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Presbyterian church's choices stir outrage
Rabbi Marc Gellman & Msgr Thomas Hartman
August 7, 2004

[This article appeared originally at the following link.]


Sometimes it's hard to hold your head up when the very worst of your profession violates everything you hold dear and true. That's the way we both felt recently when the Presbyterian Church (USA), at its annual General Assembly, approved, by a vote of 431-62, a proposal to study whether the church should divest its multibillion-dollar portfolio of all companies that do business with Israel because Israel, in their opinion, is just like the former apartheid state of South Africa.

The PCUSA also voted not to end its work to convert Jews.

We are stunned, shocked and outraged by both votes. Words hardly convey the depth of our disappointment that people of God could so blatantly contradict the word of God. We want to pray to God for our Presbyterian brothers and sisters, and we want to urge them to face some deep questions and repent of their actions.

We pray: Do you not see that your vote to convert Jews is a vote to cut yourselves off from Jews and also from all Christians who have renounced active proselytizing among the Jewish people? We ask you to imagine how you'd feel if one out of every three Presbyterians had been murdered during a four-year period just 60 years ago and then members of some other religion attempted to reduce your numbers further by seeking your conversion to their faith.

Would you feel the warmth of God's love for these proselytizers? Is this the message you really want to send to the people Paul praises in Romans 9-11? The organized attempt to actively seek Jewish converts to Christianity after the Holocaust is obscene.

We've traveled around this country and have been deeply moved to see how many communities have given up active conversionary efforts in order to gain something more precious and holy - the flowering of true interfaith efforts and friendship to teach tolerance, reduce prejudice, and find ways for everyone to work together to help those in our communities who are hungry and sleep in the dust. Upstate Rochester has such an agreement and other cities have active interfaith organizations, none of which could exist in the corrosive spiritual environment of proselytizing.

On Long Island, the Interfaith Nutrition Network operates 20 soup kitchens and four shelters. None of that good work would be possible if we did not honor each other's faith choices. We ask you to pray and reflect on this truth; you can seek a friend or a convert, but you cannot seek both.

And we also pray: How, our brothers and sisters in faith, did you come to hate Israel? What you did goes far beyond a reasoned, prayerful and loving dissent over one or another policy of the State of Israel.

To compare Israel, a democratic state where a quarter of the citizens are Arabs and have full voting rights, including Arab women, and where no Arabs are held as slaves, to apartheid South Africa, where the black majority had no voting rights and were exploited and held in virtual slavery is bizarre, unfeeling, cruel, dishonest, sinful and anti-Semitic. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and apartheid South Africa was never a democracy.

To divest stocks in order to kill an apartheid state was indeed a moral act, but to divest in order to kill a democratic victim of terrorism's worst attacks is a sin.

What led you to this desire to kill Israel? It could not come from Israel's constant offer to return land for peace or from Israel's constant search for a partner in peace who does not seek her destruction.

The alterations to Israel's security fence that were recently ordered to minimize inconvenience for Palestinians were ordered by Israel's own Supreme Court. Israel continues to support agricultural aid to many African nations; and when the terrorist bombers seek to kill innocent civilians, both the victims and the bombers are cared for in the same Israeli hospitals. You seek to be witnesses for God, and yet witnesses are now arrayed against you.

In the very week you spoke, the Catholic Church said that anti-Zionism is no different than anti-Semitism. Hating the Jewish state is no different from hating Jews. Your church has become the first church body, and indeed the first national body of any kind, that has voted to kill Israel for the crime of being a victim.

When the divestiture movement against Israel began on campuses and raised its ugly head at Harvard, President Lawrence Summers spoke to the entire Harvard community on Sept. 17, 2002, noting: "Anti-Semitism and views that are profoundly anti-Israeli have traditionally been the primary preserve of poorly educated right-wing populists; [now] profoundly anti-Israel views are increasingly finding support in progressive intellectual communities.

"Serious and thoughtful people are advocating and taking actions that are anti-Semitic in their effect, if not their intent."

Our brothers and sisters in faith, we do not believe that you are anti-Semitic, but we absolutely believe that your resolution was anti-Semitic "in its effect, if not in its intent." Repent of your sins and reach out to know the heart of the Jewish people. This reaching out has changed our lives for the good. We pray with all our heart and soul that it is not too late to change yours.

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