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June 25, 2014

PCUSA Affiliated Group Demonizes Israel With Anti-Jewish Themes

Lurking not too far in the background of last week’s disappointing vote by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) to divest from US companies doing business with Israel in the West Bank, is the ongoing campaign by elements within PCUSA to delegitimize Israel by using blatantly anti-Jewish ideas and themes. A driving force of this campaign is the PCUSA-affiliated activist group Israel-Palestine Mission Network (IPMN), an anti-Israel organization working with organizations committed to delegitimizing Israel, including the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement and Jewish Voice for Peace.

IPMN is most infamously responsible for publishing the so-called study guide “Zionism Unsettled,” which propagates egregious anti-Israel themes long-peddled by Israel’s enemies, and is, at its core, an anti-Semitic document. Despite the obvious offensive nature of this publication, as well as the General Assembly’s approval of an overture stating that Zionism Unsettled does not “represent the views of PCUSA,” it remains available for purchase on the PUCSA website where it is absurdly marketed as a helpful guide on how to “promote more truthful relationships among followers of the three Abrahamic religions.”

Presbyterian_Church_(U.S.A.)Equally troubling is the anti-Semitism which permeates IPMN’s Facebook pages, as highlighted in a new report by the Israel-based watchdog organization NGO-Monitor. According to the report, the IPMN Facebook page (which was shut down in January 2012 after criticism over the posting of extremist materials and then reopened in July 2012 as a “closed but not secret” page) contains numerous postings and comments expressing age-old anti-Semitic themes, as well as links to anti-Semitic articles and websites. Examples include:

  • Youtube video titled: “Zionist controlled America’s desperate lust for Iran War”
  • Article in “Ugly Truth”, a blog run by the anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist Mark Glenn
  • Poster mocking “The genetic ancestry of Jews” and their historic connection to the land of Israel
  • Cartoon depicting a stereotypical “ultra-Orthodox” Jew ruthlessly killing an innocent Palestinian

While IPMN’s Facebook page only has about 300 members, the content is consistent with and amplifies some of the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic themes contained in Zionism Unsettled.

It is greatly troubling that despite IPMN’s evident hostility towards Jews and anti-Israel animus, PCUSA has not only failed to repudiate their egregious views but still remains affiliated with IPMN. There is no doubt that falsehoods promoted by IPMN in Zionism Unsettled have negatively influenced the attitudes of some PCUSA members towards Israel, and perhaps even Jews, and provided an offensive backdrop to the General Assembly’s passage of the Israel divestment resolution.

It is time for PCUSA to denounce IPMN for their abhorrent views and fully disassociate itself from the organization.

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June 19, 2014

Anti-Israel Resolutions Debated at Presbyterian Church USA’s General Assembly

Israel is very much on the agenda at this year’s General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), currently meeting in Detroit.  All fourteen resolutions, or overtures, being considered by the Middle East Committee concern the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as does one before the Ecumenical and Interfaith Committee.  The PCUSA, which has had a presence in the Middle East since the early 1800’s, has taken up divestment at each biennial meeting since 2004. In 2012, the divestment resolution was narrowly defeated.  This year, it is once again on the agenda, as are overtures to boycott Hewlett-Packard (HP), to label Israel an “apartheid state,” and to study whether the Church should maintain its commitment to a two-state solution. ADL, represented at the GA by its Interfaith Director, Rabbi David Sandmel, opposes these measures as unfair to Israel and contrary to the goal of achieving a two-state solution.

There are also overtures being considered that oppose divestment and suggest a “third way” of engaging the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through supporting peace-makers, travel to the region and encouraging studying a broad range of views through local relations.

During the first few days of the GA, committees receive overtures proposed by local governing bodies, hear testimony, debate amendments, and eventually decide what actions to recommend the GA take regarding the overtures they received.  While the committees have a great deal of influence on what finally ends up before the entire polity, it is the GA that makes the final decision, which is scheduled for Friday, June 20.

Powerful groups within the Church, such as the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, which produced the anti-Semitic “Zionism Unsettled document,” support divestment.   Due to the GA’s structure, these groups have a disproportionate voice in the Committee, and are supported by the anti-Israel Jewish Voice for Peace, whose prominent visibility at the GA has confused some participants into thinking they represent the mainstream Jewish community.  More moderate voices within the Church, such as Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, have been working closely with the ADL and a broad coalition of other major Jewish organizations and religious leaders to bring a fairer perspective to the deliberations.

Though the Middle East Committee did vote on June 17 in favor of divestment from HP, Caterpillar and Motorola, it also explicitly stated “the action does not mean alignment with the overall strategy of BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions).” The overture that recommends divestment also reaffirms Israel’s right to exist within secure and internationally recognized borders.

There is also the large majority of Presbyterians who support the state of Israel while also sympathizing with the suffering of the Palestinians. They feel torn between their commitment to positive Jewish-Christian relations and desire to see an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and some have expressed feeling overwhelmed with input from all sides. While the barrage of anti-Israel rhetoric from certain sectors has been challenging to hear, the shrillness of their message may be producing a backlash, especially when compared to the more measured presentation from the moderates and recognized mainstream Jewish organizations.

It is clear that the Church is divided on how best to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as demonstrated by the conflicting recommendations of the Middle East Committee. The process in the committees is different than that of the GA where the debate is much more balanced. While in the past the GA has rejected recommendations of the Committee, what will happen this year cannot be predicted, and, as the vote draws near, there will likely be intense lobbying of the voting representatives from all sides.

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October 30, 2013

Is Jewish Voice for Peace Edging Toward a Full Boycott of Israel?

Narrow Bridge Candles screenshot

An image on Narrow Bridge Candles’ website calls for the company’s candles to “fuel flames of resistance.”

The Boston chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace posted a message on its Facebook page on October 28th urging its followers to buy Hanukkah candles from a candle-making project called “Narrow Bridge Candles” that supports the “full Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.” The company, which is based in Oakland, California, produces different kinds of candles needed for Jewish rituals, including Shabbat, Havadala and Hanukkah, so that Jews who are “in solidarity with Palestine” don’t have to purchase candles from Israel.

On its website, the project claims that Israel has a “monopoly on Judaica.” In fact, many of the Hanukkah candles that are sold in the United States are produced by two Jewish companies in New York, Rite Lite in Brooklyn and Ner Mitzvah in New Square. Another popular brand sold in the U.S. is actually manufactured in China. While we didn’t take the time to investigate the market share for these companies, suffice it to say that Israeli-made Hanukkah candles are not the only ones available for purchase.

Hanukah candles Tel Aviv

Hanukkah candles made in Tel Aviv, Israel

More importantly, JVP Boston’s support for Narrow Bridge Candles demonstrates the inconsistency in JVP’s platform on BDS. In its 2011 statement regarding BDS, JVP-National, which was just named by ADL as a “Top Ten Anti-Israel Group,” stated clearly that the group “focuses our efforts on boycott and divestment campaigns that directly target Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its blockade of the Gaza Strip.” This suggests that JVP was restricting its pro-BDS advocacy to products made in Israeli settlements and to multinational companies that profit from the occupation.

 But Narrow Bridge Candles supports a boycott of products made in Israel in general; no mention is made on its website of boycotting candles only made in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Indeed, two of the most popular candle-making companies in Israel are based in Tel Aviv and Safed, cities that are part of Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

Various members of JVP’s leadership have indicated in the past that the group might consider shifting from targeted BDS to an adoption of the Palestinian call for BDS, which advocates for a complete boycott. In a 2011 interview, both Rebecca Vilkomerson, JVP’s Executive Director, and Brant Rosen, a founder of its Rabbinical Council, indicated that the group might eventually support a full boycott. It remains to be seen if JVP-Boston’s endorsement of Narrow Bridge Candles is a harbinger of that shift or an aberration of JVP’s policy.

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