The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) is dismayed at the statement issued by Rev. Dr. J Herbert Nelson, II Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church USA on the occasion of Martin Luther King Jr. day, accusing Israel of enslavement of other human beings and holding U.S. Jews accountable. His accusation against Israel is both dangerous and false, and Rev. Dr. Nelson’s holding all Jews accountable for the actions of the Israeli government is profoundly antisemitic. 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.
Antisemitic statements have led to violence against Jewish American citizens. Particularly disheartening is that directly prior to issuance of this statement, four members of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas were held at gunpoint by a terrorist who held false ideas about the power and influence of American Jews with the governments of the United States and Israel. Issuance of this statement adds to our community’s feeling of vulnerability following this past Sabbath’s violent hostage-taking at Beth Israel.
JCPA and Jewish Community Relations Councils around the country have been working tirelessly to combat injustice and promote equity, working to end systemic racism in America, promote criminal justice reform, combat human trafficking, and ending genocidal atrocities taking place around the world. JCPA, as most American Jews, has long supported Israel and Palestinian efforts to find peace, including explicitly supporting a two-state solution.
Martin Luther King Jr. in his lifetime also supported Israel and believed that “Israel’s right to exist as a state is incontestable.” He said: “peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world.” That Rev. Dr. Nelson would use the occasion of the Martin Luther King Holiday to issue his statement and cite Dr. King’s teachings in support of his accusations is highly inappropriate.
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.
We understand that the Presbyterian Church USA has been an advocate for the Palestinian cause. We urge them to engage in a constructive manner that does not spread misinformation and put already marginalized people further in harm’s way. We appreciate that Presbyterians for Middle East Peace has spoken out (see their statement here) against Rev. Dr. Nelson’s statement and hope that other people of conscience will as well.