Statement of the Ecumenical and Interreligious Work Group
of Chicago Presbytery
As the Ecumenical and Interreligious Work Group (EIWG) of Chicago Presbytery, we are called upon to foster dialogue and positive relations with (among others) the Jewish and Muslim communities in the metropolitan area. Given that task, we are writing to express our dismay and discouragement at the language and line of argumentation in Zionism Unsettled, a document published by the Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) and made available for distribution by our denomination.
While we as Presbyterians agree, support, and encourage vigorous discussion and diversity on important theological, social and global matters, we feel it is necessary to comment on and to critique the nature of the discourse used in this document.
First, IPMN chose to argue its case outside of the bounds of the historic principles as laid down by the General Assembly over the years, equally affirming the creation and security of the State of Israel and the peoples within her, and the validity and necessity of a Palestinian state, sovereign and sustainable within negotiated and safe borders. Furthermore, we are dismayed that this document gives the appearance that it formally represents the PC (USA).
Second, to critique certain policies of the Israeli government is a practice supported by the Jewish and Israeli community itself, and is needed in all free societies, including the United States. But it is a different thing to lift up the stereotypical image of “the Zionist”, “Zionism” or “Israel” in which the description turns to scape-goating and the imagined stereotype is described as embodying humanity’s worst traits and motives, exhibiting long term machinations of destruction. This finds similarity to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion rather than any curriculum claiming peacemaking sensibilities. To be Jewish is to be associated in many diverse ways with Zion, the sacred tradition that flows from there, the seeking of popular sovereignty, and Jerusalem; it is a description of identity, and not solely a political issue. To disregard this basic understanding is to engage in attacking a people rather than specific policies of a particular nation state.
Third, to offer a critique of Israeli policies is, in and of itself, not inherently anti-Judaic. So it is unfortunate the document is riddled with statements and allusions to Jewish people that fall under that rubric:
To denigrate the particular, the embodied or the physically landed aspects of Judaism as inferior and superseded by the universal, the spiritual and the global message of Christianity, shows strong affinities to the Adversus Judeos tradition of contempt, which has made similar false claims against Jews throughout history.
To lift up the worst practice of a nation engaged in a complex conflict, and compare it with the best ideals and aspirations of another people group, misrepresents both parties in the conflict and undermines any opportunity for constructive dialogue.
To claim, as Christian authors of this document have done, that the views of peripheral voices in another religious community are “true” while dismissing the views of the mainstream as “false” is to violate a core commitment of interfaith dialogue. One of the principles of interfaith relations is to understand the other as they understand themselves.
To seek to disembody the name “Israel” from the flesh and blood of its people and in this case expressions of Jewish sovereignty, is a strategy that reinforces false claims that Judaism has been superseded by Christianity and that examples of Jewish sovereignty are to be negated from Christian discourse. This is a dangerous theological game played many times in Christian theology through the ages and has led to great harm to Jews throughout history.
What is needed desperately is an acknowledgment that until we can create bridges of peace and understanding between disparate groups within our own local communities, and use appropriate modes of discourse, offerings like Zionism Unsettled undermine our integrity and our mission; it has already compromised our ability to be bridge builders. The permission to lift up another community’s most cherished activities, beliefs and social movements, is only given by that community, through the patient and hard work of trust and respect built over time.
One wonders what such a publication could possibly achieve when the best in Jewish leadership acknowledges shortcomings and even outright injustice of many Israeli-administration decisions, and the best of Palestinian and Muslim leadership has little patience with unhelpful anti-Jewish themes and efforts in its own ranks within the United States.
For those interested in constructive opportunities for bridge building among all the parties concerned, in service to the hard-nosed and practical task of peacemaking, Zionism Unsettled offers little aid, only more obstacles.