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July 04, 2010

J Street Condemns PC(USA) Middle East Document

Rachel Lerner and Mitri Raheb for Web.JPG
Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem and a proponent of divestment, remonstrates with J Street Vice President Rachel Lerner after she condemned the MESC report. (Dexter Van Zile)

Minneapolis -- July 4, 2010 -- Rachel Lerner, vice president of J Street, offered a devastating rebuke to the authors of the Middle East Study Committee Report currently under consideration for the PC(USA)’s General Assembly.

“Supporting a Palestinian state does not, should not, and cannot mean tearing down Israel,” she said.

Lerner offered this rebuke at a breakfast at a breakfast held at the Hyatt in Minneapolis a few blocks from the convention center where the PC(USA)‘s General Assembly is taking place. The breakfast was organized by Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, a group calling on the General Assembly to reject the MESC report.

Lerner told the audience of approximately 150 that the report was so one-sided in its depiction of the Arab-Israeli conflict that J Street activists would not want to partner with the PC(USA) in its peacemaking activism if the report were to be approved “because it will push them into a corner a force them into a defensive stance.” She continued:

I want to be very clear about this -- this is not meant to be a threat. If this is passed we will not be issuing a directive to our locals that they cannot partner with local Presbyterian churches -- but with the passage of this study, the Church will alienate us and as a result our activists will not want to work with you and this will damage completely the possibility of a future relationship.”

Lerner’s rebuke is a substantial setback for the proponents and the defenders of the report because the report itself names J Street as a group that Jews in the U.S. should emulate and follow. J Street, the report states, is a group that “raise[s] the banner that being pro-Israel and being truly Jewish is not tantamount to complicity in the excesses of Israeli policy.”

Lerner told the audience -- which included a significant number of pro-Palestinian activists, that the MESC did not consult with J Street before publishing and that she and other activists in the organization were shocked by its tone and recommendations. Lerner read the report soon after it was published to prepare herself for the phone calls that as a J Street official were headed her way.

“I was to be perfectly honest -- surprised and saddened and to be very, very honest, sometimes even angered by what I read,” she said.

Lerner stated that while she believed that the impulse behind the report was to promote peace in the Middle East, “the tone this study takes, the narrative it puts forward, and the conclusions and policy recommendations it makes are so one-sided, so devoid of any balance, that I fear this report will not only not achieve its desired effect -- positive change in the region and a just two-state solution -- but it will be counter-productive to forging a meaningful peace and will significantly hinder the possibility of future efforts to work together toward what for most of us is a shared common goal.”

J Street was surprised to see itself mentioned in the report’s introductory “Letter to our American Jewish Friends.”

“We were never consulted in the course of the committee’s research. I wish we had been,” she said.

J Street agrees with many of the criticism’s leveled at Israel, Lerner stated, but added that criticism of Israeli policies needs to be accompanied by an honest effort to take Israel’s legitimate security concerns into account, “not paid lip service, but taken seriously into account.” Lerner added that a drastic shift in American policy such as efforts to squeeze Israel financially “will only undercut the possibilities for peace in our lifetime.”

If the PC(USA)’s General Assembly passes the one-sided and extreme report, Lerner said, it will elicit a similar response from Israelis and from American Jews -- even Jewish peace activists.

“When I read the proposed study document, I felt myself moving into a self-protective position. I was truly so disturbed by what I was reading -- unable to find a familiar or even a just a balanced narrative in these pages, I found myself using language I don’t normally use, clinging to defensive positions, which surpised me, to be honest.”

After reading the report, Lerner called a number of J Street activists who were put off by the report. “Every activist I talked to who read the Letter to Our Jewish Friends, the recommendations of the committee, the Kairos Document [which the report endorses] had the same reaction: “Why would they do this? How could they say this? How can we work with them now?”

Lerner was not the only speaker at the breakfast. Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson, president of Auburn Seminary spoke out in opposition to the report, as did one of the committee members Byron Schafer who stated the text did not explicitly affirm Israel’s right to exist. (Summaries of their talks will appear on Snapshots in the next few hours.)

After the talk, the audience raised questions about how one can square support for Israel with its settlements in the West Bank, how Israel’s status as a Jewish state can be squared with concern for Arab rights and how people can criticize Israel without being accused of anti-Semitism.

Posted by dvz at July 4, 2010 05:02 PM


When Anti Israel Street comes out to condemn antisemitism... you know it has reached extreme levels of deprivation.

Posted by: Steven at July 4, 2010 05:17 PM

At least J-Street's forays into connecting with non-Jewish anti-Israel activists will have the unintended effect of creating greater Jewish unity.

Posted by: Alex at July 4, 2010 11:49 PM

This report is flawed. Please reject the committees report. I have notified all my UPC friends of this pro-Palestinian report and my disapproval of it.

Posted by: clella murray at July 5, 2010 11:04 AM

J Street also condemned The Goldstone Report. How can anyone take them seriously? After over six decades of anguish and suffering at the hands of Israel - the Palestinians don't need another gutless, namby-pamby Jewish organization.

Posted by: Slocum at July 6, 2010 01:11 AM

Why is J street so intent on influencing the outcome of the Presbyterian council meeting?

Why can't the Presbyterian church be left to deal with the matter as a part of wrestling with their own internal collective conscience? I doubt that the people who want to influence the outcome of this council meeting are interested in the spiritual dilemmas of Presbyterians who are wrestling with their faith and their morality.

Instead, it seems that the goal is to secure their own agenda and provide a public relations success for their cause. Too bad for Presbyterians' faith and morality challenges and dilemmas. Too bad for their people's need to try to find a way to live their faith. All that matters is what how it affects my cause, my issue.

Instead of this being a Presbyterian issue it has now been reframed by other organizations as an attack on Israel. May I respectfully suggest that J street and Israel sees about their own issues and leave the Presbyterians to see about theirs?

Posted by: kris at July 7, 2010 12:35 AM

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