Presbyterian Church USA is critical of Israel, but urges ‘reconciliation’ between Jews and Palestinians


(JTA) — The Presbyterian Church USA passed several resolutions critical of Israel at its biennal General Assembly, including one that opposes laws in the United States meant to counter boycotts of Israel and a one-sided critique of Israeli policy in Gaza.

However, delegates also approved resolutions encouraging reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, rejected language opposing foreign and military aid to Israel, and adopted a new policy calling for a “durable cease-fire” in Syria.

The church considered 11 resolutions on Israel at its 223rd General Assembly in St. Louis on Friday.

Ethan Felson, executive director of the Israel Action Network, noted that the reconciliation, foreign aid and Syria resolutions were positive developments for a body that in recent years has been sharply at odds with the pro-Israel community.

“We are heartened that the GA commissioners called for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation over the objections of PCUSA leaders,” he said in a statement.

Still, leaders of the IAN,  an initiative of the Jewish Federations of North America and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, were disappointed with a resolution opposing anti-boycott laws on free speech grounds, as well as one that calls on the Re/Max real estate company to stop facilitating the sale of property in Israeli settlements.

“Just two years ago, the Presbyterian Church took an incredible step forward in promising to oppose any efforts to deny or undermine the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in a two state solution,” Skip Schrayer, chair of the Israel Action Network, said in a statement. “While relationships between Jews and Presbyterians generally remain positive at the local level, the national denomination has a distance to travel in restoring the civility and fairness necessary for healthy interfaith relations and conversations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

A resolution on the recent violence between Gaza Palestinians and Israeli troops on the border with the coastal strip was stripped of overt references to Hamas, which has fomented violence on the border. The amended resolution passed by a vote of 438-34, according to the Presbyterian Outlet news service.

The Assembly approved by a vote of 442-18 a measure urging Presbyterians to “reach out in open, truthful dialogue with Jewish colleagues” to discuss the issue of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and “build on common values for justice and peace in Israel/Palestine.” Rabbi Noam Marans, director of interreligious and intergroup relations for the American Jewish Committee, called that resolution a “glimmer of hope” because it replaced one deeply critical of American Jewish leaders.

The resolution calling on Re/Max to stop handling property sales in Israeli settlements passed by a vote of 393-55.

The assembly voted against a resolution that would have ended the church’s classification of Israel as a “colonial project.” It also voted down a resolution “For the Protection of the Children of Israel and Palestine,” which was critical of the treatment of Palestinian children by the Israeli military as well as the the way Palestinian children are recruited by Palestinian terrorist organizations. The resolution was described as an attempt to recognize that “there is responsibility on both sides for the ways children of both sides are treated,” although the resolution largely focused on Israel.

The American Jewish Committee remained critical of the PCUSA’s focus on Israel and the Palestinians, noting that the preponderance of its Middle East resolutions focus on the conflict.

“The Church remains obsessively critical of Israel in its national utterances,” Marans said in a statement. “For many years and in myriad ways, the PCUSA has gone beyond legitimate criticism of Israel and embraced demonization of the Jewish state.”

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