Leaders see good, bad in Presbyterians Mideast platform

Officially, national Jewish organizations praised the Presbyterian Church (USA) for striking a balanced view when it came to its final votes on Middle East policy two weeks ago in San Jose.

Below the surface, however, serious concerns remain.

“It wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” said Rabbi Melanie Aron, of Los Gatos’ Congregation Shir Hadash, who attended the Presbyterian’s General Assembly at McEnery Convention Center and two nearby hotels in downtown San Jose. “But it points to some real differences of understanding.”

On June 27, the church’s General Assembly approved several resolutions relating to Israel, all of them passed by the church’s committee on Peacekeeping and International Issues.

In a press release, the Anti-Defamation League said it welcomed as “a constructive step” the church’s adoption of a resolution calling for a more even-handed approach toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Similarly, B’nai B’rith International welcomed the church’s “steps towards balance on the Middle East.”

But as the saying goes, the devil is in the details.

A measure mandating the church remain even-handed in its Middle East dealings passed; however, it was watered down by the acceptance of a minority report Aron described as “against Jewish interests.” It contained veiled support for the “Amman Call,” which supports a Palestinian right of return.

The ADL expressed its disappointment in that measure, which it said would “undermine the viability of a Jewish state.”

The measures most inimical to Israel — calling for an end to U.S. military aid and for corporate divestment from Israel — were defeated.

The Rev. John Cushman, of the Church of the Roses in Santa Rosa, said he understands why Jews would feel some unease over the results of the General Assembly. He noted that the Amman Call was “not an unbiased overture,” and that calls for the right of return leave the door open for the church’s divestment from Israel in the future.

However, Cushman noted that the partisan bent of the Assembly might be a wakeup call for the church.

“Initially there will be disappointment among the Jewish community, but I think it will make us realize we can’t assume

partisanship,” he said. “Rank-and-file Presbyterians want to see more balance and less partisanship.”

Cushman suggested that as the Presbyterian Church strives to be “legitimate peacemakers,” it also must strive to gauge both Palestinian and Israeli interests in the Middle East. “My advocacy is that we listen with sensitivity to both sides,” he said.

Meanwhile, Aron is sure she hasn’t heard the last from anti-Israel voices in the Presbyterian Church.

“There is an activist core that holds [anti-Israel views] very strongly,” she said. “The average Presbyterian is more sympathetic to Israel. But the natural default frames [the church] uses to understand Israel and Palestine are flawed, partly because they tend to view this as Israel vs. Palestinians, and forget the other issues Israel faces.”

Aron noted that part of her mission is to build bridges with the non-Jewish community so that next time such votes are taken, they go for Israel.

“The Jewish community has to remember the importance of year-round interfaith work,” she said.

J. intern Ariel Rosen contributed to this report.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.