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US Jewish groups fear anti-Israel endorsement

Presbyterian Church GA may endorse damaging report on Israel.

July 4, 2010 02:02
3 minute read.

The 219th biannual General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) commenced in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Saturday, amid concerns that the conclusions of a report by the church’s Middle East Study Committee (MESC) might be officially endorsed.

In 2008, the PCUSA decided to elect a nine-member committee to conduct a study on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

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The 172-page report produced by the group will be the focus of one of the assembly’s 18 committees, which will present its recommendations at the general assembly on Friday, along with those of members of the other committees, following a week of deliberation and consideration.

The 712 elected commissioners, representing over two million Presbyterians belonging to nearly 11,000 churches across the US, will then vote on the various resolutions.

Insiders say that the votes at the general assemblies tend to follow the recommendations of the specific committees’ members, since each of the commissioners attending the assembly has spent the week in their own committee and cannot be expected to find time for an independent review of each topic brought before the general assembly for a vote.

The report, named “Breaking Down the Walls,” has been harshly criticized by Jewish groups in the US as being “imbalanced and factually flawed,” including its “call to denounce a company for its sales to Israel, and endorsement of the anti-Israel Kairos Palestine document. These actions could extinguish the already flickering hope for positive Jewish-Presbyterian relations,” an announcement issued by Jewish agencies including the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, The Jewish Federations of North American, Jewish religious groups and others read.

But objections to the report and its possible endorsement are emanating from within the PCUSA itself as well.

A large group of pastors and lay leaders (elders) have formed a group called Presbyterians for Middle East Peace and are advocating the rejection of the report, which was meant to be a non-partisan “educational document” on the Middle East conflict, but failed bitterly in this aim.

A pastoral letter from the group has called on the 2010 General Assembly to reject the report, calling it “unbalanced, historically inaccurate, theologically flawed, and politically damaging.”

A detailed document by the Presbyterians for Middle East Peace and distributed among the assembly’s attendees notes the reasons to reject the MESC’s report, citing the fallacy in its claim that “Israel’s occupation of the West Bank” is the primary problem in the conflict.

The document also strongly speaks out against the desire of the report’s authors “to circulate the Kairos Palestine document for denominational study, a document that advocates for a non-Jewish Israel,” which “directly contradicts the PCUSA’s longtime affirmation of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.”

The Presbyterians for Middle East Peace also note the danger to Israel’s security in the MESC’s call for an “unconditional lifting of the embargo of Gaza,” which “would surely lead to a massive influx of rockets and weaponry to be used by Hamas against Israeli citizens.” They slam the appeal to the US government to withhold financial, economic, and military aid to countries “where civil, religious and other freedoms of their peoples are (not) fully exercised.” This, they say, would “effectively end foreign aid for any country, which is totally counter to Presbyterian lobbying efforts to support US foreign aid.”

Another point raised in the document is the MESC’s failure “to engage the mainstream American Jewish community in dialogue, as the PCUSA has done in the past, before proposing actions that relate to Israel and Palestine.”

The 68-page narrative in the report concluding that the Jews in Israel have no relationship with the Jews of ancient times is also noted.

The PCUSA became the first mainline Protestant church to call for divestment from Israel when the 2004 general assembly voted for such economic measures. The motion was rescinded in the 2006 general assembly.

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