PCUSA leader compares ‘Jewish occupation of Israel’ to slavery

by Seth Udinski

Seth Udinski, FISM News


In a new development from one of the more liberal Protestant denominations in American Christianity, the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) is under fire for a controversial statement on the Jewish claim to the land of Israel.

As part of the denomination’s observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day last week, PCUSA Stated Clerk Rev. J. Herbert Nelson II condemned the Jewish nation of Israel, implying that the Jews hold no right to the land. He said the “continued occupation in Palestine/Israel is 21st-century slavery and should be abolished immediately.” Many were outraged at Nelson’s words, accusing him of blatant antisemitism.

In light of backlash, Nelson reiterated his position this past weekend while also trying to clarify exactly what he meant by inferring that Jews living in their homeland is an injustice.

He said,

I made special reference to the injustices currently suffered by the Palestinian people under Israeli domination, marked by confiscation of rich land they have farmed for generations, destruction of their crops, barriers to access their holy places of worship, lack of access to certain types of employment and other forms of economic opportunity. For us in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) these realities make it imperative that we, as Presbyterians, find ways to have the necessary conversation with Jews who will talk with us about the real tragedy of the Palestinian/Israeli struggle.

Nelson argued that his position, and therefore the denomination’s, is not antisemitic, but also said, “We must also be linked with the refusal to give Israel a ‘pass’ in the face of injustices done to Palestinians in Israel-Palestine.”

He continued,

If we are to be able to work toward a just and equitable future for both Israelis and Palestinians, we must honor all involved as children of God and we must learn to seek peaceful, just resolutions to the complex histories faced by both parties. May God give us the wisdom, courage and persistence to join in this quest for justice for all.

Many were still angered at the PCUSA’s stance. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs said in response to Nelson,

The antisemitic nature of his statement is made even more clear by his failure to mention serious human rights abuses occurring elsewhere in the world, such as the ongoing genocides against the Uyghurs and Rohingya. As Jews, we reject those who callously use the tragedy of the Holocaust to make political points, so we were saddened that Rev. Dr. Nelson trivialized the suffering, torture, and murder of millions of slaves as a tawdry rhetorical device.

Nelson even came under siege from his own denomination. The Presbyterians for the Middle East said,

The Rev. Dr. Nelson’s actions in lashing out at the U.S. and global Jewish community is beyond the pale. Gratefully, his actions and words do not match the work of local PCUSA and Jewish congregations in communities across the nation. We hope the Stated Clerk will spend more time talking and working with American Jewish community leaders and less time writing blasts filled with reprehensible misrepresentations of our Jewish neighbors.

FISM News will keep a close watch on the PCUSA’s handling of this development. These comments is the latest controversy that the PCUSA faces, as it also affirms both egalitarianism and homosexual marriage in the church.

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