PFMEP Guide on overtures and resolutions: 223rd Presbyterian General Assembly

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.       2 Corinthians 5: 17-19

Israel has been a major focus of Presbyterian General Assemblies for many years and will be again at the upcoming General Assembly in St. Louis. Presbyterians for Middle East Peace has consistently advocated for the rights of both the Palestinian and Jewish peoples and calls upon the PC(USA) to support all people of good will. We base our position on the following fundamental principles:

That peace is the only solution. There are no winners in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and both peoples suffer the longer the conflict persists. Peace benefits both peoples and provides a better future for all.

That peace can only come from agreement of the two peoples, nor from outside entities.

That both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples have roots and deep connection to the land and the rights of freedom, dignity and self-determination.

That the state of Israel has a right to exist in peace as the homeland of the Jewish people.

That the Palestinian people have a right to a state and homeland living in peace with the state of Israel.

That as Christians we are called to support those seeking reconciliation and justice based on truth for both peoples, and are called to oppose those inciting conflict, distrust, and hatred of the other.

Our approach to overtures and commissioner resolutions up for consideration at the upcoming GA follows these principles. Below are our recommendations on Middle East overtures under consideration.

Overtures [12-03] and [12-04]

These overtures both call for study and support of a letter from a group of Palestinians (the NCCOP letter). We strongly recommend disapproval of both overtures. Contrary to long-established PC(USA) support for the right of Israel to exist as the homeland of the Jewish people living peacefully alongside a Palestinian state, the NCCOP letter labels the very establishment and existence of Israel a crime in violation of “international law.” The letter uses hateful and threatening language, such as the claim that the Jewish people of Israel are illegitimate “colonialists.” The letter promotes the BDS movement, a movement that calls for the dismantling of the Jewish state of Israel. The letter also refers to Christian and international support for the state of Israel as being based on a “twisted theological premise.”

Two articles on the PFMEP website that provide further discussion of these overtures are “Israel has no right to exist?” and “Were David, Mary, and Jesus Colonialists?”.

Overtures [12-02] and [12-05]

We recommend disapproval of overtures [12-02] and [12-05] as written, but could support both if language is modified. Overture [12-02] calls for Israel to be subject to scrutiny of its human rights policies. If this is to be called for, it makes sense to modify overture [12-02] to hold Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and Gaza Strip accountable for their human rights policies, which have come under severe criticism. This is only fair.

Similarly, overture [12-05] addresses dealings with Jewish groups that are pro-Israel. The same standard of conduct should be applied to dealings with pro-Palestinian groups. The overture could be modified to address this imbalance.

Two articles on the PFMEP website that provide further discussion of these overtures are “Overture [12-02]: Good policy vs. Good Words” and “Overture [12-05]: When is truthful dialogue not truthful?”

Overture [12-06]

We recommend approval of overture [12-06]. Unlike several of the other overtures which target only Israel, this overture calls upon both Israeli and Palestinian leadership to ensure that the rights of children are protected. It is a model for a just approach to issues in the conflict.

Overture [12-07]

We recommend disapproval of overture [12-07] which calls for pressure on the RE/Max, LLC to stop engaging in real estate activities in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. RE/MAX has a very strong record of providing equal opportunity to Jews and non-Jews. The overture refers to Jewish residences in East Jerusalem and the Old City as “colonies.” This is biased and misleading terminology since East Jerusalem had a majority Jewish population before all Jews were expelled by the Jordanian army in 1948. Both the Jewish and Palestinian peoples have legitimate connection and roots to these places, and no one should be addressed with the hateful labeling of “colonist.”

Overture [12-08]

We recommend disapproval of overture [12-08] which calls for a study of the final status of Jerusalem. The status of Jerusalem, and any potential partitioning of Jerusalem between Israel and Palestine, is a decision to be negotiated by the parties, with special voice given the Jewish and Arab residents of the city of Jerusalem. There is no justification for the funding of a “study” on this issue.

An article on the PFMEP website that provides further discussion of the Jerusalem issue is “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem.”

Overture [12-01]

We recommend disapproval of overture [12-01], which calls for opposition to state anti-BDS laws on First Amendment grounds. The state anti-BDS legislation that has been enacted is directed at companies (not individuals) engaged in discriminatory business practices. Discriminatory business practices are not protected by the First Amendment, and this has been extensively upheld by the courts. A company that refuses to do business with companies owned by African-Americans, for example, would be engaged in discrimination inflicting harm on others, not free speech. Think also of the bakery that refused to provide a cake for a gay wedding. Discrimination is not protected speech and not protected by the First Amendment.

An article providing further discussion of this overture is “Does perception meet reality?” 

Overture [12-09]

We recommend approval of overture [12-09], a response to the crisis in Syria. The issue within the overture that requires the greatest care in wording is that of the sanctions imposed on the government of Syria related to war crimes committed by the Assad regime. A balance must be struck between the goal of assisting the Syrian people while holding the government of Syria accountable for its actions.

Overture [07-01] 

Overture 7-1 does not specifically address Middle East issues. However, the aim of the overture is so consistent with our theme of reconciliation and opposing anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim actions and words that we feel called to endorse strongly its passage. We cannot oppose extremists in both Israel and Palestine unless we are also opposing extremists in the United States. We urge the General Assembly to approve this overture by acclamation.