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July 09, 2010

A Model Worth Following

The final gavel will drop sometime on Saturday, but it appears that the PC(USA)’s 2010 General Assembly has concluded its deliberations regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The upshot of the proceedings is that while the anti-Israel activists within the denomination still have some ability to influence the church’s “prophetic witness? about the conflict, an important part of the church’s establishment -- pastors of “Big Steeple? churches within the denomination -- has woken up to the threat that anti-Zionism poses to the credibility of the PC(USA). This group weighed in with a pastoral letter signed by a number of pastors including Rev. John Buchanan and issued in the weeks before the General Assembly.

These pastors woke up to the threat after reading the report issued by the Middle East Study Committee (MESC). In particular, the report’s historical analysis (“A Plea for Justice?) was so one-sided and so rife with material omissions that a call by Presbyterians for Middle East Peace to reject the report in its entirety seemed to be getting some traction within the General Assembly, prompting the committee charged with dealing with the report to delete the historical analysis from the report and replace it with eight yet-to-be written personal narratives -- four pro-Palestinian and four pro-Israel. The committee also inserted an affirmation of Israel’s right to exist into the report.

The committee made another significant change. The original report called for the General Assembly to appoint the members of the Middle East Study Committee to a “monitoring group? that would observe events in the Middle East for the next two years -- and make another report to the next General Assembly in 2012.

Instead, he new version of the report, which was approved by an 82 percent majority of the GA, calls for one, but no more than two members of the Middle East Study Committee to serve on the yet-to-be appointed “monitoring group.? (This monitoring group, by the way, will solicit and publish the eight narratives mentioned above.)

This change in the composition of the monitoring committee gets at the heart of the problem. The Middle East Study Committee was fundamentally biased against Israel. One member had stated previously stated that in his heart of hearts he wanted a one-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. And another had stated that she could not reconcile herself to Israel’s “right? to exist. She was willing to accept the fact of its existence, but no more. This is no small issue because one of the factors behind Arab violence against Israel is the notion that the Jews are not entitled to a sovereign state of their own in the Middle East.

The appointment of members such as this to the Middle East Study Committee by one current and two past PC(USA) moderators in 2008 set the stage for disaster a the 2010 General Assembly. There was no way a committee dominated by anti-Israel partisans, as this one was, was going to create a comprehensive report that would give Presbyterians the information they needed to make a credible statement about the rights and wrongs of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

On this score, the MESC committee was set up to fail by the people who appointed its members.

Hopefully, the moderators charged with appointing the membership of the “monitoring group? will learn from past mistakes. If they do, maybe the church’s long denominational nightmare -- which began in 2004 when the General Assembly approved an anti-Israel divestment resolution will come to an end.

There are still reasons to be concerned. The denomination approved a resolution denouncing Caterpillar for selling its products to Israel and it also reaffirmed existing policy that calls on the U.S. government to put strings on U.S. military aid to Israel. It also failed to approve a document relating to Christian-Jewish relations. The same General Assembly however, voted down two proposals to divest from Caterpillar.

All of these resolutions were a side-show, however to the Middle East Study Committee Report which captured everyone’s attention and dominated the debate within the church in the months before the General Assembly.

Pro-Palestinian and Pro-Israeli?

What is new at the 2010 General Assembly is that people started to realize that drawing attention to Palestinian suffering and working to end it does not require demonizing Israel. This message was even embraced by some of the members of the Middle East Study Committee.

Yes, you read that correctly.

Prominent members of the Middle East Study Committee who prepared the document that aroused so much suspicion (and who initially defended it) got forcefully behind the effort to get an amended version of the document passed by the General Assembly.

These committee members took huge risks by acknowledging the problems with the report and by working to fix it.

If more Presbyterians follow the example of these people -- Susan Andrews and Ron Shive -- the PC(USA)‘s 2010 General Assembly will likely be seen as the gathering where pro-Palestinian Presbyterians started to realize that acknowledging and working to end the suffering of the Palestinian people does not require demonizing Israel and offering up a history that absolves Arab leaders of all guilt.

That’s a model worth following.

Posted by dvz at July 9, 2010 07:22 PM


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