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219th General Assembly

Click here for our index page on GA 2010

Committee 14: MIddle East Peacemaking Issues

If you have comments on these issues, or material you would like us to post here, please send a note, and if possible we will add it to this page.

For some of our earlier posts on Israel/Palestine >>

"Breaking Down the Walls" report on Israel and Palestine is approved, 558 to 119

But no approval for divestment from Caterpillar -- only "denouncement"

I'll be back with more ... soon.   I hope.

Unprecedented Agreement at 219th GA from Previously Divided Voices

A news release from the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, dated 7-9-10

A week ago, it looked as if the Presbyterian Church (USA) was going to enact a version of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within its own body, so divided were we on all sides. For some of us, the Middle East Study Committee’s report was a long-awaited recognition of the suffering of the Palestinian people, particularly our Christian brothers and sisters, and a stirring call to action and solidarity. For others of us, the report seemed indifferent to Israeli concerns for a secure homeland and the Church’s ongoing relationship with the Jewish community. Coming into the Assembly, some of us were lined up to push the report through; others of us were determined to defeat it.

Today, we still have disagreements on items in the report, on methods we should pursue, on arguments we should make. But today, by God’s grace, we have discovered that together, we may actually be more faithful and effective in seeking peace with justice for both Palestinians and Israelis than separately. To that end, we stand together in support of the report as amended by the Middle East Issues Committee as witness to a new way of approaching this intractable problem and, indeed, a new way of being the Church.

We have learned that we do not have to choose between our commitments. We have learned that we can risk trusting people with whom we were afraid to engage. We have learned that addressing the conflict in the Middle East cannot be a question of winners and losers. We must model how the conflict itself will be resolved: if someone loses, everyone loses. Beyond any expectation, we find ourselves discovering a new model of ministry together, a model committed to seeking, hearing, and responding to the fullness of narratives and commitments with the Palestinian and Israeli peoples, Jews, Christians and Muslims.

Through Isaiah, God says, “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and rivers in the wilderness.” Let us all give thanks for this new thing that God is doing and commit ourselves anew to work together for peace with justice.

Carol Hylkema, Moderator, Israel/Palestine Mission Network
Ron Shive, Chair, Middle East Study Committee
Bill Harter, Co-Convener, Presbyterians for Middle East Peace
Katharine Henderson, President, Auburn Theological Seminary

An introductory look at some issues coming to this committee


Click on any Item number to jump to the full text on the PC-BIZ website.

14-08 Breaking Down the Walls – From the Middle East Study Committee.

This report is at the heart of the work to be done by Committee 14 and by this General Assembly. It deals with a wide range of Middle East issues, and focuses mainly on Israel-Palestine. Its 42 pages entitled “We Bear Witness” lead into 9 pages of recommendations for our church and its members, our government, and all parties to the conflict. These 50 pages are must reading for all commissioners. The other 123 pages have valuable summaries of perspectives, history, the committee’s process, GA policies, Presbyterian Panel results, and two recent documents from Palestinian Christians.

One recommendation has been the focus of special interest because it deals with corporate engagement. The report stops short of recommending divestment, but calls us to “invest positively, after due vetting, in sustainable economic development projects for the West Bank and Gaza (that do not support the occupation) sponsored by Palestinians or jointly by Palestinians and Israelis in equitable partnership.” The GA will be able to deal directly with the divestment issue as it considers a separate MRTI report and two overtures on that topic. Focus on this issue should not detract from attention to all the recommendations, which could help the church make a significant contribution to justice and peace across the region. 

14-01 and 14-02 – On Divestment from Caterpillar, Inc. and 14-03 – the Mission Responsibility Through Investment Report of Its Engagement with Corporations Involved in Israel, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank.

Both overtures call for disinvestment from Caterpillar by the Presbyterian Foundation and Board of Pensions, and for no reinvestment unless MRTI is satisfied that Caterpillar no longer sells equipment to Israel that is used in illegal actions such as building settlements and walls on Palestinian land and destroying Palestinian property. They commend the Church of England and Hampshire College for divesting. 14-02 adds that the Israeli occupation should end for the sake of justice and to prevent the extinction of Christianity in the region.

The MRTI Report begins by citing GA policy: “… all corporations doing business in the region [should] confine their business activity solely to peaceful pursuits, and refrain from allowing their products or services to support or facilitate violent acts by Israelis or Palestinians against innocent civilians, construction and maintenance of settlements or Israeli-only roads in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian territory, and construction of the Separation Barrier as it extends beyond the 1967 ‘Green Line’ into Palestinian territories.” Corporate engagement with Motorola, ITT, United Technologies, and Hewlett-Packard are to continue, in light of some positive responses. But Caterpillar “has produced, sold, and profited from equipment that has been and continues to be used … for clearly non-peaceful purposes ... Caterpillar’s unwillingness to engage with authenticity and openness is unique and disappointing.” The report then “strongly denounces Caterpillar’s continued profitmaking from non-peaceful uses of a number of its products.” Since that report was written, Caterpillar took action to have its distributors stop selling to Iran, due to concerns over Iran’s nuclear program. The company has not taken similar action in Israel-Palestine and remains, after over 5 years of corporate engagement, non-compliant with PC(USA) policy. In the face of such noncompliance, divestment (as called for in the two overtures but not the MRTI report) is the course needed now. 

14-04 – On Recognition that Israel’s Laws, Policies, and Practices Constitute Apartheid Against the Palestinian People.

The overture directs the Stated Clerk to encourage the United Nations to find that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid, and to send this information to the President and Congress. It urges all Presbyterians and especially the Office of Interfaith Relations to study this matter and work to end apartheid. Finally, it directs the GAMC to prepare resources and urge study about Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.

The rationale is based upon the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, adopted by the UN in 1973. The argument is made that the UN should expand the definition of the crime of apartheid to apply to the State of Israel instead of only to individuals. In many discussions in Israel, in the U.S. and elsewhere, comparisons as well as contrasts have been made between South African apartheid and the conditions imposed by Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands.

By passing this overture, GA will help bring the principles of this Convention to bear on the crisis, in the service of arriving at a decent and just life for all the people of Israel-Palestine.

14-05 – On Commending “A Moment of Truth: A Word of Faith and Hope from the Heart of Palestinian Suffering” as an Advocacy Tool.

This overture calls upon the GA to receive an ecumenical statement from Christian Palestinians, known as Kairos Palestine 2009, and commend it for study and advocacy by presbyteries and congregations, and especially by the Office of Interfaith Relations in discussions with Jewish and Muslim groups. The first sentence of the Rationale states: “This is the first time we have a common voice from the grassroots Christians in Palestine asking us to help them get rid of the occupation through concrete acts: theological debates on occupation as sin, and boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaigns.” The 10 ½ page document is included in the rationale. (NOTE: “Receiving” a document implies a general recognition and appreciation of the statement, rather than acceptance of all aspects of the statement.)

Palestinian Christians, and their Jewish and Muslim partners in the quest for a just peace, have made another statement similar to the Amman Call of 2007, with was endorsed and affirmed by the 118th GA (2008). This Kairos document brings up to date the descriptions of the conditions of occupation, rejects violence from any quarter, and furthermore calls for “companies and states to engage in divestment and in an economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation. We understand this to integrate the logic of peaceful resistance.” By receiving and commending this document, the 219th GA will assure that it receives the attention it deserves in Presbyterian congregations.

14-06 – On Middle East Peacemaking.

Perhaps emerging from a weariness with controversy, this overture calls on the GA to answer all overtures concerning Israel and Palestine with a statement that, in recognition of the complex and changing conditions, it is best to take no actions that appear to support either side. PC(USA) leadership should influence peacemaking through prayer, tolerance and reconciliation, advocating step-by-step negotiation toward a two-state solution, condemning all terrorism and unwarranted violence, and providing assistance to innocent victims. The GAMC is to make sure that all staff abide by the directives, and the whole church is urged to pray and conscientiously support the overall welfare of all in the Middle East and the world.

While these statements may sound faithful, they do little more than assure the continuation of the statements and processes that have been in place for many years, and that have ended neither the violence of Israel’s occupation nor the violence of Palestinian rhetoric and actions. Passing the recommendations of the Middle East Study Committee report and overtures that sensitively support or carry forward those initiatives, plus supporting the Palestinian Christians’ Kairos Document and the United Nation’s Goldstone Report – these are the ways to be faithful in difficult times.

14-07 – On Iraq.

This overture calls for prayer for the churches, all who grieve, Iraqis as they rebuild, and refugees; commends the GAMC for keeping us informed about Iraq churches, Presbyterian Women in regard to the Birthday Offering for the KG in Kirkuk, and those ministering to Iraqi refugees; directs the GAMC to continue support in these ways and to direct the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy to study from a perspective of Reformed theology and practice, the costs of the war related to the U.S. economy; calls for prayers for the U.S. government and commends it for some actions in the Kurdish areas, and calls for the U.S. to maintain the announced schedules for withdrawal of troops and contractors, to have no permanent bases, to provide more and quicker help for refugees, and more medical and psychological help for military personnel.

With its position that the U.S. maintain its stated withdrawal goals this overture would strengthen the 2008 GA position, which did not set a firm limit to the length of the occupation. 

14-09 – On Seeking Compliance to U.S. Government Policy in the Use of Military Aid by All Parties in the Middle East.

This overture calls for the application of U.S. law, as well as international law and human rights protections, to all military aid to the region. Criteria for compliance are found in the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act of 1976. While the relevance of U.S. law is all-inclusive, the primary focus is upon Israel’s use of U.S. weapons, which have been used in ways contrary to U.S. law. The main value of the overture is that it makes very explicit long-standing church policy and two recommendations of the Middle East Study Committee.

Item 14-10 Toward Peace and Reconciliation in the Middle East.

This overture from Baltimore Presbytery calls for the GA to join in international efforts to investigate possible violations of international law by both sides during Israel’s military action in Gaza, December ’08 – January ’09. A United Nations report in Sept. 2009 called for independent investigations by both Israel and Hamas. This recommendation has not been implemented; the U.S. Congress voted in Nov. 2009 to have nothing to do with this report, known as the Goldstone Report, after the name of the Jewish South African jurist who led the investigation. The 575-page report alleges extreme violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. The Middle East Study Committee report has many references to Gaza, but does not address this particular concern, probably due to the fact that they were not able to visit Gaza. Passing this overture will appropriately put PC(USA) solidly in line with calling for the parties to conduct their own investigations, and keep alive our church’s long-standing commitment to the rule of law in the Israel-Palestine crisis and our calling for accountability whenever violence occurs.

Justice and Policy at General Assembly: a Middle East-related example, divestment from Caterpillar    [6-18-10]

Introduction: This is the first of a two-part pre-Assembly update from the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP). It contains many links to past and current policy recommendations and other resources. Our reports to the upcoming General Assembly are listed at the end.

ACSWP has kept its focus on its work, despite the impact of the budget reductions announced on May 14 (of 19%) and consequent reduction in force that has, very regrettably, cost the Committee one staff position. Some readers will know immediately that the position of Associate for Policy Development was filled by a human being, a friend and a colleague, Belinda M. Curry. Some of our readers will have served on study teams with her, or met her at a General Assembly. Her presence will be missed, and correspondence can be sent to us for forwarding to her.

The Middle East Study Committee and the Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI) Committee Background for “Advice & Counsel” Memos

This update focuses on one of the issues related to the Middle East Study Committee’s report, “Breaking Down the Walls.” In accordance with ACSWP’s mandate to provide guidance on matters that involve the social witness of the church, the Committee provides “Advice & Counsel Memoranda.” These “A&C’s” usually contain a policy or Biblical application, analysis of the impact of reports or overtures from presbyteries, and recommendations (sometimes amended language) to help commissioners focus on key issues without repetition or contradiction. A&Cs are posted under many items for General Assembly action, and these items can be found on If you hit “committees” on the search bar, pick a committee and its agenda will appear and items can open.

The example here discusses a matter of economic witness and corporate social responsibility (divestment from a specific company, Caterpillar) that is not treated significantly in the Middle East report but which is recommended in two overtures and a public statement by Palestinian Christians (“Kairos Palestine”). At the same time, the Committee that deals with ethical investment matters for the church, the Committee on Mission Responsibility Through Investment (MRTI), presents a case that seems to be for divestment, but then calls simply for “denouncement” of Caterpillar, a company whose armored bulldozers are used in home demolitions, building the “security fence” or wall around Palestinian enclaves, and were used in the invasion of Gaza in early 2009.

Without duplicating the ACSWP A&C on Middle East Committee 14’s Items 01, 02, and 03, this update focuses on the ethical structure of the argument — because these ethical elements are used on other issues as well. To be clear, ACSWP supports the Middle East Study Committee’s solid work as it speaks to the need for urgent action both for peace and justice, and to preserve the remnant of Christians under pressure in both Palestine/Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East. The divestment recommendation is fully consistent, in this perspective, with the Middle East report as a whole.

The Core Values in the A&C: Responsibility takes three forms: Effectiveness, Integrity, and Solidarity:

A consistent theme in the Advice & Counsel memos of the Advisory Committee is that words and deeds should go together. Thus “justice” is a nice word, but unless the church in its various councils and in the lives of members does something, it simply makes “pronouncements.” The words, “policy” and “resolution” are meant to convey implementation, action, program, even if it is simply directing the Assembly’s concern to a proper governmental or private entity. In a complex society with many moving parts, this sometimes means complex sets of recommendations. But the principle — and Presbyterians are good at principles — is clearly that the church takes responsibility itself when it asks others to take responsibility. For better or worse, we Presbyterians tend to think “Responsibility Matters.”

Responsibility actually has two or even three components. When we quote the Book of Order’s preliminary principle, that “Truth is in order to goodness…,” we want effectiveness. “By their fruits shall ye know them,” is another expression. But when we say, “practice what you preach,” we are also calling for integrity. Not purity, as purity is not something Reformed churches and individuals can easily claim. Integrity is when you know that all action is fallible, but that action still makes a difference and that it can express or deny one’s alleged values or identity.

A third component is solidarity, standing with other Christians or others whose voices are being silenced. Most people use a kind of “power analysis,” and can “tell which way the wind is blowing.” Sometimes solidarity is when you choose to go against the stream precisely to help those without power, and sometimes you choose solidarity when you do not have enough power on your own. But the Christian core of solidarity is the doctrine of the mystical body of Christ, of which we all are members! In the case of Palestine and Israel, solidarity says, remember the Palestinian Christians who are being pressed out—by several factors, but notably by Israeli government policy (“Breaking Down the Walls”).

Divestment and Corporate Engagement have a history:

Perhaps the most controversial example of this responsibility ethic is the Advisory Committee’s Advice & Counsel that the General Assembly authorize divestment of Caterpillar stock, rather than simply “denounce” the company for its key role in the occupation of Palestine. Opponents of divestment will try to make it seem radical, as if using economic pressure wasn’t a constant both in Israel and in many of the consumer choices we make. Most Presbyterians probably try to support good companies and products and avoid unsavory ones much of the time. A good analysis of “The Divestment Strategy” was done by the 1984 General Assembly, before it took the action in 1985 of beginning a process of “selective, phased divestment” of strategic corporations operating in South Africa. [Learn more →]. The effectiveness of this strategy was reviewed and re-affirmed by the Assembly in 1991. (1991 Minutes, Part I, pp. 728-738 [Learn more → (PDF)] For various reasons, defenders of Israel’s occupation of Palestine do not want to be reminded of analogies to South Africa.

Many of the critics of divestment do not practice much “corporate social responsibility” in the first place. The whole process of corporate engagement, as MRTI’s report shows, takes years of discussions, shareholder proposals, reports from churches and other partners. But then you get to a point where your integrity says, we have tried to reform from the “inside,” as fractional owners. We will have more impact by selling our shares publicly — if we really think it is wrong to profit from someone else’s suffering. And yes, that act of public sale is sometimes mocked as a feel-good gesture—by those who cannot distinguish very well between integrity and conflict-avoidance. The fact is, divestment FOR the sake of justice and IN solidarity with others, may remove inner conflicts but it adds external ones. And those with guilty consciences who feel judged will take their shots.

The church’s voice is often a subtle instrument — perhaps “still and small,” like the Holy Spirit speaking to the conscience of Elijah — so it gains its power from integrity, not volume. Moral action always has to point to limits, and say some witness is needed. How many Presbyterians, for example, know that their church already divests from nuclear warhead makers, the most war-dependent corporations (by percentage of sales), and the biggest military contractors? [Minutes, 1982, Part I, pp. 259-264 (PDF)] That 1982 divestment decision was made after 10 years of corporate engagement with military contractors during and after the Viet Nam war, and as a response to the 1980 policy, “Peacemaking: The Believers’ Calling,” which says we are responsible to seek peace in all parts of our lives. That emphasis on the linkage of personal and social reform is also present in our long-standing divestment (and systematic avoidance) of securities in companies heavily involved in alcohol, tobacco and gambling? [Learn more →]

Background for the Conversation in your community:

Almost all commissioners to the General Assembly are being approached by members of the “defense organizations” of the Jewish community who wish to defend Israel from what is claimed to be unfair or imbalanced criticism designed to “de-legitimate” Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Perhaps the most succinct expression of this effort to “counter de-legitimate” critical voices—including that of the church—is the game plan of The Reut Institute
[Learn more →]. There is considerable discussion of this in Israel itself, where human rights organizations are under increasing pressure from the very conservative government of Benjamin Netanyahu. Needless to say, the Palestinians are under much harder pressure, and much criticism is aimed at the Christian non-violent statement of December 11, 2009, “A Moment of Truth.” An effort is thus being made to have this document tarnished in a manner similar to the criticism of the “Goldstone Report,” the careful analysis led by a liberal Zionist, Justice Goldstone, of the bombing and invasion of Gaza in December of 2008 and January of 2009 [Learn more → [PDF]]. In other words, there is a common technique at work and international law itself is a target.

At risk of adding more links, but coming now to close this backgrounder, there is much recent debate in the Jewish community over the strategy of defending Israel all the time, no matter what it does. Peter Beinart, once editor of the neo-conservative magazine, The New Republic and a supporter of the Iraq and possible Iran wars, has now changed his position. Writing in the New York Review of Books, his essay, “The Failure of the American Jewish Establishment,” points to a moral failure that is alienating many mainstream and liberal younger Jews [Learn more →]. His is far from the only voice breaking with the groups that claim a single, pro-Likud, Jewish perspective, but his voice is that of a convert and a kind of prophet. There are times when a tipping point in a society’s moral vision occurs, and in this case the behavior of the settlers and the continued encouragement of settlements has perhaps triggered that point. For Turkey, the killing of 9 peace activists trying to bring relief to Gaza appears to be such a point.

But the challenge of divestment is that the church must make up its own mind about its own resources, and not have its moral choices circumscribed by the voices of others, be they corporations or other groups. And that is why we have a General Assembly.
The next update will look at the values of effectiveness, integrity and solidarity in relation to three reports on Gun Violence, Theology of Compensation, and Public Education.

ACSWP Papers going to 219th General Assembly (2010), Minneapolis, MN, July 1-8, 2010

10-09 Living Through Economic Crisis: The Church’s Witness in Troubled Times: A Social Involvement Report for the 219th General Assembly (2010)

10-10 Neither Poverty Nor Riches: Compensation, Equity and the Unity of the Church

10-11 Loving Our Neighbors: Equity and Quality in Public Education (K-12)

11-04 Human Rights Update 2010

11-06 Gun Violence, Gospel Values: Mobilizing in Response to God’s Call

17-Info Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) Agency Summary

17- Self Study ACSWP Self Study

11-07 On Living a Human Life before God

19-05 Becoming an HIV and AIDS Competent Church: Prophetic Witness and Compassionate Action


16 former moderators support Middle East report

Leaders encourage GA commissioners to approve study committee's report

by Bethany Furkin, Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — With the 219th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) days away, 16 former GA moderators are calling for commissioners to approve a study report on Middle East peace that was requested by the 218th GA.

"Breaking Down the Walls" is the report of the Middle East Study Committee. The committee was charged with preparing a comprehensive study focusing on Israel/Palestine with regard to the context of the Middle East. The report includes recommendations and study materials.

"Breaking Down the Walls" affirms Israel's legitimacy as a state but calls the occupation of Palestine (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem) "illegitimate, illegal under international law, and an enduring threat to peace in the region."

The report's recommendations call for the PC(USA) to dedicate 2010-12 as a time of prayer and action about the Middle East; create a Middle East monitoring group to ensure implementation of GA directives; strongly denounce Caterpillar's profit-making from non-peaceful uses of its products in the region; encourage PC(USA) bodies to invest in sustainable economic development projects in the area; send a delegation to the area with other faith leaders; endorse the Kairos Palestine document developed by Palestinian Christian leaders; promote donations to Christian education in the region; and encourage Presbyterians to travel to Israel/Palestine.

The full text of the letter from 15 past moderators, encouraging commissioners to approve the report:

June 15, 2010:

Dear Commissioners to the 219th General Assembly,

Thank you as elders and ministers for taking the time to serve the church in your local congregation and session, presbytery, synod and now on our highest governing body, the 219th General Assembly. We know the amount of reading material before you can be overwhelming. You are in our prayers as you discern the will of God and seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit for our beloved PC(USA) on all the issues before the Assembly.

The purpose of our letter is to ask you to support and approve the Middle East Study Committee report for the following reasons:

    1. The committee membership was chosen to represent the church by our 3 moderators, mandated by the 218th General Assembly, and consisted of different points of view. One from our midst, Rev. Susan Andrews who was the Moderator of the 215th General Assembly, served on the committee.

    2. Their mandate was to write a comprehensive report about the Middle East — focusing on Israel/Palestine, in the context of the whole region. They were asked to talk with the people in the region, particularly our Christian partners, and Jews and Muslims. Their mandate did not focus solely on talking with the American Jewish community. That dialogue is essential as we move forward, but this is a Presbyterian statement and is a work in progress.

    3. Their report builds on — and assumes — all the reports and statements that have been adopted by the GA in previous years — including the many statements that give voice to a Jewish and Israeli perspective. This report gives voice to the Palestinian Christian voice in a way that has not been heard before — in response to the urgency of the moment and the plea of our Christian brothers and sisters in the region to be heard. There is unanimity among all the many diverse Christian voices in the region in a way that has never happened before. It is a voice of suffering and urgency — and is echoed by moderate Muslim partners. The window of opportunity is closing for a peaceful solution to the problems in Israel/Palestine, and the threat of renewed violence is everywhere. The Christian presence has dwindled significantly in the past 50 years in Palestine/Israel, and so, the voice of reconciliation that Christians have always represented in the region is being silenced.

    4. Their report reaffirms what the PCUSA has wanted for decades — a desire for commitment to a peaceful two state solution, within secure and recognized borders, in a nuclear free Middle East; the right of return or compensation for refugees, the security barrier pulled back to the 1967 borders, the end of settlement expansion, the right of Israel to exist next to a sovereign, independent and economically viable Palestine, a shared Jerusalem, all with a clear repudiation of anti-Semitism.

    5. Their report lifts up the Kairos document for study — not approval — so that a collaborative Palestinian Christian voice can be heard. The study team report affirms the emphases in the Kairos document on non-violence and reconciliation and hope. The report does not affirm or endorse language about boycott, divestment, or sanction, although, it reaffirms corporate engagement and other non-violent ways to end support for the occupation.

    6. The biblical and theological section clearly repudiates any hint of Christian Zionism or supercessionism. What it does do is tie responsibilities for justice, human rights and hospitality to the biblical understanding of land rights.

    In light of the urgency of the situation in Israel/Palestine, the 43 years of Israeli military occupation over the lives of 4 million Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, the continuous building of settlements is making the two state solution increasingly difficult.

    We urge you to be a prophetic assembly by approving this report to help the whole church begin a two year study of Israel and Palestine and asking our people to travel and meet Israeli Jews, Palestinian Christians and Muslims, and see the situation for themselves. Our church must continue to love both Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs and continue to struggle with them to work for truth, freedom, justice, reconciliation and peace.

Again, we urge you to support and vote in favor of this report.

Sincerely in the service of Jesus Christ,

(Our names below indicate our support)

bullet    The Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow, 2008-2010 218th
bullet    Elder Rick Ufford-Chase, 2004-2006 216th
bullet    The Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel, 2002 214th
bullet    The Rev. Jack Rogers, 2001 213th
bullet    The Rev. Syngman Rhee, 2000 212th
bullet    Elder Freda A. Gardner, 1999 211th
bullet    The Rev. Douglas W. Oldenburg, 1998 210th
bullet    Elder Marj Carpenter, 1995 207th
bullet    The Rev. Robert W. Bohl, 1994 206th
bullet    The Rev. David Dobler, 1993 205th
bullet    The Rev. John M. Fife, 1992 204th
bullet    The Rev. Dr. Herbert Valentine, 1991 203rd
bullet    Elder Price H. Gwynn, III, 1990 202nd
bullet    The Rev. Benjamin Weir, 1986 198th
bullet    The Rev. Dr. Albert C. Winn, 1979 119th
bullet    Elder Jule C. Spach, 1976 116th

Is criticism of Israel anti-Semitic?

Michele Chabin, of Religion News Service, raises this question, which is at the heart of many Jewish and pro-Israel criticisms of the Middle East report coming to this General Assembly.

She begins:

Veteran newswoman Helen Thomas’s suggestion that Israelis should “get the hell out of Palestine” and “go home” to Poland, Germany and the U.S., was widely seen as anti-Israel.

But was it anti-Jewish?

As Israel faces unprecedented censure from the world community — including economic, academic and cultural boycotts — the Thomas incident raised the question of when, if ever, anti-Israelism equals anti-Semitism.

She tells of various efforts to equate criticism of Israeli with hatred of Jews – or anti-Semitism. But she also quotes Adam Keller, a Jewish Israeli and spokesman of Gush Shalom, a liberal organisation that is critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians, as saying:

There can be someone who thinks the existence of the State of Israel is wrong because the creation of Israel is an injustice to the Palestinians. ... While I would not deny that some people are using criticism of Israel as a mask for anti-Semitism, I think there is a systematic campaign that tries to label everyone who criticizes Israel an anti-Semite. Doing so does not make me a self-hating Jew.

The full article >>

Habits of anti-Judaism: Critiquing a PCUSA report on Israel/Palestine    [6-14-10]

Two scholars at Vanderbilt Divinity School one Protestant and the other Jewish, have published a careful and intricate critique of what they see as lingering traces of “anti-Judaism” in the report coming to GA from the Middle East Study Committee, entitled "Breaking Down the Walls."

They are not arguing against the report as a whole, and its call a just peace in Israel/Palestine. But they see “old habits” of negative attitudes toward Judaism which must still be resisted.

Anyone who wants to support this important report may find it helpful to pay close attention to the points they make, which may well be cited in debate as reasons for opposing the report as a whole.

The article has just been published in Christian Century.

See the next post below, for a response to this article.

Defenders of Israel seek to influence Presbyterian General Assembly    [6-28-10]

James M. Wall, former editor of The Christian Century, has posted a blog responding to two recent articles attacking the report being present to General Assembly by the Middle East Study Commission, and its recommendations calling for change especially, but not exclusively, in Israeli policies. We recently posted a link to the article in Christian Century, by two Vanderbilt Divinity School professors, Ted A. Smith and Amy-Jill Levine; the other has appeared in Newsweek magazine.

NOTE:  James Wall headlines his essay: "Israeli 'Agents' Infiltrate Presbyterian General Assembly."  Your WebWeaver has chosen to uses a less provocative line to head this post, but it's worth noting Wall's original wording.

Wall writes:

It is possible that one or more of the anti-resolution quartet members has devoted time to academic study of the history, politics and ethics involved in this issue, or conducted on-the-ground research investigation in the area.

There is, however, no evidence of practical nor scholarly wisdom regarding the current political situation in either article.

He adds:

Both articles ignore the harsh reality of Israel’s six decades of immoral and unethical treatment of the Palestinian people. There is nothing about the Nakba, the “security wall” or the prison-like conditions under which Palestinians are forced to live.

We commend this essay to your attention >>

Here's one new example of efforts to influence the Assembly:

This comment has come in an email from a person writing under the pen name of "Scott Davis." His note is posted here with no editing of its formatting. He says he is a member of various Jewish groups, but is speaking for himself in this note.
[posted here 6-30-10, updated 7-7-10]

Your comments are welcome!
Just send a note, to be shared here.


Seven Concerns regarding Committee 14 report "Breaking Down The Walls" and
 Questions about its views regarding Israel's new blockade policy


Concern #1:  Committee 14 did not adequately get input from mainstream Jewish organizations supporting Israel.

A June 29, 2010 article in the journal Christian Century, "Habits of anti-Judaism
Critiquing a PCUSA report on Israel/Palestine", states a Committee 14 letter addressed to 'Our American Jewish Friends,'  "laments the difficulty of working with 'organizations within the mainstream Jewish community. This difficulty should be the occasion for dialogue, not an excuse for avoiding it." [

 The article also reports, "The committee did meet with the American Jewish Committee's representative in Israel, but he told the Jewish Week, "They listened to nothing."  Furthermore, this meeting only lasted 20 minutes according to a report from the pro-Israel group 'Standwithus [ ] 

   Concern #2:  Bias by Committee 14 writing the report is likely to be perceived  

 In addition to not getting adequate input from pro-Israel groups, noted in Concern #1, I understand from Standwithus that 7 of the 9 Committee 14 members preparing this report had been openly and actively critical of Israel before being appointed.  I also understand from Standwithus that one member resigned after a short time, expressing the view that this committee was biased and had already predetermined the outcome of its research before it started.  Please check if these assertions are correct.

Concern #3:   Potential dissension with Presbyterian congregations if this report is approved

  Given Concerns #1 and #2 above as well as other concerns listed below, this report might create dissension within Presbyterian USA congregations.  The results of focus group evaluations and other evaluations of such potential impacts might be helpful to GA PCUSA delegates before they decide whether to approve this report.

 Concern #4:   The report does not assess the likely increased persecution of Christians and Christian institutions by Muslims as an impact of ceding East Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority, a ceding which Committee 14 favors.

 4.1)  The Arab Christian mayor of Bethlehem Elias Freij sought Israel to not deliver Bethlehem into the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority for fear the Muslim power would persecute Christians.  

4.2) National Geographic Magazine in the article "Bethlehem 2007 A.D." reports on the ever increasing exodus of Christians from Bethlehem.  It reports, "Christians are afraid that if we speak frankly and Muslim families hear, we'll be persecuted," says the patriarch (of a Christian family). "We'll be forced to pay a lot of money. And physical things, of course, are possible. Arson. Anything you can think of." 

4.3) The New York Post 2009 Christmas edition (Dec. 25, 2009) article  "Bethlehem's exodus" reports,  "Fifty years ago, Christians made up 70 percent of Bethlehem's population; today, about 15 percent. . . the story's the same in Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere in the Mideast. Practically the only place in the region where the Christian population is growing is in Israel...Many [Muslims] see the land as Waqf -- belonging to the Muslim nation. They increasingly buy or confiscate land -- and talk of laws to ban Christian landownership. " 

4.4).   In December 1997, the London Times reported: "Life in (PA-ruled) Bethlehem has become insufferable for many members of the dwindling Christian minorities. Increasing Muslim-Christian tensions have left some Christians reluctant to celebrate Christmas in the town at the heart of the story of Christ's birth."

So it is unclear why Committee 14  seems to be recommending placing Christians and Christian institutions in East Jerusalem subject to increased risk of persecution through transfer to PA jurisdiction. 

Concern #5:   It is unclear why Committee 14 believes that if Israel adopts Committee 14 policies that then conditions will be ripe for peace - given that both the PA and Hamas utterly reject the UN establishment of Israel, the existence of Israel even within its pre-1967 borders, and have inculcated this policy throughout the fabric of their society where they demonize Israel and make its destruction a religious duty.  

5.1) US Senate presentation.   For 11 minute video go to 

5.2)  A May 2010 Palestinian Media Watch report shows that PA President Abbas was untruthful to President Obama when their talks began in May 2010 when Abbas said that the PA wants to live side by side with Israel in peace.   Abba's actions and those who report to him show the exact opposite.   See report at 

5.3)  Children say that suicide bombing to kill Israelis is better than peace ] 

5.4)  The chief PA negotiator of the Oslo Peace Accords said that the strategy of the PA is to entirely destroy Israel, by first getting whatever it can by diplomacy, and when it cannot get more, then to return to violence. 

Likewise a senior PA member of the PA parliament stated the PA follows Yasser Arafat's strategy which is to follow diplomacy and violence as each is useful.  He said Arafat would condemn terror by day "while at night he would do honorable things".  PA TV July 22, 2009 

5.5) PA TV recently showed: "Where are you [Israelis] from? Of course, you're from Ukraine; of course, you're from Germany, from Poland, from Russia, from Ethiopia... I ask of you, return to your original homeland!"  [PA TV (Fatah), May 4 and 7, 2010] 

5.6) PA has continued to honor terrorists who have killed Israeli civilians by naming sporting events after them, a practice repeatedly condemned by the Obama administration.

5.7) A Muslim cleric on PA TV on May 14, 2010 says its a religious duty to destroy Israel and that driving out the Jews from all of Palestine is more important than peace. 

Concern 6:   Why does Committee 14 insist on withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders which is a position that diverges from 1967 UN Resolution 242 that Israel should withdraw to borders that are secure?   

The UN Resolution 242 of 1967 says that Israel should withdraw from territories occupied in the 1967 6-day war, but not "the territories" where "the" implies all, as the Arab nations wanted.  Res. 242 also said Israel should have "secure and recognized boundaries" which the UN believed may not have been not provided by the 1948 truce lines.  So Committee 14 should explain why it diverges from this UN resolution.   See UN Res. 242 at: 

Also, some of the areas beyond Israel's 1948 truce lines, such as the area south of Jerusalem, had thriving Jewish communities that were conquered and massacred by the Jordanian army in the last days of the 1948 war - a serious war crime.  Committee 14 should explain why these communities should not have been later re-established after the 1967 war and allowed to live in security within Israel.     See link: 

Concern #7:  Unclear why Committee 14 wants to strengthen PA and Hamas insofar as they want to destroy Western values and culture, including Christian religion and freedoms Committee 14 cherishes. 

 7.1) Hamas MP: Islam to conquer Christian world and save them from Hell  
Al Aqsa TV (Hamas) Apr. 11, 2008  
7.2) Islam will rule the world : On PA TV a religious official of the PA Ministry of Religious Affairs declares that Allah will cause the demise of the US, and Islam will eventually rule the US, Britain, and the entire world.  

Palestinian TV (Fatah) May 13, 2005

7.3)  A PA official cleric on PA TV asks Allah to, "Annihilate the Infidels and the Polytheists - Your [God's] enemies and the enemies of the religion. God, count them and kill them to the last one, and don't leave even one," after London bombing in 2005.  On PA TV July 8, 2005

7.4)  Hamas TV sermon on April 23, 2010: Iceland volcanic eruption was Allah`s punishment for Infidels in all of Europe.

Questions to Committee 14 policy regrading Israel's current Gaza blockade  

Committee 14 has stated that Israel should end its blockade so that humanitarian aid can enter Gaza.  I request the Committee 14 discuss its considering how this action might allow more Hamas terrorists and more heavy military weapons, including larger and longer range rockets into Gaza which Hamas can then fire at Israel, which it has sworn to destroy and why Israel has the blockade.  Is Committee 14 concerned about this danger to Israel if the blockade is ended?    

Also, Israel has recently relaxed its policies so more humanitarian aid can enter Gaza through Israel - which was welcomed by the Obama administration and others. 

[see ].  Will Committee 14 modify its blockade ending policy after taking into account this new Israeli policy?   

Your comments are welcome!
Just send a note, to be shared here.


Some blogs worth visiting


PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, politics, culture, travel, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


John Shuck’s Shuck and Jive

A Presbyterian minister, currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., blogs about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


Plan now for our 2010 Ghost Ranch Seminar!


July 26-August 1, 2010



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