The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA recently held its biennial convention in Detroit. The General Assembly, which has existed for more than 220 years and holds a longstanding role in American religious history, voted on resolutions concerning homosexuality and Israel.
The vote on Israel concerned a resolution supporting the Palestinians and their allies in the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement. Presbyterians had commissioned, through their Israel-Palestine Mission Network, a book titled "Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study Guide." The book can be found on the movement's website.
The resolution drew attention to the Palestinians' plight and sought to punish American companies, such as Motorola, Hewlett Packard and Caterpillar, that employ both Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank. The sponsors of the resolution say Israel is the cause of Palestinian suffering, and that the fault for the current status of the Palestinians belongs to Israel alone.
"Zionism Unsettled" portrays Zionism as a type of "false ideology" and attributes the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians to Israel and the American Jewish community. The book likens Israel and its administration to South Africa's former apartheid system, with Israel playing the role of oppressor and the Palestinians as the sole victims. At the same time, "Zionism Unsettled" speaks about "the right of Israel to exist within secure borders," but how does that work when this viewpoint declares Israel to be engaged in "cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing"?
The Rev. Chris Leighton, a Presbyterian minister and executive director of the Institute of Jewish and Christian Studies, commented on "Zionism Unsettled": "To suggest that the Jewish yearning for a homeland -- a yearning that we Presbyterians have supported for numerous other nations -- is somehow theologically and morally abhorrent is to deny Jews their own identity as a people."
Ultimately, Presbyterians at the convention voted to support the resolution to Boycott, Divest and Sanction Israel by removing their investments from those American companies.
For the overwhelming majority of the American Jewish community, the vote has triggered a period of introspection and coming to grips with the hurt they feel about its impact on them and the state of Israel.
I have said many times the Israeli-Palestinian peace process will be difficult, and injustice lies at the feet of both sides. Who wouldn't want to see a two-state solution with everyone living together in peace? We all want that elusive goal for Jews, Christians and Muslims living there.
The vote to Boycott, Divest and Sanction American companies and the state of Israel, however, shows that Presbyterians have chosen to support the Palestinians exclusively. As one clergy member explained to me, this issue strikes at the core of our prophetic theology.
One of the challenges the vote offers is whether two religious groups that profoundly disagree on an existential issue can find enough common ground to maintain respectful communication and ultimately listen to each other's viewpoints.
How about a resolution that charges every Presbyterian minister to join with their local rabbinic colleague to sponsor a joint trip to visit Israel and the territories? The goal would be a journey of sacred listening for both sides.
Let's create a real bridge for peace, one that would truly be a bridge to somewhere.
Columnist Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at www.fusion613.blogspot.com and follow him at twitter.com/rabbibloom.