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ADL denounces 'Zionism Unsettled' pamphlet released by Presbyterian group

by Rachel Menitoff
Feb 13, 2014


Courtesy of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church  (U.S.A.).

"Zionism Unsettled" wasn't created by the Presbyterian Church, but it has distributed the pamphlet and CD to congregants.

Voicing “outrage and anger” over the publication of a controversial pamphlet by a Presbyterian organization, the Anti-Defamation League this week denounced the booklet calling it “full of historical inaccuracies.”

“It’s a document that is lacking in any sense of balance,” said Chicago Rabbi David Sandmel, ADL director of Interfaith Relations. “It doesn’t attack or critique Israeli policies. It critiques Zionism itself. It calls it a false theology. It implies comparisons between Zionism and Nazism.”

The 74-page illustrated booklet and accompanying CD were released in January by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network. The material is intended to serve as a “resource for multiweek exploratory educational programs in churches, mosques and synagogues and all classroom settings.”

Francis Boyle, University of Illinois international law professor, said Wednesday he has much respect for the Presbyterian Church and he is “pleasantly surprised” the IPMN has decided to grapple with this difficult issue.

“The nationalistic, exclusionary and racist ideology of Zionism is the exact antithesis of the core spiritual values and moral teachings of all three of our shared Abrahamic denominations,” Boyle said in a prepared statement. “This path-breaking guide and related materials explain precisely why that is true and point the direction toward achieving real peace.”

Boyle said he believes the pamphlet will likely mobilize Presbyterians nationwide. He added that he suspects other mainline Christian denominations will follow their example.

The IPMN, established in 2004, seeks to “demonstrate solidarity, educate about the facts on the ground and change the conditions that erode the humanity of both Israelis and Palestinians, especially those who are living under occupation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza,” according to their website.

The IPMN claimed they are speaking to the church, not for the church.

The Rev. John Buchanan, pastor emeritus at Fourth Presbyterian Church, said he is concerned the pamphlet will be interpreted as a reflection on the Presbyterian Church at large. Although the church has agreed to distribute the booklet, Buchanan said the IPMN is not an official part of the Presbyterian ministry structure. The group was established by the church's General Assembly and operate on their own.

“I would like the Presbyterian Church to make a statement to the world that this study guide does not reflect the church’s position, which has generally been much more balanced and even handed," Buchanan said.

He continued, “I want to underscore that these people are within their rights, their point of view needs to be taken seriously, but they don’t speak for all of us.”

The Rev. Robert Reynolds, at the Presbytery of Chicago, echoes Buchanan’s assertions, saying, “The 'Zionism Unsettled' study guide is informative but does not represent the official stance of the Presbyterian Church. It represents a number of viewpoints (not all) within the church, but it is not official policy.”

Not everyone is convinced of the church’s impartial stance: Dr. Christopher Leighton, executive director of Institute for Christian and Jewish Studies in Baltimore, questioned where the money for this project came from. The marketing and resources used come from official Presbyterian channels, he said. Leighton said also he is intrigued by the church’s role in disseminating this information.

“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of accountability that the Presbyterian official church is taking for some of the more radical posturing that is going on,” Leighton said.

“The charges that are being leveled are so general and sweeping that, by and large, the document dismisses Judaism and the Jewish people as capable of serious engagement and negotiation,” Leighton said. “And that ethos seems to undermine any possibility of constructive back-and-forth debate and exploration.”