Friday, February 18, 2005

Presbyterians fighting for justicem not advocating anti-Semitism 2-18-05/2-21-05

Standing up for Middle East peace is a Christian responsibility
Creators Syndicate, Friday Feb. 18, 2005
By Ray Hanania

Last year, the largest Presbyterian denomination in America voted to divest its funds from any company doing business with Israel that it felt might be contributing to the violence.

Caterpillar, which supplies the bulldozers that destroy civilian homes, and General Dynamics which produces the missiles fired into civilian targets, are two of many potential targets.

The goal, according to members of the Presbyterian Church (USA) is to apply pressure on those who might be contributing to violence. But the church has come under attack from supporters of Israel who, predictably, claim the decision is "anti-Semitic."

The Presbyterian Church has a history of speaking out against all kinds of government injustices. They support a peaceful, non-violent and "just" resolution to the Palestine-Israel conflict that recognizes the rights of both states. Far from being anti-Semitic!

More importantly, the Presbyterian Church did not act out of hostility towards Jews, but in response to pleas from Palestinian Christians. What the Presbyterian Church (USA) heard last year was a loud and clear plea from Christians from Bethlehem and other Palestinian cities who insist Israel is engaged in excessive force not just against extremists and militants, but also against civilians.

What is really surprising to me is that more Christian Churches in this country have not also stood up to defend the rights of Christians in the Middle East.

The Presbyterian Church is based on a complex democratic system much like our own Democracy. Many founding fathers were Presbyterian. Presbyterians believe in the separation of Church and State, but they believe that Christians must apply their beliefs to work for peace and justice in individual and societal life.

Rev. Lynne Myers, the Moderator of the Presbytery of Chicago, said that since last year’s vote, they have come under intense criticism. The vote has been denounced as "anti-Semitic."

Although I am not surprised criticism of Israel is always denounced as "anti-Semitic," I am surprised Jewish Americans don’t have a better response. It is wrong for supporters of Israel to call the Presbyterian action "anti-Semitic."

Asked about the controversy, Rev. Myers said, "It has never been our intention to do anything anti-Semitic or anti-Islamic. We are certainly willing to assist our Christian brothers and sisters as best we can. We have a responsibility to do so and we feel Christians in the Middle East and in the Israel-Palestine conflict need our support. … This isn’t against the Jewish people. It is about standing up against a government policy. It would be the same as working for justice and peace in the past conflict between Bosnia and Serbia."

I agree with Rev. Myers. I admire the Presbyterian Church for standing up for Christian rights, the same way I expect American Jews to stand up for Israel and Jews mistreated everywhere, including in the Arab World.

In the meantime, Presbyterian Churches around the country are sponsoring conferences to raise the understanding of their actions. I’ll be at one conference sponsoredby the First Presbyterian Church of Wheaton on Saturday, Feb. 26 exploring this controversy and making my voice heard as a Palestinian Christian, loud and clear.

Palestinians are speaking out against their own extremists and against violence. But, when will Jewish Americans stop the knee-jerk defense of Israel and start separating bad Israeli policy from good Israeli policy?

In other words, when will supporters of Israel start criticizing Israel, constructively?


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