We’ve had harsh words on these pages for the Presbyterian Church (USA) and its incessant criticism of Israel, and there are many elements of the Middle East resolution that delegates to the Church’s General Assembly in Minneapolis passed last Friday that we find objectionable.
That said, church leaders listened to the reasoned objections of a number of Jewish groups and, ultimately, approved a far less counterproductive resolution on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than the one drafted by a biased, angry Middle East study committee.
For the Jewish groups that put so much time and effort into working with friends within the Church and debating opponents, the effort was almost a textbook illustration of the importance of something too many in our communal leadership tend to dismiss as old-fashioned: community relations.
To be sure, there is a time and a place for aggressively confronting adversaries in the multi-fronted battle over Middle East policy. Sometimes the clenched fist is the only option when dealing with minds closed by an immutable hatred of the Jewish state. But in this age of talk-show rage and attack politics, it is also important not to lose sight of the need to work with those who are less favorably inclined to Israel, to keep open lines of communication and to engage in genuine dialogue that respects their right to hold different positions about key Middle East issues.
That’s what Jewish groups, with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) at the fore, did when confronted with an offensive document that anti-Israel forces wanted adopted by the Presbyterians.
That long, arduous and often frustrating effort to persuade, not punish, paid off last week.
The most offensive portions of the report, including the use of term “apartheid” and religious references that seemed to discount the long Jewish connection to the land of Israel, were deleted; a proposal for divestment was rejected by an overwhelming majority of delegates. The resulting resolution was far from perfect, but it demonstrated a clear willingness to listen to Jewish concerns and to adopt a somewhat broader perspective on the issue.