Yitzhak Santis

Peace is not born from a place of hate

From a place of hate peace will not emerge. Yet, the Presbyterian Church’s Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) would like to convince their denomination otherwise. There is no other way to describe “Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study Guide” released last month and available through the denomination’s “Church Store.”

The authors note that the booklet should be seen as “follow[ing] the general chapter outline” of the book, Zionism and the Quest for Justice in the Holy Land, a collaborative project of IPMN and Friends of Sabeel of North America. The latter is affiliated with the Jerusalem-based Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, an official partner of the Presbyterian Church.

Promoting “Palestinian Liberation Theology,” Sabeel plays a central theological role for anti-Israel church activists.

Its founder, Anglican Rev. Naim Ateek, frequently uses bigoted language to describe Judaism. “The establishment of Israel was a relapse to the most primitive concepts of an exclusive, tribal God,” he preached to the Eighth International Sabeel Conference in 2011.

At a 2010 Sabeel conference in a California Presbyterian church, I personally heard Ateek say, “‘When you go into the land, which I [God] will give you, don’t make peace with the people of the land, they will be like thorns in your throats, get rid of them – either out or kill them!’ That’s in the heart of the Torah, in the heart of the Torah, which is the most authoritative part of the Hebrew Scriptures for Jews.” (emphasis added)

Ateek’s distorted and contemptuous description of Judaism – let’s be clear about this, Judaism not Zionism – is reflected in IPMN’s “Zionism Unsettled.”

Rev. Chris Leighton, an ordained Presbyterian minister and Executive Director of the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies wrote an Open Letter to the Presbyterian Church. He convincingly deconstructs “Zionism Unsettled,” writing that IPMN and “their allies have once again mounted initiatives that advance an extremist posture with respect to the Palestinian-Israeli impasse. Their agenda threatens to polarize our community, betray relationships with our Jewish colleagues, and ultimately undermine our credibility as ‘peacemakers.’”

“Zionism Unsettled” is part of a deeper strategy. “In years past,” Leighton writes, “IPMN and its supporters have sponsored vigorous efforts to enact divestment policies. With each defeat, the champions of Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) have become more strident and less willing to consider the larger picture. Their current strategy, this study guide, is not simply a critique of Israeli and American policies. It is a dishonest screed that attributes the plight of the Palestinians to a single cause: Zionism.”

This June, the Presbyterians will hold their biennial General Assembly in Detroit. A resolution supporting church divestment from three companies doing business with Israel is on the docket. “Zionism Unsettled” is a tool designed to sway delegates into supporting divestment.

Since 2004, the Presbyterian Church (USA) repeatedly debated boycott and divestment resolutions against Israel. I attended the church’s 2008 General Assembly in San Jose. There were 31 resolutions on international affairs. Of these, thirteen (42%) were on Israel, and ten of these (one-in-three of the total) were anti-Israel.

What undergirds this obsession with Israel? In denominations around the world hyper-active anti-Israel activists have been pushing their churches to adopt BDS. Behind them are Sabeel and other Palestinian Christian NGOs wielding their regressive theologies in service to the BDS movement.

A number of Western governments provide funds for these church-based BDS efforts. Here’s how it works. These funds are disbursed as grants to church-based humanitarian NGOs, which then transfer it to highly politicized NGOs, including Christian groups that promote BDS, the one-state solution and, in many cases, antisemitic supercessionist, or replacement, theologies within mainline churches worldwide.

Specifically, taxpayers in the Netherlands, Sweden and Canada have funded Sabeel indirectly via Christian aid charities such as Kerk in Aktie and ICCO (Netherlands), Diakonia (Sweden) and the Catholic Organization for Development and Peace (Canada). Our report, “BDS in the Pews,” describes this in detail.

Capturing the churches is a major strategic goal of the Ramallah-based BDS movement. Why? Palestinian nationalists calling for Israel’s isolation are viewed correctly as partisans. But, as the BDS movement’s website explains, “because religious institutions are seen in many communities as embodying important moral and ethical principles not only will successful divestment campaigns [in the churches] financially weaken the Occupation, but will raise both the public profile and legitimacy of the BDS campaign.”

The IPMN is an official church body “established by action of the 2004 General Assembly.” To outsiders, the IPMN is seen as the face of the Presbyterian Church. The decade long flood of anti-Israel resolutions at the church’s general assemblies exposes a fixation on Israel, and Jews, that cannot go unnoticed.

Presbyterians are facing an ethical crossroads. If they wish to be seen as blessed peacemakers they must reject the IPMN’s odious “study guide” and break off their partnership with Sabeel and its hate-filled theology. If they choose Sabeel-inspired and IPMN-promoted divestment, Presbyterians will augment the circle of conflict in the Middle East and lose the moral mantle of being genuine peacemakers.

The blessing and the curse are before them. May they wisely choose life.

About the Author
Yitzhak Santis resides in Ramat Yishai in northern Israel. He is studying for his MA in Holocaust Studies at the Weiss-Livnat International Program in Holocaust Studies at University of Haifa.