Overture [12-02]: Good policy vs. Good Words

It is pretty clear that public debate in the United States has devolved into static lines of defenses in which soundbites are weapons. If ever we wondered about the doctrine of the fallen nature of humanity our present crises demonstrates its truth. How is it possible for us to work together to find solutions to the problems if we refuse to pursue real dialogue and instead pursue actions to demonstrate we are better or smarter than the other side?

It is a shame that our society has become infected with this mentality; but it is a disaster when our church sinks to this reality. In essence, we Presbyterians have sometime become the Pharisee, standing before the temple, thanking God that he is not like the other sinner. There is no better example of this desire for self-righteousness than Overture [12-2], which calls for the cessation of all aid to the State of Israel until it improves the standing of non-Jews in society.

First, it is clear that Israel, like many nations including the United States, has issues of inequality and it is certainly an issue that we as Christians must lift up. If inequality is the issue, then we must explore a means to help close the divides. Which begs the question, can 12-2 actually get us there? So let’s take a look at it on its merits.

The call is simple, that PCUSA through its various offices should petition the offices of power in the United States to cease all aid to the State of Israel until Israel’s record on human rights improves. Now, let’s be realistic, does anyone think the Trump administration is going to take such action?Absolutely not. So we are really wasting people’s time by pursuing such a course of action.

“But the church needs to make a statement,” you say. Okay, say you are right and we need to make a statement, and let us reason that somehow President Trump agrees with us and ends all aid to Israel. What happens then? Forgetting geopolitical issues, let us just focus on what happens to economies when public money is withdrawn from society. In the United States, what happens when we cut spending? It is not those in the status quo who see fewer services, it is those who need services who suffer. Education suffers, food programs suffer, housing programs suffer, etc. So what happens in Israel if public money is taken out of society? It is highly likely if not absolutely true, that the Israeli-Arab society will suffer disproportionately more than Israeli-Jews. Is that really what the church wants? I think not.

So even if we get the administration to accept this course of action, it will not have the desired impact we want. Oh, we in PCUSA will be able to puff up our chests and say we did the right thing, and thank God we are not like them, but is that the discipleship that Christ calls us to? I think we all know the answer is no.

But there is an option. There is actually good policy that PCUSA can get behind. Over the last decade, many NGO’s have pursued a path of Shared Society which has produced tremendous gains in the rights of Israeli-Arabs and have demonstrated a way forward. By investing, including investing by the government of Israel, Arab enrollment at the Technion and other institutions of higher learning has increased tremendously, and now matches the overall percentage of Arab population in Israel. However, Givat Haviva has created a partnership to raise math and science proficiency for Arab students with support from the Technion and Netanya Collage. A program created and supported by Givat Haviva has brought Hebrew speaking Jewish teachers into Arab schools and Arabic speaking Arab teachers into Jewish schools to bring down cultural divides. This program is spreading geometrically, assisted by public funds from the government of Israel. What started in 11 schools and 83 classes in 2014 has already grown to 681 classes in 58 schools. It is projected that over 830 classes will benefit from this program in 2018. New efforts are being made to partner Jewish villages and towns with Arab villages and towns to plan development in their regions. All these efforts are expanding and being welcomed by all sectors of society, well almost all sectors. These partnerships already cover populations of over 100,000 Jews and 100,000 Arabs living in 7 regions.

One group passionately works against this Shared Society, and that is BDS. To them shared society in Israel is an anathema, they would much rather beat their breasts in self-righteousness than act for peace. They call such work “normalization of oppression.” We call it reconciliation and the creation of meaningful progress.

So, where do we in the church stand? Do we stand with the ideologues or do we stand with peace, reconciliation and justice? Do we stand with hate or with desire to bridge divides?

Overture 12-2 is the creation of human brokenness. We, as the Body of Christ, need to work towards healing and holistic answers and, as such, we must defeat Overture [12-2]. Let us support the Road Map for a Shared Society that EU Peacebuilding Initiative and Givat Haviva have created that is now before the Knesset. This is good policy!