Thursday, June 26, 2014 | return to: views, opinions


Presbyterian vote against Israel goes down wrong path

by doug huneke & paul watermulder

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Pope Francis boldly invited and warmly welcomed Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the Vatican for prayers, conversations and planting a peace tree.

9_Vhuneke_doug_withnameBarely a month later, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, followed the papal example with a stunning and unprecedented invitation. He asked the moderator and stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church USA to vote down anti-Israel overtures at our denomination’s biannual General Assembly and be his guest in Jerusalem for a face-to-face sit-down with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “express our deeply shared concerns.”

Jacobs concluded: “You can choose partnership and engagement or you can choose separation and divestment.”

By a narrow margin, the General Assembly chose the latter, in spite of its hollow profession that it shared Jacobs’ objection to expanding settlements, his support of a two-state solution, and his gracious, genuine expression that the bond between Presbyterians and Jews is both sought and valued by the American Jewish community.

The vote to support divestment was the result of several years of behind-the-scenes networking, scheming and planning that culminated in several months of unusually intense lobbying.

There were few commissioners who were not already decided by the time the matter came to the floor. Leaders, beginning with the stated clerk, were intent on securing a divestment vote in spite of pleas from a beloved former moderator and an esteemed seminary president to honor Jacobs’ offer that, had it been accepted, would have been a game changer that led to reconciliation.

The leadership of the Presbyterian Church USA consistently prefers strategically expedient and politically impotent actions that divide and harm rather than welcome participation in the hard work of relationship building and genuine diplomacy.

9_Vwatermulder_paul_withnameOnly Israel is targeted in these actions, never the terrorist atrocities and the intransigence of Palestinians.

We recognize that it is impolitic to use the label of anti-Semitism, but there are not many other ways to explain the willful rejection of the only democracy in the Middle East, or to explain the disregard for terrorist threats and actual attacks upon Israel, as well as the continued commitment to Israel’s destruction on the part of some of Israel’s neighbors.

The PCUSA fancies itself as siding with the “little guy,” but it sided with the neighborhood rejectionists.

We deeply regret the overture that was passed on June 20, not just because it was a divestment action, but also because the subtly contradictory content was intended to placate rather than to foster mutual efforts toward a just peace: Presbyterian words did not complement their action.

It is now incumbent on every Presbyterian clergyperson and local church board to reach out to neighboring synagogues and rabbis to try to explain this hurtful vote

and attempt to build back the bridges it destroyed. We do not envy those clergy who have yet to establish a relationship of trust with local Jewish leaders, because building that now will be nearly impossible.

It is important for the Bay Area’s Jewish and Presbyterian communities to understand that the majority of the denomination’s clergy and laity do not support the vote. They genuinely want two states, and peace for the Israeli and Palestinian people, and they care deeply about the innocent victims of the conflict. But as the vote showed and as recent surveys indicate, most of our clergy and laity across the country have not given much thought, if any, to the intricacies of the Middle East and do not have a deep comprehension of the issues.

Into that abyss of complexity and in the paucity of wisdom, the anti-Israel antagonists in the PCUSA expend their energy and animus on caustic overtures without a thought for the consequences to regional and national relationships between Presbyterians and Jews, without regard for the fate of the Jewish homeland.

Although these are sad but true realities, we continue to work with a like-minded cadre inside our tradition — and with our dear friends in the Jewish community — to fulfill the vision and possibilities put forward by Rabbi Jacobs.

Doug Huneke was the senior pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Tiburon. Paul Watermulder, who attended the General Assembly, is the senior pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Burlingame.


Posted by Julie Hammerman
06/26/2014  at  03:20 PM
When Investment Capital Speaks for Hatred Instead of Peace

Dear Doug and Paul, Thank you for your kind and brave words. It’s not easy to go against a community decision as you have done, but your effort is greatly appreciated.  I am a strong proponent of investment capital for positive impact, for engagement and peacebuilding, as opposed to divestment, hatred and one-sided hostility.  (See Forward post “Presbyterians: Choose Impact Investing in Peace Over BDS”  I hope that your message will be heard by the Presbyterian leadership, and they will chose to use their investments to better the world, not divide it.

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Posted by paul
06/26/2014  at  09:35 PM
I agree.

Dear Julie,
I agree with your words. I thank you for what you wrote. We all need to invest for Israel and not divest. We all need to support Israel because, Israel is our land and, it’s the only v democracy in the Middle East.

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Posted by Diana N
06/27/2014  at  10:53 AM
Education of the Clergy

I thank you both for your friendship throughout the years and your courage to stand for what is right. Your explanation is received but not quite excused.
You write “the majority of the denomination’s clergy and laity do not support the vote”, if that is true, where were they that allowed this horrible anti semitic manifestation by their Church to take place? Was it intentional? Was it to appease the forces that are rising? These same people they are trying to appease are killing members of your Christian community in their countries and there is no vote about that.
I agree that it will be very difficult to rebuild the bridges with the Jewish communities, destroyed by this vote, unless there is a reversal of it, otherwise all is just words. As you know, Judaism is all about action, not intentions.
You also write “most of our clergy and laity across the country have not given much thought, if any, to the intricacies of the Middle East and do not have a deep comprehension of the issues”.
The world and the Jews were almost destroyed only 75 years ago. We find ourselves on the brink of something horrible rising again, and apathy and ignorance in community leaders is not only dangerous, it is inexcusable!
I hope that your voices continue to reverberate in your communities and that they’ll be heard across our country and the world.
Again, a deep thank you for your love and friendship.

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