The Kairos Palestine Document and PCUSA’s Response: Time for a Candid Discussion


In 2009 a group of Palestinian Christians drafted a document known as “Kairos Palestine.” In 2010, at the General Assembly of PCUSA in Minneapolis, an effort was made to have our Church adopt the Kairos document as an authoritative position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That effort was defeated. Instead, those assembled recommended for study elements of the Kairos document they found helpful: hoped for liberation of the Palestinian people, calls for nonviolence, love of thine enemy, and reconciliation. A new PCUSA monitoring committee was also established and tasked with preparing a “Kairos Study Guide” which in many respects was a thankless task since, by its very vote, the General Assembly acknowledged that the Kairos document was seriously flawed as a summary of the history of the conflict or as a roadmap for peace in the region. That Study Guide has now been made public and is certain to rekindle the debate over the Kairos document itself.

 Events in the 21st Century appear to be unfolding with ever increasing speed. We have questioned before and question now how a denomination of thoughtful and deliberate people can attempt to essentially legislate foreign policy for our Church or our country at periodic conferences or assemblies. What is even more troubling to us is that the Kairos document is not a balanced or scholarly work upon which to educate our membership on the causes of the conflict in the Holy Land, the complexities of the situation or the solutions required for peace.

 Even more troubling is the sometimes harsh rhetoric in the document that seeks to demonize Israel while turning a blind eye to many problems within the very fractured Palestinian leadership or the many provocative and destabilizing acts of terrorism inflicted on the Israeli people by Hamas and other terrorist organizations operating in Gaza and the West Bank as well as Hizbollah in Lebanon.

 We also believe that the Kairos statement and the PCUSA study guide are seriously flawed because they do not address the remarkable transformation in the Middle East over the last six months which has seen an unprecedented tsunami of protest by Muslims in Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, and to a lesser extent in half a dozen other countries and the fall of so many regimes, with others likely in the near future. There are more security and political challenges facing the region than at any time in modern history. Ideas and plans that look sensible and achievable one day, do not for a variety of reasons weeks later. Studying the Israel/Palestine conflict without studying these challenges is a fool’s game.

 Our Church has had a less than stellar history of dealing effectively with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2004, we adopted overtures that threatened divestment from US companies doing business with Israel, and then in 2006 essentially apologized to our Jewish friends for acting hastily and without proper concern for Israel’s legitimate security needs and for not acknowledging the role Palestinian terrorist attacks have played in undermining the peace process. We promised a more balanced and even-handed view of the problems in the region going forward. We very specificially did not endorse the Boycott/Divestment and Sanction movement then being considered and ultimately rejected by other prominent mainline protestant denominations. 

Unfortunately, in 2008, our Church at General Assembly adopted overtures that favored the Palestinian narrative (The Amman Call) even as it adopted another overture saying that the PCUSA should not over-identify with either the Palestinian or Israeli narratives. In 2010, the GA flirted with but rejected adoption of the flawed Kairos document. Although not a well-balanced guide, the recent Kairos Study Guide carries with it the imprimatur of Church policy or collective viewpoint. 

Ironically, all of these rather one-sided Palestinian initiatives come at a time when not only a sizeable majority of our government, our congregation, and the American electorate supports Israel and its security interests. Our Church which is already struggling to maintain viability in the face of shrinking membership amid other challenging domestic social issues can ill afford to ignore the views of the majority of loyal Church members who want a balanced approach to the Middle East or, if given the opportunity for a plebiscite, might vote in favor of more active support of Israel and condemnation of the violent and anti-Semitic elements of the current Palestinian leadership. 

Here are a few examples of the problems we find with the Karios document that have not been adequately addressed by the Study Guide or the various committees that have considered wholesale adoption of the document: 

1) While great effort was expended in Minneapolis at the last General Assembly by all sides to seek compromise and collaboration, we find ourselves regressing and caught up in a polemical discourse on the Holy Land that divides the region into “the oppressors” and the “oppressed,” “the occupiers” and “the victims,” “the just” and “the unjust.” The word “evil” is used indiscriminately. 

2) The Kairos document renews calls for targeted boycotts or divestment long after our Church has backed away from such extreme and one-sided measures because they do not promote our Church or our country as effective bridge builders for peace. Indeed, it is hard to imagine why any Israeli or their government would value our input if we took such measures. The Boycott/Divestment/Sanction movement is a one-way trip to irrelevancy in the peace process. 

3) The Kairos document broadly labels violence perpetrated by Palestinian groups as “legal resistance.” Calls for the destruction of Israel and the intentional killing of innocent civilians cannot be rationalized or justified by such rhetoric. Indeed, it is repugnant. 

4) Both the Kairos document and the Study Guide adopt the apartheid analogy with South Africa before Mandela. There are to say the least, dangerous distortions created by that allusion that do not square with Israel now as opposed to South Africa then. Much has been written about the harm generated by this analogy and it does not do justice to Israeli democratic institutions, or the Israeli legal system, which is the envy of many in the Arab world. 

5) There is a passing condemnation of “fanaticism and extremism” among Muslims but the document is completely devoid of any historical discussion of the causes of such fanaticism or the day to day way in which such fanaticism undermines the peace process by convincing even moderate, secular and left of center Israelis that there is no hope for peace. Nor is there any discussion about how the takeover of Gaza by Hamas and Hamas governance of Gaza has undermined Israeli confidence that they can “swap land for peace.” 

6) The Study Guide commends the historical synopsis “Resolution on Israel and Palestine: End The Occupation Now” but it is riddled with historical errors equal to or greater than the Kairos document. The Kairos document suggests that the “occupation” of Palestinian lands and its refusal to go back to the 1967 boundaries is the source of all evil in the conflict. Presbyterians will not be able to reconcile their knowledge of the region with such simplistic rhetoric, especially in light of the Hamas Charter which has called and continues to call for the destruction of Israel. Hamas follows its charter in combat: it does not attack Israel to redraw boundary lines, but because it seeks the destruction of Israel. Israel has faced enemies bent on its destruction from its inception, during all the years of its existence and today. The Kairos document does not explain how to implement a two-state solution under such circumstances. 

7)  No mention is made in the Kairos document or any other PCUSA documents on the conflict of constructive roles Presbyterians might make to the peace process, such as positive investment in cooperative economic initiatives to help improve the quality of life in the West Bank and Gaza. Improving the lives of ordinary Palestinians advances the peace process and benefits both parties. Thus, one of the most important areas for careful scrutiny and action is completely ignored. 

More could be said but we will defer to future feature length articles on our website. In conclusion, all of us at Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, want peace in the Holy Land as much as everyone else but we know what history has taught us works and what does not work to get there. We do both sides a great disservice by over- simplifying problems and concerns or by taking sides in ways that demonize current adversaries and future partners for peace.

Presbyterians for Middle East Peace