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One problem with Presbyterian policy towards Israel is that many Presbyterian pastors are unable to make moral distinctions. In this article, Rev. Susan Andrews is quoted as saying that her visit to Yad Vashem put her in mind of Palestinian suffering. Rev. Andrews must learn to distinguish between death camps and refugee camps, and between the deliberate targeting of civilians and the accidental death of bystanders during military operations.
Rev. Susan Andrews is regularly guilty of demonizing Israel, retailing highly colored and exaggerated tales of Israeli misdeeds while turning a blind eye to terrorism and official Palestinian incitement to violence, as in this January 14, 2005, sermon where she charges Israel with "shooting live ammunition at unarmed civilians, killing women and children, demolishing homes, arresting Palestinians without charge, arbitrarily destroying crops and property." [See, for example, the following link.]
Rev. Andrews favors both divestment and the resolution demanding that Israel dismantle the security fence that has saved so many lives, calling those stances "bold and courageous stances related to peace in the Middle East, and particularly for the rights of Palestinian people... it has put us putting our money where our mouth is in terms of our very strong commitment to speaking up for justice for the Palestinian people." [See, for example, the following link.]
The great fallacy in Rev. Andrews' position on the Middle East is that she sees Israel as powerful and the occupation as the root of the problem. She does not perceive that the Jews, like the Palestinians, are in need of "justice." Rev. Andrews fails to perceive the injustice of the Muslim attitude that will not tolerate Jews living as anything but second-class citizens under Muslim rule. She fails to understand that even if Israel were to withdraw behind the indefensible borders of the 1948 ceasefire line, there would still not be peace, since Israel's neighbors do not acknowledge the right of a Jewish State to exist. At present, children and adults in every Arab country and in the Palestinian territories are exposed daily to propaganda demonizing Jews and delegitimizing the Jewish state. Peace will come only when Arabs everywhere, but especially in Gaza and the West Bank, acknowledge that the Jews have a right to statehood. American Jews will regain respect for their Presbyterian neighbnors only when Presbyterian leaders like Rev. Andrews demand justice not only for Palestinians but also for Jews, by calling loudly for the Arab world to recognize the right of a Jewish State to exist.
[This article could be viewed originally at the following link.]
The only heated exchange of last week's Presbyterian-Jewish dialogue also shed light on how differently the two religions view the Middle East.
The 50 clergy and lay leaders from the two faiths—brought together to discuss the Presbyterian Church-USA's resolution last summer on divestment from Israel—had heard Presbyterian ministers review their history of divestment and a rabbi emphasize the importance of Israel to the Jewish people.
Then Rev. Susan Andrews of the Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church in Bethesda recalled a trip she took to the Jewish state eight years ago.
Having visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum on the heels of a trip to a Palestinian refugee camp the previous day, she said that while she was not equating the two, she had been able to see some similarities between the stories of suffering she had heard from the Palestinians and what she had seen in the museum displays.
That drew a forceful response from Rabbi Michael Feshbach of Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase.
Identifying himself as one of the most left-wing rabbis in the room, he took exception to the idea that there was any "moral equivalency between [Palestinian] suffering in refugee camps and the deliberate targeting" of the Jewish people in the Holocaust.
After the dialogue, Andrews emphasized that she was "not equating what is happening to the Palestinians to the Holocaust." Nor did she want to "minimize the horror of the Holocaust."
She was "merely commenting on the kind of human suffering" Palestinians face.
"We're trying to give voice to Palestinian Christians" who have no links to terrorists, Andrews said in an interview.
While Jews often view Israeli retaliation for terrorist attacks as "appropriate self-defense," she said, she condemns "violence of any kind" as "abusive to human nature and human dignity."
Afterwards, Feshbach acknowledged pain on the Palestinian side, but called Andrews' view on the issue a "psychological approach and not a moral one."
He stressed that the Holocaust and the situation in the Middle East are "not comparable in any way, shape or form."
But both Andrews and Feshbach said the four-hour dialogue on Thursday of last week at Adas Israel Congregation in the District helped to illuminate the views and assumptions of both sides.
"Would that all communities that have disagreements find ways to approach them in this manner," said Feshbach.
Sponsored by the American Jewish Committee's Washington area chapter, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington, the Washington Board of Rabbis and the National Capital Presbytery, the event included small group discussions, but began with representatives of both religions outlining some major principles of the two groups.
Andrews put last summer's controversial divestment resolution in context, noting that her denomination has a long history of making statements on the Middle East, having affirmed Israel's right to exist and condemned Arab terrorist violence in past resolutions.
The controversial measure called for "a process of phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel."
Rev. John Wimberly of Western Presbyterian Church in the District pointed out that Presbyterians have used a "divestment strategy" in their advocacy work on various issues for 30 years.
They first engage corporations in discussions of problems, then propose shareholder resolutions, and finally divest their equity in the company if those steps do not produce results.
Meanwhile, AJCommittee Washington-area director David Bernstein reiterated the question that many Jews have asked since the Presbyterians' passage of the divestment resolution: Why no resolutions divesting in companies doing business with Saudi Arabia or China or other human rights violators?
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B'nai Tzedek in Potomac emphasized the importance of Israel in Judaism, noting that "for us, the three pillars of faith are God, Torah and Israel."
The Jewish link to the "land of Israel is as ancient as Israel itself," he said.
A couple of Presbyterian pastors said that hearing about the theological significance of Israel to Jews was an eye-opener.
Bill Teng, pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church in Alexandria, said he appreciated hearing about the "historical connection between the Jewish people and Israel."
Teng opposed the divestment resolution because it unfairly singled out Israel. He said that a couple of congregants had left his church due to the PCUSA action.
Timothy Cargal, pastor of the Northwood Presbyterian Church in Silver Spring, pointed out that Christians often see Israel as an "idealized Bible land" and the conflict in "nationalistic terms," not realizing the "theological importance" of Israel to Jews.
Cargal said he was "disappointed in the language" of the divestment resolution, which calls "the occupation" the "root of all evil acts" in the region.
He did not say he opposed divestment, but hoped that the PCUSA General Assembly, which meets again in 2006, could modify the resolution to move the investment of church funds into peace-supporting companies and projects.
Feshbach said he would like to see Presbyterians investing in such projects as joint Israel-Palestinian business ventures and summer camps, but he also hopes to see the group repudiate divestment.
"It automatically connects [the Israel-Palestinian conflict] to the South African struggle," and the two are "not comparable in any way, shape or form."
The National Capital Presbytery recently voted down a resolution recommending that its national organization postpone the divestment process.
Wimberly, who opposes divestment, said the vote was taken at the end of the meeting—when many members had left—and the resolution could come up at the group's next meeting in a couple months.
Meanwhile, the World Council of Churches Central Committee has recommended that its members consider measures similar to PCUSA's resolution.
But while disagreements remain, those involved in the dialogue said the opportunity to discuss their views at length with the other had taught them a great deal.
Bernstein pointed out that Jews must acknowledge that Christians see the conflict from a different perspective.
"Jews must develop a vocabulary ... that both defends Israel" and "also shows compassion toward Palestinian despair."
"We can't expect boilerplate pro-Israel rhetoric to change hearts and minds," Bernstein said.
Participants unanimously agreed to get together again in a few months.
Noting he could sense the progress achieved last week, Wimberly said, "Maybe some minds weren't changed, but hearts were opened."
That, he said, "bodes well" for the future.
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