The Presbyterian Church (USA) has removed a controversial publication from its website that was targeted by prominent Jewish organizations and church members as being an attack against Israel.
The 76-page booklet, "Zionism Unsettled: A Congregational Study Guide," was released in January by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, an independent Presbyterian group. Since then, it had increasingly become a focal point of criticism against the church in heated debates leading to a vote last week to divest from select companies whose products are used in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The guide, which was created as a resource for churches discussing issues in the Middle East, calls Zionism a "false theology" and was never officially endorsed by the church. Meeting in Detroit last week, the church's biennial General Assembly declared that it "does not represent the views of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)." But groups including the Anti-Defamation League, Union for Reform Judaism and American Jewish Committee had strongly criticized the document, particularly because the church was selling it despite distancing itself from its positions.
Anti-divestment Jewish organizations and Presbyterian groups had pointed to the guide's sale as evidence that the church had taken anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish positions.
“We need to keep our focus on supporting and communicating the decisions of the General Assembly,” the Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the General Assembly, said in a statement. “And responding to a recent increase in feedback about the book is impacting our ability to do that.”
The booklet can continue to be independently sold, but not on the church's website, according to a church statement.
The divestment vote, which passed 310-303 at the assembly, will lead to Presbyterians selling $21 million in shares in Hewlett-Packard, Motorola and Caterpillar Inc. The assembly said it voted for divestment because of how the companies' products are used in violence, checkpoints and settlement building in occupied Palestinian territories.
In addition to divestment, the church assembly voted to reaffirm Israel's right to exist, to support a two-state solution and to support interfaith dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. The church also voted to distance itself from the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.