The Mission Network (IPMN) is an informal, autonomous grassroots organization made up of Presbyterians who are interested in and committed to peace and justice in Israel and Palestine. It has its own officers and steering committee, etc. Its activities involve advocacy and support of our church's partnership with Christian churches in the Holy Land. My relationship to the Network is also informal, as an advisory staff person. They consult with me from time to time on General Assembly policies, and on our church's relations in the Middle East, but they run their own programs and activities.
The Middle East Study Committee (MESC), on the other hand, is a Committee of nine, representing a broad diversity of Presbyterian perspectives, experiences and expertise. They were appointed by the church's current Moderator and his two predecessors in response to a 2008 action by our church's General Assembly to prepare a comprehensive study on the Middle East, with a special focus on Israel and Palestine, and a concern for the status of Christian presence in the region.
I serve as Coordinator for the Office of the Middle East of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), with a primary responsibility of maintaining and supporting our church's relations with churches and related organizations in the Middle East. As part of the PC(USA) staff, I serve as a resource to our constituency and as liaison with partner churches and organizations.
My role relative to the MESC has been that of "staff resource person," providing information about our partnership relations, background of our church's mission history and ongoing relations, policies of our church's General Assembly, etc. In the process of the MESC's work over the past year-plus, I have been exactly that - an ex-officio "staff resource person" who has attended their meetings, provided information, responded to questions, facilitated encounters with interlocutors in the region, and participated in the Committee's deliberations, without vote.
In response to your specific questions, I offer the following:
1. The Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) has had no involvement whatever in the work of the Middle East Study Committee (MESC). There are two members of the Study Committee who had attended a meeting or two of the Network in the past, but there has been no connection between the work of the Network and the Study Committee.
2. The Middle East Study Committee has not at any point discussed, or even been aware of as a Committee, the film "I am Israel." Nor have I, for that matter. There is no plan to show or discuss the film in the course of the proceedings of the upcoming General Assembly, as there is no mention of it anywhere in the formal part of the Committee's report that will be presented for adoption by the Assembly.
3. So neither the film, nor "similar material" will be submitted to the Assembly for consideration. The only thing that will be furnished to the Assembly will be the Committee's report itself. As is normal, the General Assembly will consider, discuss and debate the report, then it will decide whatever it wants to do with it.
4. Regarding my role, I have given you a summary of my function within the staff of the denomination, and the nature of my involvement in the work of the Committee. As staff, I could submit to the Committee - or to any part of our constituency, for that matter - possible concerns our partners may have regarding actions our church might take, and, conversely, I also interpret our church's actions to our partners in the region.
Our church's policies are formulated only by the church's General Assembly, the most inclusive governing body of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). My role, like that of all of the church's national staff, is to abide by and programmatically attend to the implementation of those policies. It is to this writer a way of opening up the dialogue on Israel and its relationship and actions towards Palestine and its people that is the prophetic part of Rabbi Cooper's speech. Certainly, Victor E. Makari's email letter tells of the limits, the parameters, to the activities and investigation of the Committee. The Committee, and the Presbyterian Church are not anti-Semitic, so the Church and the study group replies in earnest. The email from Victor E. Makari, responding to various charges, rumors of anti-Semitic testimony and marginal testimony is refuted, and the email letter hopes to let the reader know that the Committee and the Presbyterian Church are decent and fair in their study of the issues and problems. This writer was convinced of this in his various and many conversations and emails, including the one cited sent by Victor E. Makari. After a press release sent out by Religion News Service by The Wiesenthal Center claiming Presbyterians are trying to destroy Israel, and this was a believable and mainline statement by a respected and even famous Human Rights organization, Presbyterians made an apology similar to the one quoted below from 2006. They made their statement in an effort to alleviate the pain and concern of the Jewish Community nationally, pain and even protest of concern represented in the Wiesenthal press statement. We acknowledge that the actions of the 216th General Assembly (2004) caused hurt and misunderstanding among many members of the Jewish community and within our Presbyterian communion. We are grieved by the pain that this has caused, accept responsibility for the flaws in our process, and ask for a new season of mutual understanding and dialogue. The reader can see that the concern of the Jewish Community regarding Presbyterian policy was not soothed, let alone abated in 2009, or 2010. Even so, despite attempts at fairness, the Jewish Community continued to believe and has expressed even recently before the General Assembly meeting coming up in July that Presbyterians are anti-Israel at best. This is no small matter in the national Jewish Community and in Christian-Jewish relations and inter-faith dialogue. It is the opinion of The Wiesenthal Center as expressed in their press statement that Presbyterian Committee work, and the previous policies of that Church terribly harm Christian-Jewish relationships and inter-faith dialogue in serious ways. Put in plain language, the Jewish Community thinks that Presbyterians don't like Jews, nor do they like Israel. That it is not solely Israeli policy that is criticized, but even the legitimacy of the State of Israel. Presbyterians have publically stated in an apologetic manner, even, that they support the right of Israel to exist. The American Jewish Community is also very concerned with the place of the Kairos Document, which makes many claims against the State of Israel, including that Israel is an apartheid State. This upsets the Jewish Community, and is considered a lie and an unfair use of tactics to destroy Israel. The document is the result of Christian theologians from the Middle East. One California Presbyterian Church which hosted a "community" meeting on Israel issues, favored the Kairos document and demonstrates how popular its acceptance is by a significant portion of Church members. Emeritus Professor of New Testament studies at San Francisco Theological Seminary, wrote this writer in answer to questions. The Reverend Doctor Herman Waetjen says in his kind-of short-hand response these answers regarding Presbyterians in the pews and the Church itself:
- Endorses the recent Kairos Palestine document, called "A Moment of Truth" which excuses Palestinian terrorism and fully blames Israel for any and all Palestinian violence;
- Calls on the U.S. government to repent of its "sinful behavior" vis-à-vis the Middle East;
- Misrepresents both the history of Israel and Jewish religious faith, in particular by attacking fundamental aspects of Jewish religious identity, such as God's covenant with the Jewish people and the promise of the land;
This is totally false. It recognizes God's covenant with Israel, but it does not acknowledge that that automatically includes the land. The right to possess all the land that Israel claimed in the Old Testament period should not justify taking away the land of the Palestinians and driving them out. The land was promised on the basis of doing justice. Read the book of Deuteronomy. "If you don't do justice, God will regurgitate you from the land." That's the message of Deuteronomy.
- Argues that Iranian and Israeli nuclear weapons would pose a similar threat to the region.
I don't remember anything being said about this. But the point would be that if Israel did justice to the Palestinians and worked for a 2 state solution, Iran would be no threat.
One theory regarding the conversation and its various debates by Presbyterians and many Christian denominations is that their anti-Israel and anti-Semitic outlook spreads to many parts of society, including Universities and Colleges. In the United States, reputable sources have told this writer that anti-Semitism is a serious problem at major universities, Columbia for one. This statement for the press from the Human Rights organization, The Wiesenthal Center, was sent to this writer, and it appears that anti-Semitism on California campuses, and the growing criticism of Israel is rampant. The press statement: The Simon Wiesenthal Center denounced today's 16-4 vote by the Student Senate of UC Berkeley calling on the UC Regents and Student Government to divest from two companies, General Electric and United Technologies, that do business with the State of Israel. This vote was in response to what the Student Senate says, "Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories" and "Israel's siege and bombardment of the Gaza Strip." "Ironically, today's vote comes on a day when the 300th rocket in the last fourteen months from Hamas-controlled Gaza that continue to target Israeli civilian, this time murdering a farm worker in Netev Haasara," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center. "Human rights icon Natan Sharansky has identified what he calls the "Three Ds" when anti-Israel rhetoric falls into the category of anti-Semitism: Demonization, Delegitimization, and Double Standard," Cooper continued. "In a world filled with human rights abuses across Africa, Asia and the Americas, the UC Berkeley students vote to single out Israel for censure is hypocritical and a classic example of Double Standard," he said. "This resolution will not help the quality of life for a single Palestinian, but is intended to render Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, helpless to defend its citizens from attack by Hamas and Hezbollah terrorists," Rabbi Cooper said, adding, "What the resolution of course omits is that Israel voluntarily evacuated the Gaza Strip, along with 9,000 Jewish citizens in the hopes that this unilateral gesture of peace would help pave the way to a two-state solution. All Israel got in return is suicide bombers, thousands of Kassam rockets targeting civilian centers, not in the so-called ‘occupied territories, but in Israel proper," Cooper added. Rabbi Aron Hier, who heads iAct, the Wiesenthal Center's campus outreach program, expressed disappointment, saying, "The timing and thrust of this outrageous initiative is especially troubling since it comes at a time when the UC system is struggling to deal with a rash of anti-Semitic and racist manifestations from Davis to Irvine to San Diego." This three part series on the Presbyterian-Israel policy that will be decided at their General Assembly in 2010 has two more parts. The next, the second part in the series deals with the Committee's paper on Theological Reflection, an excellent paper on a Christian Church's approach to public policy decision making. The third part will discuss the Kairos Document. A recent front page story in The New York Times notes that President Obama wants to open the dialogue about Israel and its relationship to Palestine. It is the President's position to encourage and even work towards peace through ending the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Pundits believe a major public relations effort on the part of the Jewish Community in America and specifically on the part of Israel is currently at work. The writer says in analysis: Writing in the Jerusalem Post, Israeli analyst Efraim Inbar candidly warns that "wars are won, not only in the battlefield, but also with words. A small country such as Israel cannot afford to lose the support of the West." 0) Inbar's parallel assertion that "so far, Israel is losing the war for the heart of Western public opinion" will be met with incredulity by many Americans familiar with the realities of reportage on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many would agree, however, withInbar's other assertion, that "winning [the war for public opinion] is vital…for easing the outside pressures on Israeli society…." (0) Israel's attempts to win the war of public opinion—and, consequently, to maintain its freedom to implement violent, repressive policies toward the Palestinians without negative repercussions from the world community—obscure the obvious: the problem is not about Israel's image, but Israel's policies themselves. Nevertheless, Israel continues to expend vast resources on simultaneous militarization and public relations campaigns. Recognizing the negative perception of Israel in the wake of the December 2008-January 2009 Gaza offensive, the Israeli Foreign Ministry has been granted an extra $2 million to improve Israel's image through cultural and information diplomacy. (14) Perhaps you reader recall the highly publicized and tragic incident of a Catipillar Tractor running over a young woman peace worker trying to stop it when in action. One result of the tragedy, which was called willful by the Israelis, was continued requests by Christian and other peace groups that Catipillar no longer do business with the Israelis or operate in the Jewish State. In fact, the Presbyterian Church strongly asks they stop and negotiate with the corporation, among other measures. This section of the report is titled, "ENGAGEMENT WITH CORPORATIONS ON ISRAEL-PALESTINE ISSUES FROM 2004 TO 2009"This statement is made in that section: The church representatives also requested information from Caterpillar on the customers of its Israeli dealer, particularly major construction companies that are involved in building the illegal settlements and Israeli-only roads in the Occupied Territories, the construction of the separation barrier and the demolition of Palestinian homes. Caterpillar did say it had retained a consultant to advise them in making philanthropic grants in the region. In another part of the Committee report, this more theologically reflective statement is made regarding Caterpillar. The statement is worded for adoption by General Assembly. On the basis of Christian principles and as a matter of social witness, the 219th General Assembly strongly denounces Caterpillar?s continued profit-making from non-peaceful uses of a number of its products. We call upon Caterpillar to carefully review its involvement in obstacles to a just and lasting peace in Israel-Palestine, and to take affirmative steps to end its complicity in the violation of human rights. We hope that, by God?s grace, Caterpillar will come to exercise its considerable power and influence in the service of a just and lasting peace in Israel/Palestine. The Committee calls for various actions in their work towards Peace, as they see it. Injustices perceived are met with economic actions, and genuine investigations of allegations and incidents vis a vis corporations doing business with Israel. One can find in the Committee Report many incidents of ongoing Israeli crisis. Additionally, Israelis are perceived on the surface as "bad guys" for they hold the military upper hand with success, and despite the many rocket attacks by Hamas and others on Israel, military victory has been the Israelis. The Middle Eastern elements and enemies of Israel, mostly characterized as terrorists, continue to play the propaganda and public relations campaign to hurt the Jewish State. They've been consist failures in their efforts to defeat or destroy the Jewish State militarily. A criticism of the Israelis in their occupation is that they make Palestinians a down-trodden and poverty hampered society without regard to mercy or compassion. They, the Israelis, are portrayed as cruel victors and occupiers. These are not empty citations against the Israelis, and influence the Christian community as well as the Presbyterian Church in a way that creates a unity of criticism and request for actions against a list of corporations. The radical and somewhat marginal Peace groups, who are similar in viewpoint to the American Jewish activist and speaker, the writer Mark Braverman, Ph.D. says that all religion is politics. One source in the human rights area that is in conflict with this section of pro-Palestinian peace activists says of the writer that he is a turncoat Jew. It is implied that he and others like him are traitors to Israel and the mainstream Jewish American community. This writer believes the Presbyterian-Israel policy recommendations are motivated by religious and spiritual convictions, even based on Christian community values and Theological Reflections that cite Biblical argument in their justifications for their policy positions. Christian churches are in their life work moral communities. Mark Braverman told this writer in email comments summarizing his view that all religion is politics in a telephone interview, "This is a place where religion and politics converge. Core religious and theological issues such as covenant, land promise, election, chosenness, particularity, and universality play large and centrally in the discourse about the Israel-Palestine conflict. We ignore them at our peril." Dr. Braverman asks this of the writer of this series: "I would like to be identified as an American Jewish writer and speaker. My organizational affiliations are: Board of Directors, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, and Board of Advisors, Friends of Sabeel North America, and co-founder, Friends of Tent of Nations North America." Dr. Braverman claims in his statement, On the charge that Sabeel is anti-Semitic: Sabeel's statements about the people of Palestine being like Jesus on the cross is fully in line with Liberation Theology. Naim Ateek is firmly within the Liberation Theology tradition and idiom in using the imagery of the Crucifixion in reference to the suffering of the Palestinian people. The fact that the Jewish people, through the actions of the State of Israel is now in the position of oppressing the Palestinian people, like the Romans were oppressing the Jews of Palestine during the time of Rome, is a tragic and ironic fact. But it doesn't change it. It's understandable that, for some Jews, the use of this imagery may evoke the memory of the despicable deicide charge used against the Jews by Christians throughout the ages… Again, the Sabeel Group moves the discussion into ongoing Israel crisis of Christian Palestinian and Palestinian oppressor. Again the political statement clothed as religious metaphor, for was not historic and Biblical Israel and Jesus part of a people occupied by Roman oppression and that was a political reality of occupation. Dr. Braverman says of his book that supports his various thesis and opinions, "The title of the book is Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land. You can find my biography on www.markbraverman.org. There appears to be an ongoing Israel crisis portrayed in the American press as a real series of incidents like the recent Blockade run by various "friends" of Palestinians and other citizens made by ships that sailed from Turkish ports and ones that engaged in battle with Israelis on the high seas. No doubt they want to break the Blockade and continue a campaign against Israel, and this writer would say Jews, too—one of their objectives that their actions will weaken America's friendship with the Jewish State. They are influencing world public opinion with their Blockade running, and American diplomatic attitudes. A current letter, quoted in part, tells of the U.S. House of Representatives resolve of support for Israel, signed by …STENY HOYER, Majority Leader, ERIC CANTOR, Republican Whip HOWARD L. BERMAN, Chairman Ranking, Committee on Foreign Affairs, ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, Committee on Foreign Affairs GARY ACKERMAN, Chairman Ranking Republican Member Subcommittee on the Middle East, DAN BURTON, Subcommittee on the Middle Eastand South Asia and South Asia American support continues for the State of Israel: We are writing to reaffirm our commitment to the unbreakable bond that exists between our country and the State of Israel and to express to you our deep concern over recent tension. In every important relationship, there will be occasional misunderstandings and conflicts. The announcement during Vice President Biden's visit was, as Israel's Prime Minister said in an apology to the United States, "a regrettableincident that was done in all innocence and was hurtful, and which certainly should not have occurred." We are reassured that Prime Minister Netanyahu's commitment to put inplace new procedures will ensure that such surprises, however unintended, will not recur. The United States and Israel are close allies whose people share a deep and abiding friendship based on a shared commitment to core values including democracy, human rights and freedom of the press and religion. Our two countries are partners in the fight against terrorism and share an important strategic relationship. A strong Israel is an asset to the national security of the United States and brings stability to the Middle East. We are concerned that the highly publicized tensions in the relationship will not advance the interests the U.S. and Israel share. Above all, we must remain focused on the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear weapons program to Middle East peace and stability. Addendum: In a thirty minute telephone conversation with Rabbi Yitzoch Adlerstein of The Wiesenthal Center, the Rabbi responded to a number of significant questions on the issues. This writer believes that the Rabbi makes a good case for the Israeli side, so the interview in its entirety is here: I have read the Kairos Document, and I note the strong statement that Israel is an apartheid state. Can I get a comment on this charge, and it is a charge if not an important opinion regarding Israel in the document. The charge is beneath contempt and the black people of South Africa. The Apartheid is a struggle against a minority that holds arbitrary power. Israel is a democracy that guarantees rights. Arabs sit on Israel's Supreme Court. They attend Israeli Universities. The individuals who are part of the BDS at the University are a global movement that wants to destroy Israel as a Jewish State. They have this freedom to do this. The report from the Presbyterian committee says that Israel continues its illegal expansion passed acceptable boundaries. The sound bite I've heard that echoes that opinion held by the Committee is that, as those supporting Palestinians would say, "Palestinians are dialoguing about eating a pizza, while Israel is eating the pizza." If I am wrong, correct me, but Presbyterian recommendation by the committee is Israel is not in good faith regarding the peace process because of this settlement issue. My question: Is Israel in good faith? Why do they continue in their settlement expansion? What lesson has this for the Presbyterians in their decision making for General Assembly? The question is a red herring. The settlement expansion has little to do with the peace question. The attacks on Israel began well before there were settlements, well before there was a Jewish State. When Israel was established by the United Nations in 1948, it was immediately set upon by Arabs to drive the Jews into the sea. The issue of Israel in a defensive war in June 1967 to be put to use by Jews, the Arabs said no negotiations, no peace. After the defensive June war, land was put to Jewish use. Israel has shown in the past Israel is willing to trade all highways etc. for peace. Very few Americans understand the vast number of Jewish people is living within the 1948 greenline. Israel cannot uproot a half million settlers in those areas. This is the generous offer made: To take an equivalent amount of land in another part of Israel and make that a Palestinians? The God question: Israel was created as a result of God's will, so a popular and credible early belief regarding its founding says. Is Israel on God's side? And does God favor the Israelis? I believe that God is on the side of peace. I believe that to date, Israel has demonstrated a much more serious commitment to peace than the Palestinians. What "lessons" has the Wiesenthal Center to offer the Presbyterians as they consider their policy? Has it to do with peace, tolerance, or perhaps hate? Certainly, the subject anti-Semitism is raised, yes? We are not talking directly to the Presbyterians. If there were an effective partnership with the Presbyterian Church of faith based groups on peace, there would indeed be a number of lessons. The ones you point to are on the list. I believe no one in the Presbyterian Church would need to hear them from us. The average Presbyterian is not aware of the explosion of anti-Semitism in the last years. It is only the more extreme kind of Presbyterian who is caught in this. Using the powers of diplomacy and relationships, people in many churches have looked at many problems and said, "We as Christians must do something about this. Let's pass a resolution." A resolution of the kind the PCUSA is trying has never helped a single Palestinian. Diplomacy has more pressure as neutral brokers of peace, and bringing Israelis and Palestinians together, as the Wiesenthal Center has done here in Los Angeles. Do you know a book on the subject readers will find worthwhile? Two books I would recommend: The Case for Israel, and The Case for Peace, both by Alan Dershowitz. What is the reputation of Sabeel as you see it and what is its intended purpose vis a vis Israel. Sabeel is a cleverly disguised organization bent on the eradication of Israel as a Jewish State that has managed to use Biblical Themes, and clergy to promote themselves as advocates for non-violent peace. They will not accept the Jewish State. Their goal is to turn it into a single state that will turn into a Muslim State. They have used themes that have harkened back to classical anti-Semitism. They are not truly interested in peace. Presbyterians are interested in opening discernment and dialogue within their Church and in society as a whole regarding Israel actions and policy towards Palestinians. One significant part of that is their belief that Israel is an occupying power. Will you comment on their desire to open the conversation, and their apparent belief that Israel is an occupying power? The Presbyterians have not shown any desire to open the dialogue, though in 2008 they opened their study to look at a broader range . Seven of the nine members of the committee have previously expressed anti-Israel sentiment. Only one expressed pro-Israel interest, and he resigned. The next year the committee showed itself as a Communist show trial. About the belief that Israel is an occupying power: Israel is an occupying power at this time, but the problem predates Israel becoming a state. It is the inability of a vast number of people living beside them. The majority of Israelis say they are willing to trade land for peace. They do not want to be occupiers. Pulling out of Gaza unilaterally was rewarded with the whole south unlivable because of the hourly barrage of rockets. Will you comment on the use of Liberation Theology regarding Israeli actions and policy in Palestine and the West Bank, now recommended for adoption as basic to the Kairos Document--recommended for adoption by the committee for PCUSA General Assembly? I believe that most Presbyterians are even more concerned about the use of Liberation theology than Jews are. Liberation Theology pops up in churches where with a little plastic surgery they turn it to something different: Something instead of Christian tradition of love, peace, reconciliation… It says Jesus was a freedom fighter. Many people in the Church are turned off by taking their spiritual life and turning it into a political struggle.