Intellectual Humility does not mean Silence


The Presbyterian Church has been for many years a steady ally of the Organized Jewish Community on issues of Social Justice and Separation of Church and State, two issues very dear to Jews in America. On the other hand, recent initiatives by groups within the Presbyterian Church have been pushing for anti-Israel positions and for the Church as a whole to take the side of the Palestinians. The strongest and most recent push started in 2009 with the endorsement of the Kairos Palestine Document by the Church.


The Kairos Palestine Document is a letter from Palestinian Christians to their brothers and sisters in Christ which puts the whole onus of their situation on the Israeli occupation, calling it a “sin against God and Humanity”. This document has been used in the last three years to inform and educate Presbyterians around the country on the subject of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Any responsible attempt to understand the complexity of the issue demands that we read this document along with the Study Guide developed by the Presbyterian Church. That document and study guide can be found at the Presbyterian Church Website HERE

The content of that document and study guide has gone largely unchallenged by Jewish religious leaders for three years. Many of these same religious leaders are now signing up to the Letter in Hope sent to Presbyterians to urge them to seriously reconsider their move to promote Divestment. The letter can be found by clicking here.

So what went wrong? In my opinion, over the last three years many religious and secular leaders in the Jewish community avoided the confrontation with the Presbyterians over their perceptions of Israel because they feared that doing so would have jeopardized the coalition for Social Justice. Maybe they were right that it would have jeopardized the coalition, and maybe they were wrong. In addition to the misgivings about the coalition with the Presbyterians, some leaders in the Jewish community are also uncomfortable with the positions taken by Israel and its policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians; some of these misgivings are the product of deep held convictions, yet in some cases it is the product of ignorance of the realities of the conflict. The bottom line is that not promoting an open discussion of the issues with our Presbyterian partners has proven to be a disservice to the Jewish community and even to the common struggle for Social Justice.


Speaking up involves a risk, and true leadership demands a degree of risk taking. It also demands the intellectual humility to, on the one hand, inform ourselves on the subject, and on the other to recognize that we'll never be fully informed. It also demands listening...I recall a saying in the Talmud stating “Who is wise? The one who learns from every person”. We need to listen to our Presbyterian friends, but we also need to make our own pro-Israel voice be heard. Sometimes it is necessary to engage in person-to-person dialogue and sometimes leadership-to-leadership. Had the push to have the Presbyterian reconsider their endorsement of the Kairos Palestine Document started in 2009, we would have all the time in the world to engage in a grassroots strategy. At a time when the Presbyterian Convention is upon us it is late. If the resolution is adopted, we'll have to fight for Israel in the defensive rather than in equal terms.


The Kairos Palestine document is in itself a highly biased document. The very name (Kairos) consciously evokes the 1985 pronouncement of South African black clergy against Apartheid; their use of the terms “Crime against God and Humanity” is not casual either. Putting the full onus of their situation as Christians in the Holy Land on “the Israeli military Occupation” is certainly ignoring many of the actual facts on the ground. The Palestinian authors of the document clearly choose their Palestinian allegiance over the hard facts. While military occupation affects their lives as Palestinians (no way to argue with that), their attempt to transfer that to their religious identity is a transparent attempt to gain allies in the West – particularly in America; and it seems to be working.


The Kairos document denies the possibility of the Jewish State in the following words:


9.3 Trying to make the state a religious state, Jewish or Islamic, suffocates the state, confines it within narrow limits, and transforms it into a state that practices discrimination and exclusion, preferring one citizen over another. We appeal to both religious Jews and Muslims: let the state be a state for all its citizens, with a vision constructed on respect for religion but also equality, justice, liberty and respect for pluralism and not on domination by a religion or a numerical majority.


This paragraph is politically charged. First, it denies the notion of a Jewish Nation by either intentionally or out of ignorance equating the notion of a “Jewish” State with a religious State. Second, it promotes the idea of a “One State Solution” where the State of Israel ceases to exist as a Jewish State, making the Jewish people, again, a people with no right to self-determination. Third, it ignores the fact that within the Jewish State there is freedom of religion, and the State supports the leaders of dully recognized religions. There might be internal arguments as to whether Reform and Conservative Rabbis are entitled to State support (that is a different discussion), but confusing that with lack of religious freedom in Israel is disingenuous as the best and intentionally untruthful at the worst. The paragraph also implies that within the framework of Israeli law some people are more equal than others.


On the other hand, it glosses over and/or ignores the situation of Arab Christians in Palestinian Authority controlled territory, pretty much shifting the blame for their situation to Israel. Make no mistake: the Israeli Palestinian Conflict does have an impact on Christians because most of them are Palestinians, but when it comes to religious confrontation and abuse – the problem is not with Jews.


While I believe that we need to work for the resolution of the Israeli Palestinian Conflict in the framework of two States for two people, as put forth by successive American and Israeli Administrations, I also believe in doing so on a foundation of truthfulness and fairness. I believe we need to speak to our Presbyterian friends and others as Jews who do not apologize for expecting to be entitled to self-determination in the land of our ancestors, and also as Jews who have a deep concern and commitment to Social Justice and Democracy. In that context, the Kairos Palestine Document stands out as a facade for Palestinian Nationalism and the undermining of Israel's right to exist as a sovereign Jewish State – and any policy or Resolution based on it is flawed from inception.


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