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June 19, 2014 1

Anti-Israel Resolutions Debated at Presbyterian Church USA’s General Assembly

Israel is very much on the agenda at this year’s Gen­eral Assem­bly (GA) of the Pres­by­ter­ian Church USA (PCUSA), cur­rently meet­ing in Detroit.  All four­teen res­o­lu­tions, or over­tures, being con­sid­ered by the Mid­dle East Com­mit­tee con­cern the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, as does one before the Ecu­meni­cal and Inter­faith Com­mit­tee.  The PCUSA, which has had a pres­ence in the Mid­dle East since the early 1800’s, has taken up divest­ment at each bien­nial meet­ing since 2004. In 2012, the divest­ment res­o­lu­tion was nar­rowly defeated.  This year, it is once again on the agenda, as are over­tures to boy­cott Hewlett-Packard (HP), to label Israel an “apartheid state,” and to study whether the Church should main­tain its com­mit­ment to a two-state solu­tion. ADL, rep­re­sented at the GA by its Inter­faith Direc­tor, Rabbi David Sand­mel, opposes these mea­sures as unfair to Israel and con­trary to the goal of achiev­ing a two-state solution.

There are also over­tures being con­sid­ered that oppose divest­ment and sug­gest a “third way” of engag­ing the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict through sup­port­ing peace-makers, travel to the region and encour­ag­ing study­ing a broad range of views through local relations.

Dur­ing the first few days of the GA, com­mit­tees receive over­tures pro­posed by local gov­ern­ing bod­ies, hear tes­ti­mony, debate amend­ments, and even­tu­ally decide what actions to rec­om­mend the GA take regard­ing the over­tures they received.  While the com­mit­tees have a great deal of influ­ence on what finally ends up before the entire polity, it is the GA that makes the final deci­sion, which is sched­uled for Fri­day, June 20.

Pow­er­ful groups within the Church, such as the Israel/Palestine Mis­sion Net­work, which pro­duced the anti-Semitic “Zion­ism Unset­tled doc­u­ment,” sup­port divest­ment.   Due to the GA’s struc­ture, these groups have a dis­pro­por­tion­ate voice in the Com­mit­tee, and are sup­ported by the anti-Israel Jew­ish Voice for Peace, whose promi­nent vis­i­bil­ity at the GA has con­fused some par­tic­i­pants into think­ing they rep­re­sent the main­stream Jew­ish com­mu­nity.  More mod­er­ate voices within the Church, such as Pres­by­te­ri­ans for Mid­dle East Peace, have been work­ing closely with the ADL and a broad coali­tion of other major Jew­ish orga­ni­za­tions and reli­gious lead­ers to bring a fairer per­spec­tive to the deliberations.

Though the Mid­dle East Com­mit­tee did vote on June 17 in favor of divest­ment from HP, Cater­pil­lar and Motorola, it also explic­itly stated “the action does not mean align­ment with the over­all strat­egy of BDS (Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions).” The over­ture that rec­om­mends divest­ment also reaf­firms Israel’s right to exist within secure and inter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized borders.

There is also the large major­ity of Pres­by­te­ri­ans who sup­port the state of Israel while also sym­pa­thiz­ing with the suf­fer­ing of the Pales­tini­ans. They feel torn between their com­mit­ment to pos­i­tive Jewish-Christian rela­tions and desire to see an end to the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, and some have expressed feel­ing over­whelmed with input from all sides. While the bar­rage of anti-Israel rhetoric from cer­tain sec­tors has been chal­leng­ing to hear, the shrill­ness of their mes­sage may be pro­duc­ing a back­lash, espe­cially when com­pared to the more mea­sured pre­sen­ta­tion from the mod­er­ates and rec­og­nized main­stream Jew­ish organizations.

It is clear that the Church is divided on how best to address the Israeli-Palestinian con­flict, as demon­strated by the con­flict­ing rec­om­men­da­tions of the Mid­dle East Com­mit­tee. The process in the com­mit­tees is dif­fer­ent than that of the GA where the debate is much more bal­anced. While in the past the GA has rejected rec­om­men­da­tions of the Com­mit­tee, what will hap­pen this year can­not be pre­dicted, and, as the vote draws near, there will likely be intense lob­by­ing of the vot­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tives from all sides.

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June 6, 2014 0

MLA Votes “Not Interested” on Anti-Israel Resolution

After months of tumult and advo­cacy among con­cerned mem­bers, the Mod­ern Lan­guage Asso­ci­a­tion (MLA) announced that a res­o­lu­tion crit­i­cal of Israel had failed in its all-members vote.   While the fail­ure to rat­ify the res­o­lu­tion is a suc­cess for its oppo­nents – led by the ad hoc group MLA Mem­bers for Scholar Rights – the real news of the vote is the over­whelm­ing lack of inter­est by the MLA mem­ber­ship to even engage on this issue.

Fewer than the required thresh­old of 10% of the almost 24,000 MLA mem­ber­ship voted in favor of the res­o­lu­tion, with 1,560 mem­bers vot­ing  in sup­port, and 1,063 mem­bers vot­ing against.

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The deeply flawed res­o­lu­tion crit­i­cized Israel for deny­ing U.S. aca­d­e­mics of Pales­tin­ian ori­gin entry into the West Bank for schol­arly work.  As with other sim­i­lar efforts, it was pro­moted by a small group of highly politi­cized activists, who, in the words of one attendee at the MLA’s annual con­fer­ence in Feb­ru­ary (which included a panel dis­cus­sion in favor of the boy­cott of Israeli aca­d­e­mic insti­tu­tions), were “intent on politi­ciz­ing the event and tak­ing advan­tage of the membership’s gen­eral lack of aware­ness to foist a wholly non-academic issue to the fore­front of the conference.”

The refusal of the vast major­ity of the MLA mem­ber­ship to get engaged on the con­trived issue of Israel obstruct­ing aca­d­e­mic access into the West Bank reflects the gen­eral unwill­ing­ness of mem­bers of other aca­d­e­mic and pro­fes­sional asso­ci­a­tions who have been asked to pick a side on res­o­lu­tions crit­i­cal of Israel or call­ing for boy­cotts of Israeli col­leagues and insti­tu­tions.    Even the Amer­i­can Stud­ies Asso­ci­a­tion (ASA), an orga­ni­za­tion known for its polit­i­cal activism, could only muster about 1/5 of its mem­ber­ship to vote on a (suc­cess­ful) res­o­lu­tion sup­port­ing a boy­cott of Israel aca­d­e­mic insti­tu­tions in Decem­ber 2013.

For anti-Israel activists, every one-sided res­o­lu­tion, every biased panel dis­cus­sion at an esteemed asso­ci­a­tions’ con­fer­ence, is  seen as an oppor­tu­nity to tar per­cep­tions about Israel, even among the many who refrain from get­ting engaged.  The ongo­ing chal­lenge for sup­port­ers of Israel is to effec­tively coun­ter­act the extreme vil­i­fi­ca­tion of Israel pro­moted by vocal indi­vid­u­als within these pro­fes­sional and aca­d­e­mic asso­ci­a­tions, while pos­i­tively shap­ing opin­ions among the unin­formed and largely unin­ter­ested majority.

 

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May 19, 2014 2

Vassar College President To Investigate Anti-Israel Student Group Activity

In response to a series of anti-Semitic posts pub­lished on social media accounts affil­i­ated with Vassar’s Stu­dents for Jus­tice in Pales­tine (SJP) chap­ter, Catharine Hill, the Pres­i­dent of Vas­sar Col­lege, announced that “the col­lege is ini­ti­at­ing a full inves­ti­ga­tion and action on the mat­ter” and that she will be ask­ing the Vas­sar Stu­dent Asso­ci­a­tion (VSA) to review SJP’s pre-organization sta­tus; the group is a “pre­lim­i­nary orga­ni­za­tion” on campus.vassar-sjp

Anti-Semitic and racist mes­sages allegedly dis­sem­i­nated by the Vas­sar chap­ter of SJP included an arti­cle that was reposted from The Occi­den­tal Quar­terly, a racist print pub­li­ca­tion that in its own words, hopes to “defend the racial group that cre­ated and sus­tains our civ­i­liza­tion.” Another post that appeared on Vas­sar SJP’s Tum­blr page was of a car­toon that used offen­sive Holo­caust imagery to con­demn alleged Israeli poli­cies. It depicted a so-called “Holo­caust” in Gaza, with a pile of human skulls topped with a sign that read “Gaza.”

On May 13, a day before Hill’s state­ment, Vas­sar SJP posted a state­ment on its Face­book page claim­ing that, “Up until this point, the social media plat­forms (tum­blr and twit­ter) asso­ci­ated with SJP Vassar’s name have been man­aged by one per­son and the SJP gen­eral body was not involved in deci­sions made about what was being posted.” The group also con­demned hate speech and apol­o­gized for the offen­sive posts.

Con­cern over Vas­sar SJP’s activ­ity first began in Feb­ru­ary when the group orga­nized a protest out­side of an Inter­na­tional Stud­ies class, whose pro­fes­sor co-led a trip to Israel to explore water issues as part of the course. The protest report­edly lasted for at least 30 min­utes, as stu­dents enrolled in the course attempted to enter the classroom. 

As the stu­dents tried to make their way into the class­room, the pro­test­ers called on them to drop the class because of the orga­nized trip to Israel. They also handed out fly­ers, which apart from call­ing for Boy­cott, Divest­ment and Sanc­tions (BDS) cam­paigns against Israel, also claimed that “The sim­ple act of enter­ing and mov­ing within the state of Israel is a free­dom denied to over 5 mil­lion Pales­tin­ian refugees who were eth­ni­cally cleansed from their homes…The indige­nous peo­ple of Pales­tine do NOT want you to come.” 

Hill’s state­ment is an impor­tant step toward ensur­ing that Jew­ish and pro-Israel stu­dents on cam­pus are made to feel com­fort­able and that bla­tant anti-Semitism and hos­tile rhetoric will not be tol­er­ated on campus.

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