In a move that was no surprise whatsoever, the PCUSA General Assembly Committee on Middle East Peacemaking Issues approved (53-0-0) the report of the Middle East Study Committee entitled “Breaking Down the Walls.” The report, replete with theological flaws, historical errors and omissions, and one-sided analysis of current events, apparently remains intact. The recommendations made by the committee have been amended, however, and for the most part those have been a significant improvement over what was originally submitted. These include:

•Under “Affirmation of Previous General Assembly Policies and Statements,” there’s a new item that reads:

2 b. the reaffirmation of Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders in accordance with United Nations resolutions.

Yeah, they sorta forgot to include that one. I wonder why. Guess it just didn’t seem important at the time.

•Under “For the Witness of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), item b), the committee basically tried to perpetuate itself thus:

Authorizes the creation of a Monitoring Group on the Middle East for the next two years that will consist of the members of this study committee to assist the appropriate General Assembly Mission Council offices and the Middle East staff team in monitoring progress and guiding actions to ensure adequate implementation of policy directions approved by this General Assembly, given the growing complexity and interrelatedness of issues in the region.

In place of this paragraph is this:

b. Authorizes the creation of a Monitoring Group on the Middle East for the next two years that will consist of seven people appointed by the current and immediately past moderators in consultation with the GAMC staff persons responsible for global mission in the Middle East and for Interreligious Affairs to assist the appropriate General Assembly Mission Council offices and the Middle East staff team in monitoring progress and guiding actions to ensure adequate implementation of policy directions approved by this General Assembly, given the growing complexity and interrelatedness of issues in the region. This committee shall be appointed by the end of August 2010. The Monitoring Group shall include at least one but no more than two members of the existing MESC. New appointees shall be chosen on the basis of demonstrated experience with and knowledge of the complex dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the larger concerns of the Middle East, and shall together comprise an authentic balance representing the fullness of the spectrum of commitments within the PC(USA) toward the people and issues in the region.

I’ll be surprised if that last sentence is anything other than ignored, but it’s a good effort. Potentially, if this were followed with the proper spirit, it would represent a big improvement over the Palestinian cheering section of which the MESC was largely comprised.

•Still under the “Witness” section,the endorsement of the anti-Israel, supercessionist “Kairos Document” becomes a commendation for study:

f. Endorses the Kairos Palestine document (“A Moment of Truth”) in its emphases on hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy, and reconciliation; lifts the document up for study and discussion by Presbyterians; and directs the creation of a study guide for the document through the appropriate channel of the General Assembly Mission Council.

The substitute becomes this:

f. Commends for study the Kairos Palestine document (“A Moment of Truth”), and endorses the document’s emphases on hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy, and reconciliation. We lift up for study the often neglected voice of Palestinian Christians. We direct the monitoring group for the Middle East to create a study guide for the document.

This is a marginal improvement. As I had said previously, even commending this for study without resources that offer another perspective is irresponsible, but at least it doesn’t endorse it.

•Under “Urgent Actions Toward Justice and Peace in Israel, the Occupied Territories of Palestine, and Jerusalem,” there’s what looks like a change that doesn’t make much difference. This:

b. Calls on the U.S. government to exercise strategically its international influence, including the possible withholding of military aid as a means of bringing Israel to compliance with international law and peacemaking efforts.

becomes this:

b. Calls on the U.S. government to exercise strategically its international influence, including making U.S. aid to Israel contingent upon Israel’s making U.S. aid to Israel contingent upon Israel’s compliance with international law and peacemaking efforts.

I guess the commissioners thought “contingent upon” was less pushy than “possible withholding.” I don’t see it, myself.

•Also under this section, a certain degree of reason prevailed with regard to the joint Israeli-Egyptian blockade (though events on the ground are probably also making this largely superfluous). This:

d. Calls on the Israeli government to end immediately its blockade of Gaza, and on the U.S. government to end any support it is giving to the blockade, and also calls on the Egyptian government to facilitate the passage of humanitarian supplies into Gaza as well as consumer goods from the strip.

becomes this:

d. Calls on the Israeli and Egyptian governments to limit their blockade of Gaza solely to military equipment/devices and to guarantee adequate levels of food, medicine, building supplies, and other humanitarian items, and to allow free commercial exchange in and out of Gaza, and call on the US government to end any support for the blockade that interferes with the adequacy of such items or such exchange.

This is a vast improvement. The first one, of course, says by omission that only Israel, and not Egypt, is blockading Gaza, which is as blatant an example of bias as you can find in the recommendations. The second names reality for what it is, and also does what the first doesn’t, which is recognize that there is a legitimate aspect to the blockade (preventing military equipment from getting to Hamas), while the first reflects the committee’s refusal to come to grips with Iran’s continuing efforts to get arms to Hamas so it can continue to kill Israeli civilians.

•Finally, on the last part, “Engaging This Report,” all three sub-points have been changed. The first, approving Part One of the report, changes from this:

a. Approves Part One of the report (Introduction; Letters to Our Church, Partners, and Engaged Parties; Biblical Theological Reflections; “What We Have Seen and Heard”).

to this:

a. Receives Part One of this report (Introduction; Letters to Our Church, Partners, and Engaged Parties; Biblical Theological Reflections; “What We Have Seen and Heard) as rationale for recommendations only, not as policy.

I’m not sure whether moving the report from “policy” to “rationale for recommendations only” will make any practical difference, but it sounds good. As for the other, it goes from this:

b. Receives Part Three (I. Notes from a Humanistic, Liberal Zionist: A Personal Narrative; II. A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis; and the Appendixes) and commends it to the church for study.

c. Authorizes the creation of a study guide by the monitoring group (see Recommendation 3.b.).

to this:

b. Delete Part Three, Items I and II  (I. Notes from a Humanistic, Liberal Zionist: A Personal Narrative;  II. A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis), and replace with a series of eight narratives of comparable length, four arising from the range of authentically Palestinian perspectives (including both Christian and Muslim), and four arising from the range of authentically Israeli perspectives, along with an annotated bibliography for additional understanding about the breadth and depth of both authentically Palestinian and Israeli spectrum of perspectives but above all authentically pro justice and pro peace.   These narratives and the bibliography will be collected and approved by the Monitoring Group on the Middle East.

This was a terrific move, at least potentially. The two items listed are completely one-sided, and the second especially is much more political advocacy than any kind of “historical analysis.” If nothing else, the result of this change will be to get two objectionable items out of the report, and open the possibility for something much better (the eight narratives mentioned) to replace them.

If I were a commissioner, I’d have to take a day or two to digest these changes, and I might well still vote against approving the recommendations and report. But I have to admit that the changes the committee members made to the former are a big improvement, and they are to be commended for not swallowing the one-sided partisanship of the MESC whole, but instead bringing a healthy dose of fairness and reality to an otherwise dismal enterprise.