Presbyterians courageously acknowledge Israeli apartheid – what’s next?

Presbyterians courageously acknowledge Israeli apartheid – what’s next? July 23, 2022

(This is a repeat of a post from July 14, which was inadvertently deleted.)

The Presbyterian Church General Assembly has just passed a resolution – by a comfortable margin of 70%-30% – recognizing that the government of Israel is practicing apartheid against the Palestinian people. Christian (as well as secular) supporters of Israel are calling antisemitism. What is the Christlike thing to do here?

First, let us keep in mind that human rights groups have been using the moniker “apartheid” to describe Israel for decades. As early as 1961, no less than the white prime minister and architect of South African apartheid Hendrik Verwoerd said it.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu recognized the parallel; Nelson Mandela identified with the Palestinian plight. These were men who knew apartheid intimately.

Very recently, the term has gained wide acceptance in human rights circles: Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN’s Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territories have submitted reports declaring Israel an apartheid state.

If that’s not enough, several major human rights orgs in Israel have also reached the same conclusion.

This is not name-calling. These are documented, annotated studies of actual Israeli governmental policies and practices. It is all easily verifiable.

Just one more factoid: a poll last year by the Jewish Electorate Institute showed that a quarter of Jewish voters believe Israel is an apartheid state – 38% of voters under 40.

The Presbyterian Church General Assembly is joining the UCC and other denominations in calling for justice for the Palestinian people.

"Justice For Palestine" by alisdare1 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.
Apartheid in Israel-Palestine is real. (pictured: “Justice For Palestine” by alisdare1 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.)

Pro-Israel groups – including the Philos Project, which markets its message as Christian and pro-peace, but is actually anti-Palestinian rights in sheeps’ clothing – are denouncing the Presbyterian resolution as antisemitic.

(I have yet to see, after years of working on this issue, even one legitimate argument against the apartheid label. All Israel supporters can come up with is, “hey, Israel is the Jewish State, so you’re attacking Jews. That’s antisemitic.”)

How should the rest of us respond, as Christians?

(Commercial: if you question “business as usual” in Christianity – or want to question it – subscribe to my newsletter, and we can journey together! I write about the Israel-Palestine issue regularly.)

What would Jesus do?

Jesus had mercy on individual sinners (the woman caught in adultery, for example, the woman with the alabaster jar, the dude next to him on the cross, the dudes who crucified him, etc.) and people in need (the sick, the hungry, the poor and marginalized, for example).

Jesus did not have mercy of religious hypocrites. You know who I’m talking about – the Pharisees. He expected God-followers to be compassionate and forgiving, and when Jewish leaders were ruthless and cold, Jesus called them out. He was not being antisemitic. He was taking the side of the oppressed.

That’s what we need to do: take the side of the oppressed.

To be more specific, we need to seek justice for those who have lived their whole lives under occupation and apartheid.

Again, these words, “occupation” and “apartheid,” are not fancy, meaningless words. They are words that, put in action, kill innocent people every day.

Israel is not the only regime that oppresses, but it is the only one that oppresses using $10+ million a day in American military aid (our tax dollars).

What reason is there for a follower of Christ to support a highly militarized settler-colonial state that practices apartheid? This is a serious question, and it deserves serious thought.

How to start seeking justice for Palestinians?

I’m glad you asked! The answer is simple, and it doesn’t cost anything.

After decades of being demonized and misunderstood, Palestinians want their plight to be acknowledged, their voices to be heard.

If you already know the deal, share what you know with anyone who will listen. If you’re unfamiliar with the story of Palestinian dispossession, fasten your seatbelt and go here for book, film, and website recommendations.

Check with your pastor – how does he/she feel about the issue? Educate them, and send them to the denominational conference to vote for a resolution like the one the Presbyterian Church passed (the final text is below and here).

Wherever there is oppression, Christians should be leading the way out of it – not preserving it.

(If you are energized by challenges to the evangelical status quo like this, you’d enjoy my blog. Sign up for my free newsletter here!)

(If you would like to comment, please pop over to my Facebook page. All of my posts are there and open to constructive comment! I welcome your thoughts. And don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter!)

(I also blog about Palestine at Palestine Home, and am an editor and writer at If Americans Knew – you can sign up for free newsletters at both websites to learn more about the issue.)

Final text:

The Presbytery of Grace overtures the 225th General Assembly (2022) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to do the following:

1. Recognize that the government of Israel’s laws, policies, and practices regarding the Palestinian people fulfill the international legal definition of apartheid. Apartheid is legally defined as inhuman acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them. This occurs in Israel/Palestine through:

a. Establishing two sets of laws, one for Israelis and one for Palestinians, which give preferential treatment to Israeli Jews and oppressive treatment to Palestinians,

b. Expropriating Palestinian land and water for Jewish-only settlements.

c. Denying the right to freedom of residence to Palestinians.

d. Dividing the population along racial lines by the creation of separate reserves and ghettos for the Palestinians.

e. Denying Palestinians the right to a nationality.

2. Urge members, congregations, presbyteries, and national staff units, including the Office of Interfaith Relations, to seek appropriate ways to bring an end to Israeli apartheid.

3. Direct the Stated Clerk to communicate this action to all other PC(USA) councils.


“When I was hungry, you handcuffed me” – see Jesus in Palestinian children

Dear Jewish Americans, can we talk…about apartheid?

Christian orgs worldwide denounce Israel’s demonization of Palestinian rights groups

UCC leads the Christian march to justice for Palestinians

Palestinians don’t just need peace – they need Just Peace

Israel, Palestine, and Covid 19: a travesty

The least of these need to see God in us

FEATURED IMAGE: “Justice For Palestine” by alisdare1 is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

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