Why ‘optimism’ on Presbyterian vote?

Robert A. Cohn

BY Robert A. Cohn, a.k.a. "BOB THE BLOGGER", Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

I have been ruminating about the front-page story in our July 14 edition on the vote by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA’s approval of a package of anti-Israel resolutions. The story by David Baugher is headlined, “Presbyterian vote prompts cautious optimism among local Jewish leaders.” 

Say what? Personally, I found no basis for any kind of “optimism” regarding this latest action by a mainstream Protestant church.

One prominent local Jewish leader whom I admire and respect, Batya Abramson-Goldstein, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) is described as having “lauded what she called a very respectful process that produced the modifications (of the original harshly anti-Israel draft), including a strongly worded statement recognizing Israel’s right to exist and amendments which eased other points of concern.”

Why should we laud a statement, 62 years after Israel became an independent state that it has a “right to exist”? Israel’s right to exist should be a given, despite the relentless efforts by anti-Israel forces to delegitimize the Jewish State and call its very existence into question.

It does not make me “optimistic” when 82 percent of the delegates at the Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly voted in favor of a package of resolutions which included a call for a suspension of the vital U.S. aid to Israel.

The final vote of 558 to 119 to approve the modified report of the church’s Middle East Peacemaking Issue Committee, included a reference to a harshly anti-Israel report, “Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth,” which it “commends to be read.” I would have been more inclined to “cautious optimism” if the church had denounced this obviously one-sided screed rather than lamely commending it to be read.

Abramson-Goldstein pointed out one important modification in the final resolution on lifting Israel’s sea blockage of Gaza, was its recognition of Israel’s need to stem the flow of weapons into Gaza. Despite this important change, the overall tone of the resolutions package is one-sidedly anti-Israel.

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), while taking note of the “positive efforts” of Presbyterians who worked with Jewish groups to modify the anti-Israel tone of the report, said, “We are saddened that the efforts of our good friends in the Presbyterian Church who worked so hard were not more successful and, at best, averted a rupture between the Church and the Jewish people. However, anti-Israel bias continues with the approval of recommendations which single out and put the onus on peacemaking on Israel. The recommendations against aid to Israel are one-sided and demonstrate the depth of anti-Israel bias.”

Foxman seems to have a more realistic take on the actions taken by the Presbyterian General Assembly. To be sure, the efforts to maintain positive ties between the Jewish community and Presbyterians in St. Louis and nationally who do not support the annual anti-Israel resolutions must continue.

One must ask, why does such an animus towards Israel continue to exist among growing elements within mainstream Protestant Churches?

Sometimes it seems that the anti-Israel factions are totally fixated on Israel while they express little or no concern over the anti-Christian and human rights abuses in places like Iran and Syria.

The fact that the final report of the Presbyterian Church USA could have been a lot worse is no reason to either celebrate or to have “cautious optimism.” Speaking for myself, I have serious concerns over these developments and feel it is even more urgent for groups like the JCRC, ADL and Interfaith Partnership to redouble their urgent work with our many local friends within the church to more forcefully express those concerns on an ongoing basis.