WASHINGTON (JTA) – The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) reiterated its support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in response to controversy over the publication of a Presbyterian study guide that rejects Zionism.
“Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) policy calls for a negotiated settlement between Israel and Palestine and the right for each to exist within secure and recognized borders,” the mainline Protestant denomination said in a Feb. 13 statement.
“The church has condemned acts of violence on both sides of the conflict, as well as the illegal occupation of Palestinian land by Israeli settlement,” the statement continues. “Our church has categorically condemned anti-Semitism in all its forms, including the refusal to acknowledge the legal existence of the State of Israel. At the same time, we believe that condemnation of injustices perpetrated in the name of the State of Israel, including the violation of human rights, does not constitute anti-Semitism.”
The statement comes in the wake of expressions of outrage by Jewish groups at “Zionism Unsettled,” a publication last month of the church’s Israel Palestine Mission Network.
The study guide posits that a “pathology inherent in Zionism” drives the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and rejects theologies – including Jewish theology – that uphold Zionism.
The church says that the network advises the church but does not set its policy.
“The independent group – which speaks to the church and not for the church – recently published a study guide, Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study,” the church’s statement said. “The guide is intended to prompt discussion on the ever-changing and tumultuous issue of Israel-Palestine. The IPMN booklet was neither paid for nor published by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).”
But Ethan Felson, a vice president at the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish public policy groups, rejected this explanation. He noted that IPMN is not a separate tax-exempt group and that the church processes contributions to IPMN.
“They charter IMPN, they speak to IPMN, they speak at the IPMN annual conference, they recommend people get involved in IPMN, they take contributions to IPMN, and when they’re challenged, then they say it does not speak for the church,” he said, referring to the church leadership.
Near its conclusion, the church’s new statement quotes the advocacy director of Jewish Voice for Peace, Sydney Levy, saying, “We are in opposition to the settlements and occupation, and in favor of a true and just peace.” The JVP staffer is the only Jewish person quoted in the church’s statement.
JVP has had an acrimonious relationship with the mainstream Jewish community because it does not specify whether it supports a two-state solution and allies itself with groups that advocate boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts targeting Israel.