Presbyterians for Middle East Peace could not disagree more strongly with the action of the International Engagement Committee of the 225th GA to approve an overture defining the State of Israel as an apartheid state.
Members of the committee voiced concerns about wanting to hear both sides. In fact, only one side was heard: voices of historic anti-Israel activists. In their opening remarks, the overture advocates stated that there was large percentage of Jews both in Israel and America who beleive that Israel is an apartheid state, but there was no evidence given to support such a claim. In fact, there is no polling showing a large percentage of Jewish support in the U.S. or Israel for Israel being labeled an apartheid state. Another advocate also stated that there are over one million Presbyterians in the Middle East. In fact, there are only 1.1 million Presbyterians in the U.S.! It is really hard to tell if the advocates believe these numbers or if they are just choosing arbitrary figures to build up their claims. Either way, the total inaccuracy of their claims should have been enough for committee members to vote against the overture.
Equally disturbing was the response to the question of commissioners of an impact study: how will passage of such an overture impact our partners in ministry? The response from overture advocates and the church’s assigned resource people was they had no idea! A follow up question was, do we (PCUSA) have concrete ministries in the region? The answer was that we have partners in the ELCA and the Episcopal Church.
Our fear going into this GA was that there would not be a real conversation about the issue of apartheid, and our fears were realized. There was no U.S. Jewish or Israeli voice asked to speak to the committee. There were no representatives of the thousands of organizations that have not deemed Israel to be an apartheid state. In fact, the committee did not hear any Palestinians asking the PC(USA) to make such a statement. Rather, the committee chose to hear from three white men that this is what the Palestinians were asking us to do.
There was no discussion about the reality of the State of Israel in which Jews and Arabs have equal rights under the law, where both Jews and Arabs can vote and hold office; where Arabs sit on the Supreme Court. There was much discussion of the oppression of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, which we do not dispute, but no acknowledgement of the rights that Israeli Arabs have in the State of Israel. Instead, as summed up by one supportive commissioner, the Presbytery of Grace offered the overture to apply the label “apartheid to our brothers and sisters in Israel.” Another commissioner spoke about how this was not intended to harm the Jewish people. In fact, there has been absolutely no attempt to discuss the overture with the Jewish people, in the U.S. or Israel, to find out how they would understand the action.
Are we going to take action at the G.A. plenary session that has not been studied to determine the impact of such an action, whether intended consequences or not? Are we going to take an action that has not recieved a real conversation between those for or against the claim of Israel being an apartheid state? Why is PC(USA) moving forward with this overture when the very missions partners named by the overture advocates–The Evangelical Lutherans and The Episcopal Church–both of whom have established churches in Israel-Palestine, collectively agreed to postpone voting on such a divisive issue due to constraints based on Covid19 challenges at their General Assembly in 2022. Shouldn’t the PCUSA, therefore, by the very nature of these being the named mission partners in Israel Palestine by the overture advocates, also postpone voting so that the requests from the commissioners to hear from both sides?
The commissioners in plenary will need to decide if they want to join in the hate-filled language of the stated clerk who labeled Israel a slave state, and was roundly criticized by both those inside the denomination and outside. They also need to decide if they want to do further damage to relationships between PCUSA and Jewish congregations, in communities across the U.S. The International Engagement Committee of the 225th GA, frankly, made a mockery of the PCUSA’s historic commitment to hearing all sides and doing deep research on issues prior to taking controversial decisions. Their recommendation should be rejected on those grounds alone.
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