The anti-Israel contingent in the PCUSA has been hard at work over the last year, trying to put together something the denomination’s General Assembly will swallow after the rebuke it delivered in 2006. The “Special Committee to Prepare a Comprehensive Study Focused on Israel/Palestine” is getting ready to belch forth its report, and the Presbyterian News Service has advance details:
With several sections of its massive final report still to be completed and edited, the committee approved with just one dissenting vote a package of 30+ recommendations calling for an immediate end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank; endorsement of the emphases on hope, love, non-violence, and reconciliation found in an ecumenical statement by Palestinian Christians called the Kairos Palestine Document; and urging the U.S. government to take swift action toward a just peace that guarantees secure states for both Israel and Palestine — the commonly called “two state solution.”
Yeah, well. The actual recommendations advocate a lot more than “hope, love, non-violence and reconciliation.”
“This committee brings such a diversity of opinion and a wealth of experience from the region of our concern,” said Committee Chair the Rev. Ron Shive (Salem Presbytery) in a press release issued by the committee. “Given the variety of personal experience we bring to these conversations, the fact that we were able to reach such strong consensus on our report and recommendations demonstrates the unity of the Spirit and our witness for justice and peace for all peoples.”
Actually, what it says is that with one exception (the Rev. Byron Shafer of New York, who took John Wimberly’s place when the latter resigned because of the one-sidedness of the committee), everybody on the committee is of one mind in bashing Israel and overlooking or excusing the Palestinian contribution both to current circumstances and to violence.
The report affirms historic PC(USA) positions — an immediate cessation of violence by both sides, an immediate freeze on the construction and expansion of Israeli settlements on occupied territory, the relocation of Israel’s “separation barrier” to the internationally recognized 1967 border, a shared status for Jerusalem, equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and immediate resumption of negotiations toward a two-state solution.
This is the usual litany, some perfectly reasonable, some one-sided or contradictory (“shared status” for Jerusalem predetermines the outcome of the negotiations on that particular issue, for instance). But there’s more. The committee calls on the United States to:
•repent of its “sinful behavior” throughout the Middle East, including the war in Iraq, its “continuing support of non-democratic regimes,” and its “acquiescence” in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands;
So the occupation of the West Bank–which came about as a result of Israel defending itself from imminent three-sided attack by Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in 1967–is “sinful” (language that I’ll bet won’t be used with regard to, say, rockets attacks aimed at civilians or anti-Semitic propaganda in Palestinian schools and media). That won’t prejudice negotiations, I’m sure.
•eliminate tax loopholes that permit U.S. citizens to make donations “to organizations that support human rights violations and breaches of international law and U.N. resolutions”;
I can’t wait to see what examples of such organizations the final report offers. Without examples, the call is meaningless; with them, the bias should be obvious, unless they really surprise me.
•account for the percentage of U.S. foreign aid that supports such activities and redirect that aid toward the rebuilding of Gaza and the “dismantling of remaining settlement infrastructure; and
Good luck determining that. Of course, to do so, you’d first have to determine what constitutes “human rights violations and breaches of international law and U.N. resolutions,” but I’m sure the committee has a long list of Israeli deeds that fit those categories, at least as far as they are concerned.
•“employ the strategic use of influence and the withholding of financial and military aid in order to enforce Israel’s compliance with international law and peacemaking efforts.”
No such forcing of compliance by Hamas or the Palestinian Authority is necessary, natch. At this point, if you aren’t familiar with the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (a far-left organization whose 12-member steering committee includes Judith LeBlanc of the Communist Party USA as well as United Methodist and Quaker representatives), take a look at their Web site. These recommendations are essentially the USCEIO platform.
•the main Palestinian political parties — Fatah and Hamas — to work toward immediate reconciliation;
No word on whether that means Fatah has to adopt Hamas’ call for Israel’s extermination, or Hamas has to accept Israel’s right to exist. Not a small point of disagreement, that.
•all parties in the Middle East, including Iran and Israel, to refrain from all nuclear arms proliferation;
I’m not sure what that’s supposed to mean. It’s the world’s worst secret that Israel has nuclear weapons, and won’t admit it much less give them to anyone, so what “proliferation” has to do with Israel, I don’t know. As for Iran, that’s a nice thought. Hopefully the committee will take the first plane to Tehran after General Assembly to convince the mullahs. I should also note that there’s no mention in the recommendations that Iran stop funding and giving weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah. Hopefully that will be in the final report.
•Egypt and Israel to end their blockades of Gaza;
Nice to know that they recognize that an Arab state, an ostensible supporter of the Palestinians, has blockaded Gaza as well. What would be really helpful would be a recognition of why Egypt felt that it has to do so. Of course, that would also necessitate a recognition of the nature of the Hamas regime in Gaza.
•all parties in the Middle East to “cease rhetoric and actions that demonize others, including Iranian leaders’ holocaust denials, threats by Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas against Israel, and threats by Israel to transfer masses of Palestinians to Jordan;
I agree wholeheartedly with this. It would be even better if the final report mentions the disgusting anti-Semitism that is a daily reality in Palestinian media and school textbooks. Ignoring Palestinians participation in the demonization game doesn’t make it go away.
•Syria and Israel to resume negotiations about the status of the Golan Heights;
Ain’t gonna happen. Period.
•creation of an international council for Jerusalem, which is a spiritual center for all three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
To what purpose, the news article doesn’t say. Maybe the final report will.
The committee avoided — or commented on — inflammatory words and phrases that have exacerbated the conflict over the years. The words “divestment” and “sanctions” do not appear in the document.
Apparently they think that Israel and its supporters in the PCUSA are so stupid that if they don’t use the magic words, they’ll miss the point of items like their recommendations on “tax loopholes” and U.S. foreign aid. “They advocate cutting off military and financial aid to Israel, but thank God they didn’t recommend sanctions!”
And the phrase “the right of Israel to exist” includes a footnote explaining the pain it causes Palestinians.
“Israel was built on the ruins of Palestinian land and culture,” said Nahida Gordon, a committee member and Palestinian American who teaches at Case Western Reserve in Cleveland. “I take this personally — my personhood as a Palestinian has been obliterated. Palestinians are being erased as human beings. To say this [‘the right of Israel to exist’] is to give Israel a pass on the way Israel was created and denies the legitimacy of the Palestinian people.”
At the suggestion of the Rev. Susan Andrews of Hudson River Presbytery, the committee added the following footnote: “The phrase ‘the right of Israel to exist’ is a source of pain for some members of our study committee who are in solidarity with Palestinians, who feel that the creation of the state of Israel has denied them their inalienable human rights.”
And thus does this committee fall into utter irrelevance. The one absolute demand, the one thing on which Israel cannot compromise–that Palestinians recognize that it has a right to exist, without which acknowledgment Palestinians will never give up the fantasy of driving the Jews into the sea–becomes the phrase that dares not speak its name, because one, maybe more, members of a committee that is supposedly committed to the two-state solution cannot bear to hear it. Gordon claims that admitting that Israel has a right to exist “obliterates” her “personhood as a Palestinian.” If this is true, it would seem that the only way to restore Gordon’s personhood would be for Israel to cease to exist, and for the committee to advocate for such on behalf of their aggrieved colleague. At which point the committee and its report becomes no more significant to the next General Assembly than the minutes of the Wannsee Conference.
Makes me wonder–several of the committee’s members have referred to Israel as an “apartheid state,” a phrase that is not only historical and political nonsense, but is a “source of pain” for all supporters of Israel. Does that mean that there will be a footnote in the report to the effect that they didn’t use that phrase (even though they believe it to be true) because it would offend some readers? You know the answer–when pigs are allowed to compete in Olympic ice dancing.
I’ll finish with a reminder of who the members of this committee–which was supposed to represent a “broad spectrum of viewpoints” within PCUSA–actually are. This is from my post, “What the PCUSA Means by ‘Broad’“:
Susan Andrews is a former PCUSA Moderator. She was a strong advocate of the ill-fated Israel divestment policy passed by the 2004 General Assembly, and tried to maintain that the 2006 repudiation of that policy was actually a reaffirmation of it.
John Huffman, an evangelical, nevertheless supported the General Assembly’s actions in calling for divestment from Israel back in 2004. Shortly after the passage of that action, he told his congregation, “I must speak up clearly, though briefly, to support the stand of our denomination in regard to the Middle East.” He justified this by saying that “Considerations of divestiture of Presbyterian investment in companies contributing to this violence is not exclusively directed toward Israel, but a policy also suggested to be used in a number of the other troubled areas of the world,” a statement which was either dishonest or the height of naivete.
Marthame Sanders is a former missionary to the region. He has referred to Israel as a “militaristic, unjust and racist nation,” and considers the Jewish state to be a practitioner of “apartheid.” He, of course, is also a strong supporter of divestment.
Ronald Shive was an opponent of an overture at the 2008 GA that called for the PCUSA to be “non-partisan” in the issue, to not take sides, and supported a one-sided approach embodied in this overture.
Frederic Bush is a Fuller Seminary emeritus professor. He has long been an anti-Israel campaigner, and has connections both to the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation and the anti-Semitic Jerusalem-based Sabeel Center.
Nahida Gordon is a professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University. She has accused Israel of seeking to ethnically cleanse itself of Arabs.
Lucy Janjigian has thanked Jimmy Carter publicly for his book calling Israel an apartheid state.
I expressed my concerns about this committee at the time the makeup was revealed. I was told by at least one commenter that the opinions I linked to above were from 2004 or 2006, and might well have changed. I think it’s pretty clear from this preliminary look at the report that they haven’t.
(Hat tip: Viola Larson, who on Facebook alerted me to a news release from the Simon Wiesenthal Center that addressed the contents of this article. I think the Center’s reaction goes a little overboard–I don’t see anywhere in the story the assertion that “Israel, if defined as a Jewish State, must be inherently racist,” though I have no doubt that at least a couple of the committee members believe such a thing–but it’s worth reading nonetheless.)