembly July 3, Presbyterian Church USA is expected to take up a 172-page document called “Breaking Down the Walls,” which declares “Israel has both the responsibility and the ability to reverse the course of the current precipitous decline throughout the region.”
Jewish leaders say the document ignores Palestinian terrorism and incitement, and puts the entire burden for peacemaking on the Israelis.
The General Assembly in Minneapolis will also debate five other resolutions that Jewish leaders consider “anti-Israel,” as well as the 12-page “Kairos Palestine Document,” a religious manifesto drafted in 2009 by Palestinian Christians which describes the “Israeli occupation of Palestinian land [as] a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God.”
Jewish participants in interfaith dialogue, including rabbis in many parts of the state, are reaching out to 30 Presbyterian leaders who will be attending the general assembly. At stake, they say, are ongoing coalitions with local and national Presbyterian organizations.
“If it comes down to the Presbyterians’ national body passing these anti-Israel resolutions, it is very troublesome and problematic for us to work in coalition with them,” said Joy Kurland, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. “We are going to have to take a hard look as we go forward.”
Kurland is also head of the regional body that includes the JCRC of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey and the Community Relations Committee of United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ.
Allyson Gall, executive director of the American Jewish Committee’s Metro New Jersey Area, said Jews and Presbyterians have been partners on such issues as fighting genocide in Darfur. “We are saying to the Presbyterians, ‘If you guys really pass this, maybe it is time for the Jewish community to step back and disengage,’” said Gall. “We may just pull back and not work with the Presbyterians.”
As he has done in past years, Rabbi Clifford Kulwin of Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston will be working with other Essex County rabbis in sharing their concerns with local ministers and lay leaders.
“My impression is the majority of Presbyterians may be unaware of this effort and would not be in agreement with it, but I suspect a large number of them will not take the time to read these documents,” he told NJJN. “We may be the ones to bring them to the attention of members of the Presbyterian Church.”
If the measures pass, Kulwin said, “it would certainly make for uncomfortable relations with our Presbyterian colleagues in the area and might also motivate those with similar views in other churches to ram through similar resolutions in their own bodies.”
In an e-mail to NJJN, Pastor David Jahnke of Fanwood Presbyterian Church said he “would be deeply saddened” if Jewish organizations ended their interfaith collaborations with Presbyterians. “It would be a step backward,” he wrote. While he believes “it is critical that all terrorism must end and that Israel be secure,” Jahnke also said, “It is important for the well-being of the Palestinians and, ultimately, the Israelis that the portions of wall that run through Palestinian territory need to be broken down, as must the walls of misunderstanding, hatred, and vengeance among Israelis and Palestinians.”
Paul Statt, a spokesperson for the Presbyterian Church’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network, told NJJN, “Because our general assembly is considering these important sensitive resolutions, we do not want to comment on them until after the assembly.” Statt also said he had “no comment” on opposition to the resolutions on the part of Jewish community organizations, adding that he wanted the church “to go through the internal process before we comment. Then we will be willing to discuss them.”
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the national community relations arm of the federation movement and more than a dozen national agencies, is leading the criticism of the “Walls” and Kairos documents. In a March 15 press release, the JCPA said the documents make “highly selective use of sacred texts, historical events, and current realities to build a narrative against the Jewish state” and that those documents dismiss “the threat posed by Palestinian groups that are sworn to destroy Israel” (see sidebar).
“There is an obsession with looking at Palestinian suffering and not Israeli suffering at all,” said Gall of the AJC. “We work with coalitions all the time and disagree on all kinds of things. But this is so fundamental.”