Israel/Palestine Mission Network issues statement on the Stated Clerk’s MLK Day call

An Israeli settlement on a hill overlooking Ramallah in the West Bank of Palestine near Jerusalem. © Rex Wholster / Adobe Stock

The Israel Palestine Mission Network [IPMN] of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) supports our Stated Clerk, the Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson, II, in his Jan. 17 call for unity of spirit, which he issued on the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

In this time of acrimony and division in our nation, echoing the earlier call of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for a unity of spirit around the world, Nelson issued a spiritual cry reminding us that “our love for God through Jesus Christ must extend beyond ourselves,” in order to accomplish “the bonding of our souls to one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

Acknowledging that decades after King’s assassination, we are still suffering from the ravages of racism, sexism, and militarism, the Stated Clerk said:

“I pray that the inequities in our society will not be overlooked. Many Presbyterians have labored before us on this journey toward justice. Our commitment to justice advocacy is still heralded in many quarters of our world. Our commitment to the civil rights movement and dismantling apartheid are examples of our commitment to justice advocacy.”

We agree with Nelson that persons of faith — no matter which faith tradition they belong to — are called, like all patriots, to influence our government to fulfill its obligation to do justice.

Because all humanity, as King said, is connected in “one garment of destiny,” IPMN has been working in solidarity with other justice movements, including being an early supporter in 2016 of the platform of the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL). Our network appreciates Nelson’s cross-movement solidarity with the Palestinian people, especially as he connects the Black struggle for freedom, dignity and equality in the U.S. to that same struggle in Palestine.

For drawing this parallel and for Nelson’s prophetic call, there have been accusations of antisemitism directed at him, and also at IPMN. In our network’s statement against antisemitism, we remind people:

“IPMN stands against all forms of bigotry, discrimination, and hate, including antisemitism and Islamophobia. And we maintain that being anti-Zionist is not the same as being antisemitic. Education and advocacy for justice in Israel-Palestine require clarification of important distinctions between Judaism and Zionism … The majority of Jews are not Israeli, and not all citizens of Israel are Jewish. Not all Jews are Zionists; Israel does not represent or speak for all Jews. Criticism of the discriminatory policies and practices of the state of Israel — which privilege Jews over non-Jews — is not inherently antisemitic, in the same way that criticism of U.S. administration policies is not un-American. To reiterate, anti-Zionism is not antisemitism.”

Our statement on antisemitism concludes:

“… the best way to stand against antisemitism is to stand in solidarity with all struggles for justice against racism, bigotry, oppression and injustice. Today’s heightened moment of focus on human rights presents the challenge to overcome privileging white supremacy and settler colonialism, demanding that we organize across issues, boundaries, and movements to create multicultural, democratic societies in which all people have equal value and equal rights.”

Our commitments lead us to speak out boldly and organize alongside our Jewish, Muslim, and other partners in faith. Often uncomfortable and challenging, the words of our Stated Clerk and the legacy of King remind us justice is hard won, and that we must push and challenge even our closest friends.

We know from years of sponsoring accurate and truth-telling trips known as “Come and See” partnership journeys with Palestinians, seeing the injustice and apartheid system that Israel has codified into law, is a cruelty that once seen, cannot be unseen. This, we believe, is what we in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in leadership and laity, are grappling with daily as we call for equal rights for all in Israel/Palestine and try to answer the call of the Prophet Micah: to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

by the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, Special to Presbyterian News Service