The Israel lobby group J Street has launched a blistering attack on the Presbyterian Church USA over its new study guide Zionism Unsettled, claiming that the publication promotes “polarization” and “intolerance.”
Zionism Unsettled, published last month by the church’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN), is a 74-page study guide examining the role Zionism and Christian Zionism have played in shaping attitudes and events in Palestine and its region.
It is intended to help church congregations and others to learn and talk about Zionism and the devastating impact the practice of the ideology has had on Palestinians, as The Electronic Intifada previously reported.
J Street “deeply offended”
In a statement yesterday, J Street said it was “deeply offended” by Zionism Unsettled, asserting that “one has to question the IPMN’s motives in publishing this ‘resource.’”
J Street claimed the guide’s authors “had no intention of encouraging thoughtful reflection on Zionism, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or Jewish perspectives on Israel. Instead, reductive and divisive thinking of this kind exacerbates polarization and intolerance, both of which are not in short supply in this conflict.”
J Street protested that the guide “offensively intimates that Zionism is racist, pathological and the very root of the conflict in the region.”
“An approach that belittles or demeans Jews, Israelis or Palestinians makes no contribution to ending this conflict,” J Street concludes.
While demanding that Zionist political ideology not be questioned, J Street has long opposed key Palestinian rights and promotes anti-Palestinian views among its youth wing, including the view that refugees are a “demographic threat” and must be excluded from their native land on the sole grounds that they are not Jews.
While J Street does not outright accuse Zionism Unsettled’s authors of anti-Semitism, its angry attack is scarcely more temperate than the Anti-Defamation League, which claimed that the study guide “may be the most anti-Semitic document to come out of a mainline American church in recent memory.”
Both of these approaches reflect an extreme intolerance for any diversity of opinion about Zionism, especially among Jews.
Rabbi Brant Rosen, author of Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi’s Path to Palestinian Solidarity, has voiced strong support of Zionism Unsettled.
“As a Jew, I’m especially appreciative that while [Zionism Unsettled] is strongly critical of Zionism, it doesn’t flinch from extensive Christian self-criticism,” Rosen writes at his blog.
Rosen is a contributor to a longer, forthcoming book – Zionism and the Quest for Justice in the Holy Land – on which Zionism Unsettled is based.
Rosen, co-chair of the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace, continues: “The guide is particularly candid in its examination of the oppressive legacy of the post-Constantinan Church, replacement theology – and Christian anti-Semitism in general.”
Critique of “extremist elements”
Donald Wagner, National Program Director of Friends of Sabeel–North America, responded to J Street’s attack with an invitation for renewed dialogue.
In an email to The Electronic Intifada, Wagner, an ordained Presbyterian minister, says that J Street’s response “is what we might expect from CAMERA, AIPAC, and other extremist groups, but not from an organization that strives to position itself as an alternative to these purveyors of the tired old anachronistic diatribes.”
Wagner adds that Zionism Unsettled is “a critique of the extremist elements of political Zionism, including those of [Christians United for Israel founder] Rev. John Hagee that have crept into our Evangelical communities or their liberal models that we find in our mainline Protestant and Roman Catholic denominations.”
“As a Presbyterian who contributed to this new study guide, I’d like to challenge J Street to a more thoughtful, honest, and open public conversation of the difficult and complex issues it raises – but only after J Street’s leaders have actually read the document.”
Wagner’s suggestion that J Street leaders had not even read the document they are condemning is understandable given the fact that Zionism Unsettled addresses in detail all the points J Street raises in its statement.
Wagner urged that “It is time for us all to face up to the dangerous tendencies within political Zionism and the Christian Zionists who prefer to excuse the human rights abuses perpetrated on Palestinians daily and in doing so actually negate the spiritual and moral claims of justice that we share as faith communities.”
A “dialogue of justice” will be difficult, Wagner says, but would be preferable to “the so-called ‘ecumenical deal,’ where large dinners and polite discussions abound but where equal justice for Palestinians and Jews is off the table.”
“We look forward to hearing from J Street and will welcome a new dialogue with you,” Wagner urges.
It will be interesting to see whether J Street is capable of rising to that challenge, especially as the Presbyterian Church USA heads into another debate and vote on divestment from Israel occupation profiteers at its general assembly this summer.