The Presbyterians Giveth, the Presbyterians Taketh Away
Think back some 40 years to the release of Nostra Aetate, the revolutionary Vatican document that inexorably changed the nature of Catholic-Jewish relations. It firmly confronted old church attitudes and teachings that Jews suffered under for centuries. It unequivocally asserted the historical and theological dignity of the Jewish people.
Imagine if, a week later, Pope Paul VI stood on the porch of Castel Gandolfo and announced, "There has been a terrible misunderstanding. All we meant is that when we complain, as we must from time to time, about price-gouging around Christmas by pushy Jewish merchants (by that we only mean some of them, of course), we should not go so far as to blame them for the crucifixion. That hurts their feelings."
In May, the Presbyterian Church (USA) released "Vigilance against Anti-Jewish Ideas and Bias." Jewish organizations were effusive in their praise. The last decade has seen a spike in violent anti-Semitic hate crimes in Europe. The document could not have been more welcomed and well timed.
The love-fest was short lived. In June, the PC(USA) removed the original document from its website and replaced it with "Vigilance against Anti-Jewish Bias: In the Pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian Peace."
It would be hard to construct two more dissimilar documents with similar titles. The original pointed directly to problematic PC(USA) overtures and materials, such as overtures "declaring that the Jewish people are no longer in covenant with God or to blame for the crucifixion." It was a startling and honest mea culpa that directly addressed Jewish concerns about a steady pattern of criticism of Israel that had morphed into derision of Jews. (The latest U.S. State Department annual report on human rights offered, "The distinguishing feature of the new anti-Semitism is criticism of Zionism or Israeli policy that whether intentionally or unintentionally has the effect of promoting prejudice against all Jews by demonizing Israel and Israelis and attributing Israel's perceived faults to its Jewish character.")
Ominously, the main focus of the new document is no longer anti-Semitism, but Presbyterian responsibility in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Anti-Semitism has become essentially a sideshow to the main event, which seeks "to call an end to the Israeli occupation to criticize Christian Zionism to speak out against the placement of the separation barrier." (Perhaps the denomination might convince Hamas to end its daily barrage of lethal rockets directed at civilians. That might be easier if the denomination would begin by mentioning them, but don't look for such mention in the document.) PC(USA) members are now cautioned to mind their Ps and Qs as they pursue their one-sided quest for peace. They are urged to be vigilant against slipping into the language and imagery of anti-Semitism while all references to PC(USA)'s own malfeasance have been purged.
Whereas the old document treated such language as inherently wrong, the new one shifts the blame to the Jews. Using crucifixion language in regard to Israeli soldiers is problematic only because Jews "inevitably construe" such imagery as anti-Jewish. Rather than commit to fight the scourge of exploding worldwide anti-Semitism, the PC(USA) now adds to the one-sided demonization of Israel ("the oppressive force in the Israeli-Palestinian situation") that fuels it.
To the vast majority of committed Jews, the land of Israel is inseparable from their identity as a people. The May document recognized the "particular gift of land to the Jewish people." Remarkably, in the very section that criticizes supersessionism, the new document terminates the lease, and awards the land to "the Jewish people and all the descendants of Abraham [without condoning] an interpretation of the Bible as providing a blueprint for the modern state of Israel."