With these words, Rev Nelson demonstrated his courage in acknowledging the humanity of Palestinians. Unhappy with Rev. Nelson’s words, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations took the opportunity to criticize the PC(USA) for its record of activism for Palestine, beginning with the Denomination’s 2014 vote to divest church funds from companies profiting from the colonization of Palestine. The accusation of antisemitism leveled at those who publicly call out Israel’s blatant human rights abuses is far from unusual.
In calling on the Jewish community to add their voice to a call to abolish the occupation of Palestinian land, Rev. Nelson is acknowledging the Jewish community’s respect for human rights and their long record of working for equal rights. In their condemnation of Rev. Nelson, the Conference has twisted his appeal, characterizing it as appearing “to call on antisemitic tropes and conspiracies that Jews secretly control the moves of politicians and manipulate world events to their advantage.”
This convoluted and specious attempt to associate Rev. Nelson’s words with this infamous antisemitic trope shows to what desperate lengths the defenders of Israel’s government have to go now that Israel’s indefensible actions are increasingly on display. And it shamelessly distorts Rev. Nelson’s message. Rev Nelson chose to express his condemnation of the State of Israel's actions in the strongest terms by relating it to the civil rights movement, the anti-Apartheid struggle, and to all forms of racial discrimination. Rev Nelson's words are not to be confused with antisemitism. Rather, his connection of the plight of the Palestinian people to the many forms that enslavement has taken throughout history and continuing to the present day is very much in the spirit of Dr. King’s pronouncement that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Given the shameful history of Christian anti-Jewish doctrine and action, the churches in the U.S. are all too aware of the evil and dangers of antisemitism. Following the frightening incident at the Texas synagogue, Friends of Sabeel North America went on record on the topic in an article titled “Antisemitism is Sin. Period.” “The attack this past week on the synagogue in Texas,” reads the piece, “following other recent attacks on synagogues and Jewish establishments, is an important reminder that the scourge of antisemitism is alive and well in the United States. We at FOSNA have always been clear that such antisemitism, alongside all forms of racism and discrimination, are not only condemnable but are a grave sin and an affront to the concept of a universal God who created and loves all people.”
The Presbyterian Church’s stand for justice for Palestinians is an act of love for both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis, who are caught in the tragic positions of oppressed and oppressor. Indeed, the Presbyterian Church in the USA has blazed the trail for other Christian denominations to take similarly bold actions, despite the increasingly strident charges of antisemitism that have emanated from some quarters. Rev. Nelson’s appeal to the Jewish community to call the U.S. government to account for its support for Israel’s crimes applies to all of us.
Kairos USA’s foundational document “Call to Action: A U.S. Response to the Kairos Palestine Document” acknowledges the responsibility borne by our society for Palestinian suffering: "We know that raising questions about our churches’ and our government’s support for the State of Israel’s policies exposes us to the charge of antisemitism. But we are called to speak the truth, as our faith in the life and ministry of Jesus directs us. We firmly believe that it is precisely in this way that we express not only our commitment to the dignity and human rights of the Palestinians, but our dedication to the humanity of our Jewish sisters and brothers.”
The Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace joins Kairos USA and Friends of Sabeel North American in supporting Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II in his courageous stance. We are reminded to follow the call of the Jewish and Christian scriptures to be with the God who took the side of the poor and downtrodden against the powerful.
How long will defenders of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians resort to the charge of antisemitism to shut down legitimate criticism of Israel? It is time for us to follow the lead of courageous faith leaders like J. Herbert Nelson II in standing for the values and principles we hold dear. Only then can we overcome the gathering forces of bigotry and hate that threaten the wellbeing of Americans and indeed all the inhabitants of our world. We are bound together, in the words of Dr. King, in “the inescapable network of mutuality.”
Mark Braverman, Kairos USA
Nahida Halaby Gordon, Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace
Jonathan Kuttab, Friends of Sabeel North America