The Presbyterians Meet, Talk About Israel, Who Cares?

Monday, June 30th, 2008

James Besser in Washington

Recently the Jewish Week reported on a new dustup between Jewish leaders and the Presbyterian Church (USA), the mainline church that played an early role in promoting the idea of targeted sanctions aimed at Israel.

The latest controversy involved the revision of a “resource paper” on anti-Semitism that started with a draft widely praised by Jewish groups but ended up including what critics saw as a backhanded endorsement of anti-Semitism based on hostility to Israeli policies.

Now, at the conclusion of the group’s marathon “general assembly” in San Jose, Calif., we learn from Jewish groups that the church actually took a few steps forward by approving a resolution – or “overture,” in church lingo – calling for more balance in its approach to the Mideast conflict.

At the same time, delegates approved as resolution endorsing the “Amman Call,” a 2007 document calling for a full right of return for all refugees that critics see as a roundabout way of calling for the end of the Jewish state.

Do you see a pattern here? Every time the Presbyterians meet they take some steps forward, some backward,  and the Jewish groups that invest huge amounts of time in the debate are left with results that are, at best, ambiguous.

And that leads to this question: how many Jews across the country are sitting up nights, worrying that the Presbyterians may be taking positions on a conflict that has almost nothing to do with them?  Is there any evidence that positions on a distant Mideast conflict by a church that is hemorrhaging members and facing grave internal conflicts overt issues such as gay rights are having an impact?

The Presbyterians, it seems, are no longer particularly influential on the national political scene. So do they wield a bigger bat when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or are their Mideast debates just a lot of noise about something only small handfuls of church activists care about?

But left to their own devices – to the devices, actually, of a tiny church minority that is passionately involved in the issue – won’t that inevitably hurt Israel’s standing in the world and give solace to those who now support a one-state solution to the conflict?

The questions aren’t facetious; after reporting on the issue for several years, it’s still unclear to me how deeply the issue resonates with your basic Jew on the street, or how influential Presbyterian positions on Israel really are.

Have views on the subject? Email them to and let’s talk about them.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.