Jewish-Presbyterian tensions are high this week, as the Presbyterian Church (USA) votes at its General Assembly on divestment from Israel. Thus far, the assembled delegates have heard arguments in favor of the proposal from groups like the Israel/Palestine Mission Network and Jewish Voice for Peace, and arguments against from others like J Street, Reform Movement head Rabbi Rick Jacobs, and the American Jewish Committee.
And then there are the arguments of Reverend Larry Grimm of the Capitol Heights Presbyterian Church in Colorado, a longtime boycott advocate who apparently wants the Jews to get out of Israel.
In a Facebook posting yesterday that was quickly shared and seconded by other Presbyterians, some of whom are currently attending the Church’s General Assembly, Grimm patiently explained to Israelis that they ought to leave the historic Jewish homeland and “come home to America”:
America is the Promised Land. We all know this. Come to the land of opportunity. Quit feeling guilt about what you are doing in Palestine, Jewish friends. Stop it. Come home to America!
Grimm, the former chair of the Justice Commission of the Colorado Council of Churches, did not explain how he came to the conclusion that Israel was not, in fact, the Jewish Promised Land, or why he thinks that six million Jews abandoning their homes is a good idea. But his proposal was quickly affirmed by others, one of whom noted that she wished to voice similar sentiments at the Church’s General Assembly that day, but concealed them for the purpose of political correctness: “I wanted to tell him that they should come and settle in the US. (But I did not. I needed to remain ‘respectful’.)”
The exchange and its unfortunate mixture of ignorance and hostility towards Jewish history and heritage offers insight into why some members of the PC-USA have proven so amenable to boycott Israel initiatives, even as they’ve been soundly rejected by international leaders, hundreds of American universities, and even Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. After all, it’s easy to endorse draconian one-sided sanctions against the world’s only Jewish state when you think that Jews have no claim to the area, and entertain fantastical scenarios about relocating six million of them to America. For most reasonable people, of course, attempting to sanction Israel until its Jewish citizens voluntarily deport themselves from their historic homeland constitutes a grave injustice. And for most Christians, lecturing Jews about what country is actually the Promised Land is basically the interfaith equivalent of a flagrant foul.
Indeed, many Presbyterians would no doubt be horrified to read the unvarnished intentions of those extremists pushing divestment on the Church, especially as many Presbyterian divestment backers have claimed that they do not oppose Israel’s existence, only its occupation. Conversations like the above, however, suggest otherwise. Such radical aims, cloaked in the rhetoric of peacemaking, have already evoked significant backlash within the Church. One group of prominent Presbyterian leaders recently noted with alarm that “Zionism Unsettled,” the pamphlet produced by Church members to argue for divestment, had been endorsed by notorious white supremacist David Duke, who hailed its adoption of racist terminology he originally popularized. “To argue that any Jewish desire for any form of statehood within their historic homeland is inherently discriminatory,” the Church leaders warned, “is not only patently false but morally indefensible.”
UPDATE: In case there was any doubt about his outlook, later in the day Grimm posted an article on his Facebook page celebrating the recent kidnapping of three Israeli teenagers by terrorists:
Accompanied by a photo of candy being distributed to celebrate the abductions, the article is headlined (in Arabic): “After the disappearance of the soldiers [their term for unarmed teenagers], Palestinians between joy and anticipation.”