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June 19, 2014

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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July 5, 2012

Jewish Voice for Peace Lobbying Hard for Church Divestment

Update: The Presbyterian Church voted against divestment late Thursday evening, July 5. While ADL welcomed the decision, we are troubled that the issue was decided on such a narrow vote (333-331 with 2 abstentions) and that the debate was biased from start to finish with vehement anti-Israel sentiment.  

Jewish Voice for Peace has been a highly visible and vocal advocate in the General Assembly in favor of the Presbyterian Church’s consideration of a virulently anti-Israel divestment resolution. The resolution, which calls for the church to divest from three companies that allegedly profit from Israel’s occupation (Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard), will be voted on later today by the full plenary after it was passed in committee earlier this week.

There is much to criticize about the problematic nature of the resolution itself, but one of the more disturbing elements of this campaign has been Jewish Voice for Peace’s aggressive lobbying for it.

The group invested significant time and resources to send a delegation of activists to the General Assembly who reportedly testified on the committee floor in favor of divestment and are live-tweeting the conference. A large portion of Twitter chatter about the resolution has been generated by JVP using the hashtag “#churchdivest” to provide updates on the resolution. Of tweets using that hashtag in the last 36 hours, approximately 25% have been generated by JVP and two of its staff people.

JVP activists have also created and distributed a flier called “Divest from Violence. Invest in Peace” which contains several statements from Christians who support divestment, and is circulating a petition that calls on Presbyterians to support divestment. The petition claims that the international community has failed in its efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and it is clear that BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) is now the only option left. The petition ends with, “Can you tell Presbyterians we’ve got their back?”

It is clear that JVP believes it has a very critical role to play in the domestic anti-Israel agenda: JVP promotes itself as representing the views of American Jews and can be seen as trying to provide cover against claims that the Presbyterian divestment initiatives are anti-Semitic. Nobody should be fooled. JVP is a fringe organization with its own anti-Israel agenda.

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June 27, 2012

Sabeel Attacks Israel From All Angles In Its “Cornerstone” Publication

The Spring 2012 edition of Cornerstone, a publication of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, is a full scale assault on Israel’s legitimacy from all angles. The Sabeel Center is a driving force behind the campaign by mainline Protestant churches to divest from Israel, including a number of proposed resolutions being considered at next week’s Presbyterian General Assembly.

The publication depicts Israel as systematically racist, employs offensive Holocaust imagery and uses theological arguments to demonize the Jewish State.

An article titled The Role of the Prophet, written by Sabeel Center co-founder and executive committee member Jonathan Kuttab, notes that “Judaism brought [together] the two correctives of the Law and the Prophets.” It then describes Israel as an unjust and racist country that approves “laws that violate the interests and freedoms of the individual or the minorities living among them.”

Kuttab blames most Jews in Israel for what he perceives as unfair treatment of the Arab population, saying, “the majority of Israeli Jews, acting through their duly elected representatives are the architects of these laws.”

An article submitted by Mossawa, the advocacy center for Arab citizens of Israel, is titled Anti-Democratic, Anti-Arab Legislation in Israel. The synopsis states “there are at least 35 laws which discriminate directly or indirectly against Arab citizens of Israel.” The article lists “four key legislative measures” as evidence, citing as one example the Citizenship law, which Mossawa claims “disproportionately affects Arab citizens,” although it applies to all Israelis.

An Open Letter to Foreign Missions by Taiseer Khatib, an Arab citizen of Israel, tells a story of his wife and children having problems obtaining permanent residency inside of Israel. This problem, Khatib contends, is a result of the Citizenship Law, which he claims shows Israel’s racism since its goal is allegedly to “diminish the number of the Arab population.” He adds that this “should remind Jews in Israel of dark times in their own history, when they were themselves separated from their families, never to see them again.”

A poem titled Hear O Israel by Jewish Voice for Peace activist David Glick also makes claims that Israel is inherently racist and compares the country to Nazi Germany, saying, “But what O Israel/Have you become?/The Nazis made me fearful to be a Jew/but you [Israel] have made me ashamed.” He then writes “Time to confront the darkness we have become./With the Holocaust it is Never Forget/but with Deir Yassin it is Never Mind.”

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