It was a feeling I had experienced before – sitting in the front row of the Cyclone roller coaster on Coney Island, the feeling of being thrown back and pushed when the speed of the drop made my heart leap into my throat.
Remove the euphoria of being on the Cyclone and you will have a taste of my experience at the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA ) as I sat in on the Middle East Issues committee’s deliberations about Israel.
I saw the entire process unfold, from the introduction of the overtures in the committee, to the in-depth discussion of each overture and commissioner resolution, as well as the debate and vote on the plenary floor in front of the entire General Assembly.
We know now the result: the PCUSA has voted to remove investment from three American companies doing business in Israel, also known as divestment.
I was thrown back by the hours of libel against Israel during committee deliberation, by speakers who painted a picture of the Jewish state that held it solely responsible for the lack of peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. The frustration at this situation was palpable; it is a frustration I share. Commissioners shared what they had seen during their travels to Israel and to Palestinian communities.
Israel was the only topic for Middle Eastern Affairs.
There were some resolutions discussing the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Iran and other Middle Eastern countries deliberated by a separate Peacemaking and International Issues committee. The resolutions themselves do not mention the persecution of Christians in the Arab world. None of them specifically called for any action, in contrast to the overtures on the table about Israel.
Putting myself in the shoes of someone who knew very little about the conflict, like many in that room, I could understand why they would believe everything they heard and vote to divest from Israel. They were supposed to be able to trust the people brought in to present the issues. Being deluged by seemingly heartfelt speakers who only told one side of this extremely complicated story, being shown maps that show shrinking Palestinian territory and not understanding the errors and full context of what was being shared, any person would be convinced to vote the way that they did.
It was clear that these well-intentioned people were being misled, as evidenced by different comments of the committee members and outside people invited to speak. After hours of presentations, much did not sit well with many delegates.
One commissioner implored the committee for another perspective to be presented. His motion was greeted with many hands flying in the air in agreement.
I was grateful that they realized there must be another side.
People were confused because there is no easy answer. One person said: “I do not know what to believe but I believe in Jesus.” Someone asked, “Are we doing this for righteous reasons?” Someone else asked if this push for divestment was a “moral band-aid to make us feel like we are doing something to promote peace.”
I could also identify with one person who stood up and said that he was very concerned about what he was going to do when he had to explain to his home church and his rabbi friends what had happened at this General Assembly.
It was clear that the commissioners wanted to do something meaningful, to send a clear message. However, when only Israel is blamed for the suffering of the Palestinians, you are removing any responsibility from the leadership of the Palestinians themselves. You may think that divestment is sending a powerful message of moral stewardship, an idea that was repeated many times. You may think that divestment is taking a prophetic stand and sending a message of “tough love” to the Israelis.
You would be wrong.
Divestment indeed sends a strong message: It removes your credibility as an agent of reconciliation. You join a wider movement called Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) that promotes ill will toward Israel and seeks the ultimate elimination of the Jewish state. I heard it stated time and again that the intention was not to be a part of the larger BDS movement. Unfortunately, the “D” IN BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) is Divestment. The BDS movement does not have good intentions. Just ask one of the founders, Omar Barghouti, who has openly said, “We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine.”
It takes courage and humility to admit when you are wrong. Yet this is what members of the church must be prepared to do.
As a Bible-believing Christian, to see and hear the truth being perverted in the name of justice, reconciliation and love, was what pained me the most. To hear it said that “Jesus had no problem criticizing Jews, so why are we afraid to?” showed me that the name of Jesus was only used when convenient. Since I care about what is in God’s heart, I care for and love His people. This love is based on truth.
My main passion and work is illuminating the truth of this issue. Is Israel perfect? By no means. It is still a government run by human beings, and has the same issues that other Western democracies have. What we need to ask ourselves is: does divestment impose a peace that includes the aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians? If you do not know as much as you would like, there is an amazing resource called Israel 101 that is produced by Stand- WithUs. It was my Israel education bible when I was still learning the basics. You can download it free of charge on the website at www.standwithus.com. A great book that will help you understand this more in depth is Understanding the Arab-Israeli Conflict by Dr. Michael Rydelnik. This book helps you understand the glorious miracle of Israel being reborn which helps prove that God’s promises are real. Dr.
Rydelnik is the head of Jewish Studies at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois, and is also my mentor.
If you have questions about the theological basis for why Israel matters, take a look at Has the Church Replaced Israel? – A Theological Evaluation by Dr. Michael Vlach. He studies how the relationship between Israel and the Church continues to be a controversial topic.
When we lose our moorings and stray away from taking God at His word, the kinds of speeches and actions I witnessed, like divestment, are the result. So I urge my brothers and sisters in God’s family, to learn more and prepare to speak up now. Seek out His heart for all people and base your actions in truth.
For those of you who are a part of the Presbyterian Church USA and who do not agree with what happened at the Presbyterian General Assembly, have your voice be heard. We must stand for the truth, and the time is now.
The author is StandWithUs’ Central Region Coordinator