Israel, Palestinians & Mid-East

Dialogika Resources

Comments on Presbyterian Church USA General Assembly actions

Comments from:

1. American Jewish Committee: "AJC Welcomes Presbyterian Church Middle East Stance"

2. Anti-Defamation League: "Presbyterians Avoid Rupture with Jewish People, But Bias Against Israel Continues"

3. James Besser: "The Presbyterians, Israel and the value of community relations"

4. Hanan Ashrawi, "Presbyterian Church shouldn't accept bullying at the pulpit"

5. Four Presbyterian Leaders, "Open letter to the Presbyterian Church regarding the report of the Middle East Issues Committee

6. Abraham H. Foxman (ADL), "Presbyterian Church Still One-Sided on Israel"

American Jewish Committee

AJC Welcomes Presbyterian Church Middle East Stance

NEW YORK, July 9 AJC welcomed the more nuanced stance on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict adopted by the Presbyterian Church (USA) at its 219th General Assembly in Minneapolis.

"Despite intense pressure, the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly rejected the calls for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions(BDS) against Israel," said Emily Soloff, Associate Director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations for AJC. "A measured and just approach to this complex conflict cannot allow exclusive blame to be placed on one side. The civility with which Presbyterians reached their decisions in the wake of passionate argument on different sides of each issue is impressive."

AJC and several other Jewish organizations had expressed deep concerns about the recent report issued by the Middle East Study Committee of the Presbyterian Church.

In a joint statement, the Jewish organizations stated:

"In recognizing Israel's security needs while striving to remain faithful to the church's Palestinian Christian partners, the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has embraced a more thoughtful approach to Middle East peacemaking.

"As friends of Israel and supporters of peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians, we were deeply concerned about the Middle East Study Committee (MESC) Report and several proposed resolutions including endorsement of the Kairos Palestine document.

"However, modifications to the report and rejection of Overtures calling for the use of divestment and labeling Israeli policy as apartheid demonstrate a desire for broader understanding in the quest for peace. The revised and adopted MESC Report unambiguously recognizes Israel's right to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders - as well as Israel's need to stem the flow of weapons into Gaza. The PCUSA only endorsed ostensibly positive parts of the Kairos Palestine document - written by a group of Palestinian Christians - and not other elements including a call for boycott, divestment, and sanctions. The church called for the study of multiple authentic Israeli and Palestinian narratives and rationales under the guidance of a newly appointed monitoring committee. It did not adopt as policy several theological and historical narratives that had been the cause for much concern.

"Serious concerns remain about some aspects of the MESC report and other actions including the unfortunate referral for further study of a well-considered paper on Presbyterian-Jewish relations. That said, the General Assembly has modeled a more inclusive voice on the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We fervently hope that the new Middle East monitoring committee will meet the GA's charge for authentic balance in the study of and teaching about the complexities of the Middle East. We will remain partners in this pursuit. The parties to the conflict deserve nothing less."


Anti-Defamation League

Presbyterians Avoid Rupture with Jewish People, But Bias Against Israel Continues

New York, NY; July 9, 2010

While the Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly averted a rupture with the Jewish community by rejecting some extremely harsh anti-Israel proposals and language, bias continues and serious issues remain, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said today.

On the issue of aid to Israel, the 219th General Assembly meeting in Minneapolis voted to recommend that the United States consider withholding military aid "as a means of bringing Israel to compliance with international law and peacemaking efforts" and withholding government aid as long as Israel creates new settlements on the West Bank. Additionally, it called for Israel to end immediately its blockade of Gaza.

The General Assembly also voted to disseminate the highly problematic text, known as the Kairos Palestine document, which calls for boycott and divestment from Israel and calls terror a form of legal resistance; while at the same time rejecting a years-in-the-making interfaith report, "Children of God," to try and improve Presbyterian-Jewish relations.

Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director, issued the following statement:

We are saddened that the efforts of our good friends in the Presbyterian Church who worked so hard were not more successful and, at best, averted a rupture between the Church and the Jewish people.

However, anti-Israel bias continues with the approval of recommendations which single out and put the onus for peacemaking on Israel. The recommendations against U.S. aid to Israel are one-sided and demonstrate the depth of anti-Israel bias.

Now we must build upon the positive efforts and move forward to continue the dialogue in an honest and fair manner.


James Besser in The Jewish Week blog

The Presbyterians, Israel and the value of community relations

In a world where Israel has fewer and fewer friends, Jewish groups here increasingly face a choice: do they treat Israel's critics as implacable adversaries? Or do they look for ways to work with some critics and perhaps change their mind on some issues?

Increasingly, muscular pro-Israel groups take the first approach; the second, which defines the whole Jewish community relations movement, is in disfavor in many Jewish circles.

Today's vote at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) seems to me a reminder of the value of looking for ways to build bridges to our opponents, not just try to blow them out of the water. In other words, it's an affirmation of the community relations process.

To recap: the Church's Middle East Study Committee produced an obnoxious report that put virtually all of the blame for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Israel, endorsed only the Palestinian historical narrative and used tortured theological reasoning to blast the Jewish state, and then presented it for consideration at the Church's General Assembly in Minneapolis this week.

Jewish community relations groups, with leadership from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), took that as a challenge.

Instead of issuing indignant press releases and making harsh public statements – pretty easy things to do, after all, and always good for fundraising – JCPA leaders engaged in laborious, difficult, sometimes contentious discussions with church leaders, with friends within the Presbyterian church, with anybody who would talk to them.

The object wasn't to brand the Church as an enemy or to batter it into submission, but to take a terrible, one-sided report and make it a little less one sided, and to build relationships that would allow that educational process to continue.

Today they succeeded – not in producing a final report likely to win an award at the next AIPAC policy conference, but in winning dramatic revisions in a report that, if adopted in its original form, would only harden lines of conflict, both in the Middle East and between American Jewish and Christian groups.

Divestment was rejected; so was a section that seemed to endorse only the Palestinian narrative.

From a pro-Israel point of view, what finally passed was far from perfect – it still called for linking Israel's U.S. aid to a halt in settlement construction, among other things – but it was far better than the original.

And in the process, JCPA didn't burn bridges ; it built relationships that the group will continue to use to make Israel's case.

Ethan Felson, the group's assistant director, told me this: “The Church is, we hope, charting a course in which it recognizes Israel's legitimate security rights and needs even as it remains faithful to its Palestinian Christian partners.”

In other words: JCPA recognizes that the Presbyterians have different interests, and doesn't dispute the legitimacy of those interests – but also seeks to work with the Church and its activists to produce a more balanced approach to the Middle East.

That's community relations at its best. It's not as easy as issuing the harsh press release, and maybe not as emotionally satisfying – but in the long term it may be a whole lot more productive.


Hanan Ashrawi

Presbyterian Church shouldn't accept bullying at the pulpit

July 10, 2010

This week probably will not be easy for Presbyterians. False accusations of anti-Semitism impugning the motives and integrity of the Church will hurt. But their work is vitally important and offers a tremendous opportunity to hold Israel to account for 43 years of occupation of Palestinian territory.

For decades, I have faced vicious ad hominem attacks as both a Christian and a Palestinian simply for daring to insist that the Palestinian people should live free and not be subject to Israeli occupation. Yes, notwithstanding the absurdity of the language, it occasionally hurts. But Presbyterians under verbal attack may be surprised at the growing number of Palestinians and Jews they find at their side. The rhetoric of the Israel lobby is ferocious because it seeks to obscure the cruel policies - Gazans put on a "diet" resulting in child stunting and malnutrition, the apartheid wall, white phosphorous used on civilians - enacted by the Israeli government.

When Katharine Henderson and Gustav Niebuhr call in the Washington Post for Presbyterians to "listen to all involved, including American Jews, essential partners who were not consulted in the report's preparation," Presbyterians should bear in mind that the American Jewish community is not monolithic and goes beyond the Israel lobby Henderson and Niebuhr evidently had in mind. The white community in the American South was not monolithic, the white community in apartheid South Africa was not monolithic, and Jews in the US and Israel are not monolithic.

In fact, a growing number of Jews support Palestinian freedom and some go so far as to support a campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel - and Palestinians here and in the diaspora are working with them every day. I am no more surprised by this than African Americans were surprised to find whites of good will who supported bus boycotts and other economic instruments of change to overcome Jim Crow.

The Presbyterians' Middle East Study Committee is right to speak out against both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. But when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it would be an abdication of moral responsibility to regard the parties as equals in a conflict as B'nai B'rith does when it denigrates the Committee's report for "dramatically emphasiz[ing] perceived Israeli wrongdoing and Palestinian suffering."

No, one side is occupied and one is occupier. One side is subjugated and the other subjugates. As in South Africa, there is a clear line. Therefore, the Committee's strongly voiced concerns regarding Israeli policy make logical and moral sense.

The Committee's proposal to stop US military aid to Israel until such time as the settlement enterprise ceases is a good starting point. Anyone who shrank in horror at Israel's use of American weaponry last year in the Gaza Strip can support such a proposal - as can anyone who recognizes how ongoing settlement and colonization is foreclosing on a viable Palestinian state.

But the Presbyterians do not control Congress's purse strings despite the fears of some in the Israel lobby. They do control their own investment portfolio.

Therefore, I support individual overtures that move beyond the Committee's call, which "Strongly denounces Caterpillar's continued profit-making from non-peaceful uses of its products and presses Caterpillar to review carefully its involvement in obstacles to a just and lasting peace in Israel-Palestine and to take affirmative steps to end its complicity in the violation of human rights."

With Israel having just announced plans to raze 22 more homes in occupied East Jerusalem, a strong and timely signal could be sent to Caterpillar by divesting Presbyterian holdings in the company. Presbyterians have already engaged Caterpillar in good faith and gotten nowhere. Israeli retrofitted Caterpillar bulldozers continue to destroy Palestinian lives and homes. Moving now to divest from Caterpillar would not be overly precipitous. Failure to act will indicate to Israel and Caterpillar a willingness to wring hands, but not take meaningful nonviolent action. We must vigorously seize upon such nonviolence as a powerful moral means to advance freedom and justice for both peoples and work together to stave off a possible future that devolves into further violence, ill-will, and misery.

While the Presbyterians "affirm the legitimacy of Israel as a state," they rightly recognize the "continuing occupation of Palestine (West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem) to be illegitimate, illegal under international law, and an enduring threat to peace in the region." Without strong and immediate nonviolent action challenging the Netanyahu government's policies, the stated U.S. goal of a two-state solution will soon be derailed by Israeli settlement activity. Many Israel lobby voices will urge the Presbyterians not to act this week. But as Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said in March of 1968, drawing on his spirituality, "...there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right."

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi is an elected member of both the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee and the Palestinian Legislative Council.


Open letter to the Presbyterian Church regarding the report of the Middle East Issues Committee

Friday, 09 July 2010

Posted as a courtesy by The Presbyterian Outlook

A week ago, it looked as if the Presbyterian Church (USA) was going to enact a version of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within its own body, so divided were we on all sides.

For some of us, the Middle East Study Committee’s report was a long-awaited recognition of the suffering of the Palestinian people, particularly our Christian brothers and sisters, and a stirring call to action and solidarity. For others of us, the report seemed indifferent to Israeli concerns for a secure homeland and the Church’s ongoing relationship with the Jewish community. Coming into the Assembly, some of us were lined up to push the report through; others of us were determined to defeat it.

Today, we still have disagreements on items in the report, on methods we should pursue, on arguments we should make. But today, by God’s grace, we have discovered that together, we may actually be more faithful and effective in seeking peace with justice for both Palestinians and Israelis than separately. To that end, we stand together in support of the report as amended by the Middle East Issues Committee as witness to a new way of approaching this intractable problem and, indeed, a new way of being the Church.

We have learned that we do not have to choose between our commitments. We have learned that we can risk trusting people with whom we were afraid to engage. We have learned that addressing the conflict in the Middle East cannot be a question of winners and losers. We must model how the conflict itself will be resolved: if someone loses, everyone loses. Beyond any expectation, we find ourselves discovering a new model of ministry together, a model committed to seeking, hearing, and responding to the fullness of narratives and commitments with the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Through Isaiah, God says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and rivers in the wilderness.” Let us all give thanks for this new thing that God is doing and commit ourselves anew to work together for peace with justice.

Bill Harter, Co-Convener, Presbyterians for Middle East Peace

Carol Hylkema, Moderator, Israel/Palestine Mission Network

Katharine Henderson, President, Auburn Theological Seminary

Ron Shive, Chair, Middle East Study Committee


Presbyterian Church Still One-Sided on Israel

By Abraham H. Foxman, National Director, Anti-Defamation League
This article originally appeared in The Huffington Post on July 15, 2010

How many sour notes does it take to render a piece of music impossible to listen to? While there may be no scientific answer, reasonable people can agree that too many ruins the tune. Such is the case with a report overwhelmingly adopted by the Presbyterian Church (USA) at its recent biennial General Assembly held in Minneapolis.

While removing some horrendous anti-Israel and anti-Jewish language from a 172-page report called "Breaking Down the Walls," significant one-sided anti-Israel bias remains.

Presbyterian Church representatives voted by a 4-1 margin (558-119) to adopt the report, which most disturbingly calls for withholding U.S. aid as a means to pressure Israel to make peace and cease settlement activity. Those who argue that the Church merely reaffirmed a longtime position are missing the point. Singling out Israel has always been insidious, particularly in today's environment where Israel is the target of well-orchestrated campaigns that question its legitimacy.

The General Assembly also approved an amended endorsement of a very troubling text produced by Palestinian Christians in 2009, "A Moment of Truth," also known as the Kairos Palestine Document. Kairos is a prime example of an effort to undercut the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish State. It calls terror a form of legal resistance, it endorses boycotts and divestment against Israel, and it denies any connection between biblical covenants and the Jewish people. Unfortunately, the General Assembly chose not to confront these awful points.

Rather, the Presbyterian Church endorsed selected "positive" themes of "liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy, and reconciliation." It approved the study and distribution of the entire Kairos Document along with a study guide that is promised to be fair and balanced. We can hope this will be the case going forward. However, there are grounds for concern based on the bias of the original report of the Middle East Study Committee.

Even the revised study committee report remained silent on threats to Israel, such as the commitment of the terrorist group Hamas to the destruction of the Jewish State, and strongly denounced the Illinois-based company Caterpillar Inc. for what it calls "profit-making from non-peaceful uses of a number of its products" used by Israel. In addition, a joint interfaith report focused on improving theological relations between Presbyterians and Jews that was six years in the making was flatly rejected.

Still, some significant changes were made to "Breaking Down the Walls" during the convention, in no small part due to a committed and courageous group called Presbyterians For Middle East Peace. In the best spirit of interfaith dialogue, this group heard the grave concerns of the Jewish community about the MESC report and succeeded in obtaining a range of changes to remove some of the most problematic aspects of it.

As a result, the approved report declared Israel's right to exist "as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders." The final report removed several distorted anti-Israel historical essays, which will be replaced in the future with four essays from Israelis and Palestinians. Horrible language likening Israel to Nazis was omitted. The 2004 call by the Presbyterian Church for selective divestment from Israel was allowed to lapse. Finally, the report recognized Israel's legitimate security need to maintain a blockade on military equipment and weapons entering Gaza. A proposal to link Israel's policies to apartheid was defeated.

Thanks and appreciation must be given to the many courageous Presbyterian leaders across the country who volunteered their time and resources to alert and educate their fellow Presbyterians about the horrendous bigoted, unfair and unbalanced anti-Israel provisions being proposed as church policy. They worked tirelessly to avert a severe rupture in Presbyterian-Jewish relations.

In the emotional aftermath of the convention battle, some involved in the struggle are publicly declaring the General Assembly results in revelational superlatives, while others paint it as a victory.

That would be a mistake. The PCUSA continues to apply a double standard when it comes to Israel. Singling out Israel for special punishment is simply unacceptable, and runs counter to the PCUSA's oft-proclaimed attempt to be a genuine voice of Christian conscience and reconciliation.

We must wonder why the original toxic report made it as far as it did to the convention, with the backing of 16 Presbyterian Church Moderators and the church's key executive leader.

And while we can understand that for some Presbyterians the official act of recognizing Israel's right to exist by the Church can be considered a major success, for Jews, 62 years after the United Nations declared Israel a sovereign state, this is not only underwhelming, but lowers the bar of expectations to an unacceptable level.

Moving ahead our focus must be on maintaining and building upon the wonderful respectful interfaith relationships made and reinforced during the past few months in the Presbyterian and Jewish communities. We must forge ahead to create strong grassroots relationships between local Presbyterians and Jews so that we can continue to learn from each other.

And we must remain vigilant and work harder to remove the continuing anti-Israel bias from church policies. Until then, the Presbyterian policy on the Middle East is simply painfully discordant.