the 221st General Assembly

Posts tagged ‘Presbyterians and Jews’

Palestine News Network lists PC(USA) divestment among bds achievements in 2014


In its roundup of BDS achievements for 2014, the Palestine News Network lists the Presbyterian divestment decision:

Years of grassroots organising pays off as the Presbyterian Church (USA) general assembly in Detroit votes to divest its holdings from three US corporations – Hewlett Packard (HP), Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar – on the basis of their well-documented record of complicity in the oppression and denial of human rights of Palestinians.

The Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions National Committee “warmly thanks each and every person who supported and contributed to the BDS movement this year.

Contrast this with the language inserted into the PC(USA)’s divestment decision:

“This action on divestment is not to be construed or represented … as … an alignment with or endorsement of the global BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement.”

And with Moderator Heath Rada’s comforting assurance:

“In no way is this a reflection for our lack of love for our Jewish sisters and brothers.”

Your fig leaf is slipping.  The world outside the peculiar atmosphere of the 221st General Assembly Meeting last June had absolutely no illusions about the action.  Most of the assembled commissioners had no illusions about the action.  Some lied about it; others lied to themselves about it.  But most understood the reality.

You cannot be a little BDS.  As an entity, the PC(USA) has endorsed (selective) boycotts, (selective) divestment, and (selective) sanctions.  Oddly enough, that sounds eerily reminiscent of some global movement of some sort.  As an entity, the PC(USA) has used resources at its deliberative assembly that are affiliated with just such a global movement.  As an entity, the PC(USA) has promoted resources for congregations, for Presbyterians, and others that have at times employed overtly antisemitic language.

Sure, there have always been reasons given why it wasn’t to be construed that way.  Sure, there have always been denials of responsibility for the more inflammatory materials.  But these also seem to ring hollow.

Aside

GA221 Moderator Rada on CNN


CNN interviewed Dr. Heath Rada, the moderator of the 221st General Assembly along with Rabbi Rick Jacobs president of the Union for Reform Judaism.

Moderator Rada seemed to have great difficulty parsing the decisions of the GA.

Watch the interview here.

PCUSA GA221 BDS action applauded by David Duke


Wow.  Just wow.

We’ve heard from so many commissioners at the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s 221st General Assembly (and their apologists) about how their actions were not related to the global BDS movement.  (I’m convinced the assertion is insupportable – as I detail here.)  We’ve also heard how these actions came from a place of love.

The sad part is, many (though by no means all) of the ones saying this actually somehow make themselves believe it is true.

I suggest they read this.  It is an announcement on DavidDuke.com

It is titled “Victory! Presbyterian Votes Israeli Divestment!”

And it contains a couple of very interesting assertions:

[W]e heard from friends at the Presbyterian Church national meeting who told us that they were victorious … the Church voted to divest from companies doing business in the brutally occupied West Bank.

And

“The [sic] tried to threaten the voters by saying that “David Duke” supports this policy and that the Church will get a bad name by supporting something that Dr.Duke has been tied to in the media,” Said Melissa Anderson who was there with close friends who voted on the divestment. “But, people are just not listening to the Jewish racist threats anymore, they are starting to stand up for real justice.”

And it conveys a statement from Dr. Duke congratulating the Presbyterian Church “for standing up to Jewish racism and supremacism!”

 

You must be so proud.

Yep … No doubt, it was entirely unforeseen that people would interpret your acts as anti-Israel and anti-Jewish.  No doubt, you couldn’t be more surprised and distressed because you’re so full of love.

Presbyterian BDS: What you want is irrelevant, what you have chosen is at hand


When the gavel fell, the 221st General Assembly officially concluded, the commissioners began to make their ways home, and the Committee On Local Arrangements was left to clean up the details, the official PC(USA) was firmly aligned with the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. This is not really arguable in any credible way.

Now I realize this assessment will be met with protests of commissioners, of many institutional Presbyterians, and quite a few local Presbyterians. I also realize many of those protests will be offered with sincerity, honesty, and confidence. But they will be mistaken.

The language of Item 04-04 – the divestment measure, reflects the desire of commissioners to avoid association with the global BDS movement.

For example, it begins with this:

“The PC(USA) has a long standing commitment to peace in Israel and Palestine. We recognize the complexity of the issues, the decades-long struggle, the pain suffered and inflicted by policies and practices of both the Israeli government and Palestinian entities. We further acknowledge and confess our own complicity in both the historic and current suffering of Israeli and Palestinian yearning for justice and reconciliation…” [sic]

For some inscrutable reason, the text falls off into tortured grammar here. And while it might be possible to discern commissioner intent, it is really rather nonsensical. Nonetheless, it is pretty clear that the ‘prologue’ is designed to indicate that Presbyterians are really swell people who really get the complexity of the issue and mean nothing but good for everybody concerned.

Next, commissioners generously reaffirm Israel’s right to exist … not so much as a Jewish state, but something.

Then they declare their commitment to a two-state solution.

But the real clincher … the proof that their BDS is nothing at all like global BDS lies in the same paragraph as their divestment instruction:

“This action on divestment is not to be construed or represented by any organization of the PC(USA) as divestment from the State of Israel, or an alignment with or endorsement of the global BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement.”

So there you have it … Nothing to see here, folks … This is not BDS … We’re doing this out of love ….

Some of their words might sound good. Some of them might sound kind. Some of them might sound vaguely Christian – and I have no doubt they want their “stand” to be genuinely good.

There’s only one tiny, little problem: their actions.

What General Assembly Commissioners, what Presbyterian officials, what naïve supporters want is irrelevant. What they have chosen is at hand.

Let’s look at that.

1. First there is divestment itself. Contrary to popular myth, the companies selected for this special treatment (Caterpillar, Motorola, Hewlett Packard) were not chosen at random. They were already targets of a then embryonic BDS movement. Anyone who has paid any attention at all to the BDS movement knows their campaigns specifically targeting these companies. If there was some other method, some other rubric the MRTI applied to evaluate the then current and potential holdings of the Board of Pensions and the Presbyterian Foundation, it has not been revealed. How then did they zero in on these particular companies? Ecumenical partners? Well some of these are the very BDS activists who issued the Amman Call [The PC(USA) commended this call for BDS in 2008.] and the Kairos Palestine document [the PC(USA) endorsed elements of this in 2010].

Committee 4 (essentially a sub-committee of the GA) that evaluated the proposed divestment recommendation and endorsed it, was staffed with resource people who offered one perspective only. I mean here, specifically, an anti-Israel perspective. Interestingly Rifat Kassis spoke to both this committee and the General Assembly as a whole. Mr. Kassis is coordinator of Kairos Palestine; he has publicly endorsed a total boycott of Israel.

Anna Baltzer, national organizer for the BDS US Campaign to End the Occupation said this prior to the General Assembly:

…Inspired by our Presbyterian friends an [sic] allies, the US Campaign is mobilizing around the clock before and at the votes — everying [sic] from organizing outreach to decision makers to testifying in committee as an official resource expert.”

Pro-BDS former Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase spoke to the committee for half an hour. He was the moderator of GA 216 that first approved divestment in 2004.

More than one commissioners from Committee 4 expressed concern on the floor of the General Assembly plenary about the lack of balance in information available to the committee. From beginning to end, the divestment action has the fingerprints of the global BDS movement all over it.

2. Second, the 221st General Assembly of the PC(USA) took conflicting, inconsistent, and self-contradictory actions. And their actions were more telling than their words.

While voting to assure the world of their commitment to a two-state solution, this same General Assembly also voted to initiate a study on whether the PC(USA) should continue to support a two-state solution. It put this study in the hands of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy – a permanent committee of the General Assembly whose record of anti-Israel animus is well-documented. This GA also insisted that the ACSWP use horribly flawed and inaccurate materials and consult with the IPMN (an unspecified, but the only relevant mission network) and the National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus. After Zionism Unsettled, the involvement of the IPMN in ANY study that concerns Israel should set off alarm bells even for the harshest Presbyterian critics of Israel.

This GA voted to assert that Zionism Unsettled – a resource endorsed by, among others, David Duke – did not reflect the views of the PC(USA), but it also voted to have the PC(USA) continue to distribute it.

This GA also voted to affirm “Occupation Free Investment in Palestine”. It commended the efforts of the pro-BDS Presbyterian Peace Fellowship’s efforts to “excludes any investment in enterprises that benefit financially from the operations of the occupation, including the expansion of settlements.”

Yes, this GA rejected the proposal “On Distinguishing Between Biblical Terms for Israel and Those Applied to the Modern Political State of Israel in Christian Liturgy”; but it insisted on adding a cryptic comment:

[W]e take the matter of language, and specifically the tension around the use of the term “Israel,” very seriously. We hope the discussion and education about the use of language continues.

Though it may be self-evident to commissioners, it causes others to wonder exactly what they are saying here. What is the nature of the distinction they wish to make, and what exactly are they trying to educate people about? One likely interpretation of this is that it is an attempt to cut the Jewish people off from their biblical heritage. Given the comments of some Presbyterian activists on the subject, it would not be unreasonable to assume that hateful meaning.

3. Third, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is not just divesting. It is already on the record as boycotting “all Israeli products coming from the occupied Palestinian Territories, including AHAVA Dead Sea Laboratories Beauty Products and all date products of Hadiklaim, The Israel Date Growers Co-Operative Ltd, often marked by the brand names: King Solomon Dates and Jordan River (not Israeli products from Israel.)” It has already “called on [its ecumenical partners] to join in the boycott.”

When the PC(USA) has called “upon all nations to prohibit the import of products made by enterprises in Israeli settlements on Palestinian land”, or when it has called upon conditioning US funding of Israel to various behaviors of Israel, it has been calling for sanctions.

The bottom line here is that any claim that divesting from companies chosen by BDS activists, boycotting products chosen by BDS activists, using BDS activists as resource persons in the committee which considered the divestment proposition – as if they were unbiased and credible sources of information, commending the Occupation Free Fund and other more stringent divestment vehicles, calling for sanctions … has every bit as much credibility as sentences that begin, “I’m not a racist, but ….”

Yes, I know this is not what the 221st General Assembly of the PC(USA) wants, but it is what it has chosen.

 

Reflections on the PCUSA GA221


 Over the next couple of days I’m going to address what just happened at the PC(USA)’s 221st General Assembly in Detroit.

I’m a sucker for quotes – a personality quirk.

As I was considering the events of the PC(USA)’s 221st General Assembly while the smoke clears, several quotes leapt to my mind:

“All the king’s horses, and all the king’s men couldn’t put Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

“Only ignorance! only ignorance! how can you talk about only ignorance? Don’t you know that it is the worst thing in the world, next to wickedness? — and which does the most mischief heaven only knows.” – from Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty

“I don’t hold jail against a man, but I hate a liar.” – Will Anderson (John Wayne) in the Cowboys

There is no curse in Elvish, Entish, or the tongues of men for this treachery.” – from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers

But two quotations stood out as apt reflections of my thoughts on the assembly: “What you want is irrelevant, what you have chosen is at hand.” – Spock to Valeris in Star Trek VI; and, “The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” – from 2 Peter 2:22.

My next two posts will address each of these quotes.

 

Aside

And Now for Something Completely Unexpected


The New York Times is already reporting the PC(USA)’s choice for divestment as part of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions) movement.

Commissioners tried very hard to pretend that they could be D supporters without the BS.  Doesn’t work that way.

 

UPDATE:  AP articles are reporting it the same way – as BDS.  [Seems reasonable to me … just saying…]

PCUSA Divests by Seven Votes


Moderator Rada insists, “In no way is this a reflection of our lack of love for our Jewish brothers and sisters.”

I’m sure that means a lot.

Of course, the moderator is now agreeing that divestment “affirms our Palestinian friends And our Jewish friends”.

And can’t Presbyterians feel so good about themselves now that they’re so affirming?

I have no words.  Tomorrow I will feel pity for the PC(USA) as a whole.

It is done.

Aside

In Process


Watching this GA vote on various Middle East Issues reminds me of sitting through the trial scene in to Kill a Mockingbird.  You know – where Jem was sure Atticus one because his was the only argument that made sense.  But Scout knew better.  She got what was going to happen.

 

UPDATE:  5:10 and this is excruciating.

 

UPDATE 2:  5:44 Minority report failed by about 10%.  This makes divestment a lot more likely.  They are preparing to break for dinner and take up the main motion afterward.

 

UPDATE 3:  The plenary should reconvene tonight at 7:30

My Problem with the PCUSA GA221


 Like many Presbyterians, I haven’t gotten enough sleep this week. It takes so little to make me happy: a fresh pot of coffee, a sermon that is biblical, finding a song I like on the radio, a new book – almost any book, conversations, a watchable movie, even the weather. Last night I watched a strong thunderstorm for over an hour; it held my attention the entire time.

 But when I’m tired, all bets are off. I have to be very careful exactly how I react to things. I am overly tempted to kibitz, make snarky statements, respond in kind to unkindness, and indulge in occasionally satisfying, but not entirely helpful, rhetoric.

 Watching the PC(USA) General Assembly from afar is an experience almost designed as an irritant. I was going to keep it at arms length because almost everything that can be said, has been said. Now it’s all just words. I was all set to watch a repeat of a Dexter episode … it was either that or follow the excruciating GA committee process. Maybe I should have stuck with the Dexter episode.

(I imagine it is a sad comment when a story about a serial killer strikes me as more appealing than the GA, but that’s a separate matter.)

It should be noted, I am not now a member of the PC(USA) denomination. (I have not been for a few years. In an odd twist of circumstance, I am currently attending a PC(USA) church. And I have suspected a couple of times that my very presence causes them problems with presbytery. But that’s a story for another time.) The thing is, I have only ever been a member of the PC(USA). I have only ever been an elder in the PC(USA) – a function of the ‘warm body theory’ that governs in so many of our smaller churches. I like my local church; love the people – they are many of my friends. I have ties (of family, friendship, and participation) to several local PC(USA) churches.

So … I can’t escape it. Like it or not, what happens in the PC(USA), and what a General Assembly does affects me. And I find, no matter how troubling I might find a GA, I cannot look away. Worse, I find that I tend to be harder on or expect more from the PC(USA) than I might from, say, the National Education Association, the Teamsters, the Masons, or the GOP.

A few things about this General Assembly process bother me – more than they seem to bother others.

  1. Because I am following this from a distance, I am obliged to read twitter feeds, comments, reports, and opinions from people more on the scene. Frequently enough, I can’t resist responding – at least to their more outrageous or false statements. Sometimes I just get picky. I have a relatively low tolerance for false and misleading statements – whether the speakers believe them or not. I also have a relatively low tolerance for hearing the same old arguments that don’t hold water – that are based on false premises, that aren’t logical. Most of the time, I bite my tongue (Yes … most of the time I do). Not always.

    More troubling than these is the contempt that people show for their opponents. The jokes they try to make that aren’t funny. The way they refer to the OTHER … and just because you think yourself progressive doesn’t make your anti-Other bigotry less odious. Disagreeing is one thing; soundly criticizing and argument – no problem; objecting to a behavior – OK. But this goes much, much farther. It amounts to trying to make a joke out of people you don’t like. I read so many comments insulting people AS people. And always, it was justified because, well, if they weren’t bad or ridiculous, they wouldn’t think different thoughts than you do.

    I have zero patience with this. I find it an extremely ugly feature of the PC(USA) General Assembly.

  2. I am troubled by the great gulf fixed between the actual time and effort commissioners put into decided very difficult issues and the praise they heap on themselves and others heap on them. The fact is, many of these issues are intensely complicated. And horribly few people have enough knowledge and experience to decide them effectively.

    This GA, for example, approved a policy they called “Tax Justice”. Now, most of us can agree that the US tax system needs some work. Yet, only the tiniest portion of commissioners who voted for this understood the complexities they were swimming in. Instead, the committee relied on the expertise of the ACSWP. Such an uncritical reliance is NOT expending the effort needed to make wise decisions. Instead, this is the action of a rubber stamp committee. It is questionable whether the ACSWP put in a lot of work that wasn’t simply recycled from other progressive talking points.

    [As a matter of personal opinion, I happen to agree with a couple of features of this particular measure, but in toto, I think it somewhat horrifying.]

    However you may feel about individual actions, there is a bottom line. Without doing the work, commissioners are making pronouncements that are inescapably arrogant. Please understand, commissioners are run ragged at a General Assembly – but the time limits and workload has the effect of precluding competence. Apropos of their approach to this, the GA is being praised today because it managed to ‘complete’ its work yesterday an hour and a half early.

    Much better for everyone if they’d attempt to do fewer things better.

  3. Process is important to me. Presbyterians historically valued the admonition, “Let all things be done decently and in order.” What I have seen here – and in fact, my limited experience in presbytery meetings and watching other General Assemblies – are rampant violations of process. And the majority doesn’t much mind this because they like the outcomes.

    To me, that is inexcusable. I am persuaded that getting a desired outcome at the expense of correct process – for example, failure to give full and correct information, weighting a committee in one direction, biased moderation, peculiar parliamentary rulings – is immoral.

    This really doesn’t seem to bother people all that much. If they’re on the losing side, they know (rightly) that it isn’t fair – and therefore isn’t right and is hardly the type of action that should be carried out by a church. If they’re on the winning side, it’s all good. Or worse, their powers of rationalization allow them to lie about it – even to the point of not seeing it.

    Institutional Presbyterians have liked the phrase, “Speaking truth to power”. Now, in some instances, they have been right. But in their own processes, they fail to acknowledge that they are the ones in power. Who will speak the truth to them?

    The thing is, if there is an established process, if there is a set of rules everyone agrees to, then the unempowered minority has legitimate avenues for action. They can (and usually try to) advocate for their positions. If, however, this process is warped – I would term it corruption even where it benefits me, because that is how I see it – but more charitably, if there are procedural irregularities, unempowered minorities – the losers – are left without redress. They have no recourse. Sure, the winners make a big (and patronizing) show about unity and reconciliation, and preach to them about how they should act, but they leave them no practical options. It rings false. And to compound this with seeming gracious, spiritual sounding and quasi-Christian words is more demeaning than helpful. It is the same voice always used by the powerful toward the unempowered.

  4. I am appalled by the use of Christianity for alien political ends. Worship times designed to support certain desired vote outcomes strike me as positively obscene. [One example of this occurred in Committee 4 – Middle East Issues. During her devotions, the vice moderator decided to draw the attention of her committee to the fact that Jesus wasn’t afraid to tell the Jews that they were wrong. Of course, she seems to overlook the fact that Christianity teaches both that Jesus was Jewish, and that Jesus was God incarnate.]

    I have a bias here. I have a distaste for the practice of politics. I also find that Christianity rejects utterly the pursuit of money, political power and influence. It rejects the desire to get my way, to extend my influence, to use my money as leverage. To me, divestment is a prime example of grossly misplaced priorities. At its heart, divestment is more about Presbyterians’ (self-perception of their) money, political power, and influence, than anything else. My very first reaction to the 2004 divestment decision was this: why exactly does a Christian church [sic] have billions of dollars in investments? This very fact disturbed me – something about “Silver and gold have I none …” and camels and eyes of needles. But to use those investments as a weapon … and then claim to be speaking prophetically …. It was more than I could bear.

    Here again there is a bottom line: using religious speech to attain some other goal – no matter how much we might want it – proclaims that we believe our religion, indeed our ‘god’, exists to be used. Presbyterians – like all of us – can either work to get our way, to remake the world as we think it should be, to acquire wealth and use it as a weapon, to expand our influence in this world, or Presbyterians can follow the spirit and teachings of the New Testament. They cannot at the same time do both. None of us can.

Update on PC(USA) Support for Two State Solution


It seems Committee 4 passed item 04-01 “On Reviewing General Assembly Policy Regarding the Two-State Solution in Israel Palestine” without any amendment or alteration.

Of course, this is not an outright rejection of a two-state solution; it only calls for a reconsideration.  If it passes the plenary, it will still not be “acted upon” until the next General Assembly in 2016.

Given the records of the people specifically tasked with this project, I can only say with absolute certainty that it will be bad for Israel.

Perhaps members of Committee 4 were very naive; perhaps they meant well.  (For example, someone said that all 8 YAADs supported divestment …) It doesn’t matter really – we only have their results to look at.  And these are pretty much uniformly bad.  Uniformly unfair – they do not take into account legitimate perspectives that don’t follow their basic narrative.  Uniformly dishonest – they spring from dishonest sources, and they foster continued fictions.  Uniformly unhelpful – nothing in this committees recommendations, if taken, will in any possible way increase the likelihood of peace or bring any conceivable benefit to any Palestinian or Israeli – with the possible exception of a tiny handful of professional activists.

 

On a Positive Note


Unlike its companion, Committee 4, Committee 7 – “Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations” – voted to reject an overture from the Presbytery of Chicago “On Distinguishing Between Biblical Terms for Israel and Those Applied to the Modern Political State of Israel in Christian Liturgy”.

Since the design of this overture was to sever the ties between ancient, biblical Israel and modern Israel – and by implication, between ancient Israel and the Jewish people – it was problematic at best.

In fact, whenever churches have emphasized this distinction historically, they threw open the floodgates to Christian antisemitism.

I’m not suggesting that the modern state of Israel is identical to biblical Israel, but to deny the relationship between the two is foolish and dishonest on the best of days.

In their action on this matter, Committee 7 chose to follow the “advice and counsel” of the Presbyterian Mission Agency, and it chose to reject the contrary “advice and counsel” of the Advocacy Committee for Racial and Ethnic Concerns.

ACREC urged Presbyterians to go farther and insist that “This distinction should be made by worship leaders whenever ‘Israel’ is used in a worship setting, whether in hymns, prayers, confession, or sermon.]”

Fortunately, wisdom prevailed in committee 7.

Nonetheless, as with all the decisions taken today, nothing is final until after the whole assembly meets.

 

PCUSA GA Committee 4: another gift that keeps on giving


Committee 4 is now recommending that the PC(USA) reconsider its support for a two-state solution.  This would necessitate a report to be prepared for the 222nd GA.

And who should prepare such a report?  That bastion of fairness and honesty bias and bigotry, and bulwark of accuracy error, the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy.

[You may remember, for example, an occasion when then ACSWP member, Ronald Stone was widely quoted as saying:

“As an elder of our church, I’d like to say that, according to my recent experience, relations and conversations with Islamic leaders are a lot easier than dealings and dialogue with Jewish leaders.”

“Also, we praise your initiative for dialogue and mutual understanding. We cherish these statements that bring us closer to you. We treasure the precious words of Hezbollah and your expression of goodwill towards the American people.”

You may also remember a ridiculous history of the Middle East provided by ACSWP in 2003.

Or perhaps, you recall the ACSWP report on violations of religious freedom that singled out ISRAEL among all the nations of the world for sole criticism …

They’re bound to be an unbiased source.]

And what resources should these reporters use?

Well, they should consult with “mission networks”:  The ONLY relevant “mission network” is the IPMN – famous, among other things, for its lapses into direct antisemitic tropes – tales of Khazars for example, and manifestly and inexcusably false accusations directed at unnamed American Jewish groups of arson of Presbyterian churches and sending a bomb to Presbyterian headquarters in Louisville.

They should consult with “national caucuses”:  Here again, the only relevant one would be the National Middle Eastern Presbyterian Caucus.  Again, not noted for its openness to any Israeli narrative.  Also not noted for any great concern for the well-being of Israeli Jews.

 

It goes on.

 

UPDATE:  Naturally the committee passed this.  However, we have to wait to see its final form.  It may not be as bad as the proposal itself.  BUT whatever the case, for this committee, at least, the future existence of Israel is now in question.  Think about that.

Committee Recommends Divestment


The PC(USA) General Assembly committee considering “Middle East Issues” voted to recommend divestment.

I understand the vote was 45 to 20.

Oooh they their parents must be so proud.

 

For clarity:  this is not the GA’s final word on the subject.  It must still pass the vote by the whole assembly later in the week.

 

How unfortunate for Presbyterians that stupidity has taken the place of ethical and moral witness.

 

How’s that Again, ACREC???


How’s that again, ACREC?  You’re supposed to be the PC(USA)’s Advocacy for what exactly?  Oh … “The Advocacy Committee for Racial and Ethnic Concerns”.  Hmmm.  Your “Advice and Counsel” on Overture 04-09 – “Resolution on Equal Rights for All Inhabitants of Israel and Palestine and on Conversations with Prophetic Voices” would be deliciously ironic if it weren’t so sad.

For the uninitiated:  Business items considered by a General Assembly are first taken up by committees of GA commissioners.  In theory, these are able to delve more deeply into specific topics and then return recommendations to the whole assembly.  In the majority of, but by no means all cases, the committee recommendations are followed by the plenary.

But before items ever get to these committees, they are vetted by permanent standing committees of the denomination.  These are not GA commissioners.  They are basically the ‘religious’ version of bureaucrats.  They give advice to the committees, and they often provide resource people to “help” the committees’ deliberations.  This practice ensures a certain degree of institutional control over the outcome – in spite of the fact that the GA itself – the commissioners – are in theory, the highest governing body of the PC(USA).

So … ACREC attached its recommendation to pass Overture 04-09.  Committee 4 – the actual commissioners considering “Middle East Issues” – dutifully approved it.  But in the middle of ACREC’s “advice” we find this gem quoted:

The ADL [Anti-Defamation League] goes after anti-Semitism with a fist, it goes after Israeli racism with a sigh. As a matter of fact, the ADL and the entire American Jewish establishment should suspend their campaigns against anti-Semitism indefinitely and take a look at what’s going on in Israel.

Now, the quote is taken from an article by Larry Derfner in the Jewish Daily Forward.  Obviously, therefore, it must be just fine for ACREC to quote it without context.  Just putting it out there.

Just what, exactly?  What function does it serve?

Is ACREC really suggesting that antisemitism isn’t a problem?  That “the American Jewish establishment” should ignore antisemitism?  Perhaps there is something uniquely hypocritical in Jewish concern over antisemitism … at least in ACREC’s fevered imagination.  Perhaps an ethnic minority should not be concerned by attacks on its members?

Or is the point more visceral?  Is it more intended to cultivate distaste for American Jews … who might, just might, oppose the institutional PC(USA)’s ultra-biased preferred narrative on Israelis and Palestinians?

Rather an interesting choice for a committee supposedly dedicated to racial ethnic concerns …

 

Will Spotts

Balance, Bias, and other Four Letter Words


In defending his trademark diet from criticisms that it was unbalanced, Dr. Atkins argued that the proper corrective for an existing imbalance was imbalance.

He may have been right … or not, but the premise has some merit.

One of my chief concerns with Presbyterian activism and advocacy about Israelis and Palestinians – for as long as I have observed it – has been that it is one-sided; that it is not balanced.  A few months ago I watched a live stream of the Evangelicals for Social Action’s Impact Holy Land Conference.  One of the speakers asserted that, when talking about the Holy Land, balance should be a four letter word.

I was kind of taken aback by this claim.  I was familiar with it, of course, because the same assertion has been made in various PC(USA) contexts.  Usually this was a bromide offered as a rebuttal to charges of a lack of balance in PC(USA) materials on Palestinian and Israeli issues.  Most luminaries did not attempt to deny that there was an imbalance – because such a denial would rightly be met with laughter.  But the general thinking was that imbalance was justified.

So is it?  Should balance be a four letter word to Presbyterians? (more…)

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