The Bitter Fruits of Partisanship: The PCUSA & The USA

For years, Presbyterians for Middle East Peace has been urging PCUSA leaders not to become a partisan player in the Palestine-Israel conflict. While, in many instances, we have been successful in pushing our denomination away from partisanship and toward peacemaking, on the whole, the PCUSA is currently identified as a partisan, pro-Palestinian advocate. As a result, we have become largely irrelevant as a peacemaker in the Middle East. We now see the United States government making the PCUSA’s mistake. While the US government has always been a loyal friend of Israel, it has also been an advocate for Palestinian rights and given hundreds of millions of dollars in aid annually to the Palestinians. However, any claim our government can make to the concept of honest broker in the peacemaking process is evaporating in the heat of the conflict. At the recent General Assembly in St. Louis, an overture was brought forward that called for the elimination of all foreign aid, military, economic and humanitarian, to the State of Israel. The GA, to its credit, realized that such a step would have hurt those who depend upon that aid most. Such an action would not have led to peace but would have served only to further empower the extremists in Israel and Palestine. Rejecting unilateral punishment aimed at Israel or Palestine, the commissioners rejected the overture by an overwhelming majority. Unfortunately, the United States government has not displayed the wisdom of our GA commissioners. In a recent US decision, our government decided to punish the Palestinians by ceasing five hundred million dollars of humanitarian aid to Palestinians ($200 million in bilateral aid to the West Bank and $300 million in humanitarian aid through the United Nations); and ordering closed the Washington, D.C. offices of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (the dominant political party in the West Bank). The reduction of aid will punish the poorest of the poor in the region. These actions can be viewed as a pronounced pro-Israel action and not the actions of a third party seeking to bring about peace.. As the New York Times framed it, “It’s another strike at a half-century of U.S. policy toward the region. For decades, even amid close U.S.-Israeli ties, Washington had tried to position itself as a neutral party in the vexing Mideast conflict, willing to call out both sides when they take steps seen as contrary to the pursuit of peace.” If the U.S. government wants to become as irrelevant to the Middle East peace process as the PCUSA has rendered itself through partisan actions, it is moving in that direction. Despite overtures instructing staff and committees to be non-partisan, the PCUSA approach to the Middle East has been highly partisan; our elected and employed representatives simply support a different side than U.S. policy currently does. The PCUSA correctly condemns any excessive Israeli actions against children but frequently fails to mention the PLO’s use of children for violence. The PCUSA regularly speaks against Israeli military attacks on Hamas but doesn’t mention the rockets fired daily from Gaza into the school yards of southern Israel. Such one-sided partisanship has eroded any credibility the PCUSA denomination had as a Middle East peacemaker. The PCUSA and US government positions mirror each other in their partisanship. They just disagree on whom they support! Through their partisan actions, both the US Government and the leadership of PCUSA, have only enhanced the power of the extremists in the region who do not desire peace. As the political center is vacated in Israel, Palestine and the global community with people moving from peacemaking to partisan positions, will the members and congregations of the PCUSA go beyond partisanship to adopt a new strategy of encouraging reconciliation, seen in Christ’s words and actions? In St. Louis, General Assembly commissioners urged congregations in the PCUSA to nurture young people and others who can create the common ground required for a lasting, just peace for both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples. In the year ahead, Presbyterians for Middle East Peace will be providing resources to help congregations work intensively to pursue that goal.