Personal accounts of current events in Palestine and Israel; commentary and analysis from the Middle East, the USA and Europe
Commentary & Analysis

Uri Avnery's Column

Gideon Levy articles & opinion

Avraham Burg - Opinion

Commentary by
James Wall

The Two-State Illusion
by Ian S. Lustnick

A Palestinian Pastor's Advice for President Obama
by Rev. Alex Awad

Wrestling in the Daylight: A Rabbi's path to Palestinian Solidarity  by Rabbi Brant Rosen

"Change without Progess in the Middle East"
by Ambassador Chas Freeman

"Justice Requires Action to Stop Subjugation of Palestinians"
by Desmond Tutu

"Why I Refuse"
by Moriel Rothman

Messages from Janet Lahr Lewis, UM Liaison to Israel-Palestine

Personal Accounts: Testimonies of Methodist Ecumenical Accompaniers


"Goldstone's Legacy for Israel" by Naomi Klein

"Mourning the Jewish New Year" by Prof. Marc Ellis

"Palestine Papers Expose US as Dishonest Broker"
  by Alison Weir

"Top 10 Reasons for  
Skepticism on Talks"

  by Josh Ruebner

"Boycotting the boycotters"
by Gideon Levy

"Apartheid in Holy Land"
  by Desmond Tutu

"Nakba Day is a Reminder"
    by Yousef Manayyer

"Israel's racism spreads"
   by Zvi Bar'el

Holy Land Christians' Decline
  Al-Jazeera video report

Two articles on Israel's
Independence Day 2010
  by Burston; Avnery

Presbyterian General Assembly 2010 - News and Commentary

"End US Tax Exemption 
for Settlements"

  by Sama Adnan

"A Call for Livable Futures"
  by Rela Mazali

"Israel 2007: Worse Than

Ronnie Kasrils, SoAfrican

"Israel's Greatest Loss:
Its Moral Imagination"

by Henry Siegman

Can Muslim & Jewish  
Narratives Co-exist?

Jewish Respect for Islam

Muslims & Jews Closer  

Tragedy of Monotheism

Using Qur'anic narratives

Following are news and commentary regarding the
Report of the Middle East Study Committee
the 2010 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA)
as well as commentary on what happened at the Assembly.

1. Two commentaries written before the Assembly was held.
2. The Associated Press report on what happened at the Assembly.
3. Three analyses of what happened at the Presbyterian General Assembly

Click here to learn about the Committee Report
and find where you can download it


Washington Post
June 11, 2010  [BEFORE THE ASSEMBLY]

Presbyterian report condemns Israeli policies 
in Palestinian territories
By David Waters

America's largest Presbyterian denomination is preparing for a contentious General Assembly next month as delegates will be asked to consider approving a strongly worded report that calls on the U.S. to stop sending billions of dollars in aid to Israel until it changes its policy toward Palestinians.

"Israel has both the responsibility and the ability to reverse the course of the precipitous decline throughout the region," states the 172-page report "Breaking Down Walls," written by the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s nine-member Middle East Study Committee.

The report will be considered by the denomination's 219th General Assembly, meeting July 3-10 in Minneapolis. In 2004, the PC (U.S.A.) became the first mainline Protestant denomination to approve a policy of divestment from Israel. The policy was unpopular with many Presbyterians and was later rescinded.

The new report doesn't call for divestment, but it does urge the U.S. to halt aid to Israel until the Israeli government ends the expansion of settlements in Palestinian territories, ceases its occupation" of Gaza, and relocates "Israel's separation barrier" to spots outside of Palestinian territories.

"A just and lasting peace and security for the Palestinians is possible when the occupation has ended and Israel does not need to resort to military force to maintain its illegal land possession. If there were no occupation, there would be no Palestinian resistance. If there was no Palestinian resistance, Israelis could live in peace and security."

"We also call upon the various Palestinian political factions to negotiate a unified government prepared to recognize Israel's existence. We proclaim our alarm and dismay--both over the increasingly rapid exodus of Christians from Israel/Palestine caused by anti-Palestinian discrimination and oppression, the growth of Islamic and Jewish fundamentalism, and the occupation-related absence of economic opportunity; and also over the exodus of Christians from other parts of the region caused by various military, economic, religious, and cultural factors. And we oppose the government of Iran's nuclear ambitions, its sponsorship of international guerrilla warfare, and the threat these pose both to Israel and to Arab states."

The report is drawing sharp criticism from Jewish groups and praise from Palestinian Muslim and Christian organizations.

The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism adopted a resolution last week, claiming that the report is "distinctly one-sided, traffics in troubling theology, misrepresents Jewish history, and "describes Israel as the occupying army and the major impediment to peace without acknowledging that the Israeli government has the ethical imperative to defend its citizens from terrorist infiltration."

Rev. Richard Toll, chair of the group Friends of Sabeel North America, which supports Palestinian Christians protesting the occupation, praised the report.

"The Presbyterian Church in the United States has been a leader in confronting the issues of the illegal occupation of the Palestinian land by the state of Israel," Toll told the Louisville Courier-Journal. "It is important and timely ... that Presbyterians stand up for their previous resolutions and challenge other churches and all Americans to nonviolently resist the occupation."

Several mainline Protestant denominations have issued critical statements about Israeli policies in Palestinian territories, and taken actions to support Palestinians. Evangelical denominations, meanwhile, tend to take the opposite view, strongly supporting Israel and its policies, primarily because of biblical passages that that link Israel's survival to the Second Coming of Jesus..

In the run-up to the General Assembly, the PC (U.S.A.) study committee issued separate explanatory letters to Presbyterians, "American Jewish friends," and "American Muslim friends."

"We deeply value our relationships with Jews and Muslims in the United States, Israel, and the predominantly Muslim countries of the Middle East," states the report. "Yet the bonds of friendship must neither prevent us from speaking nor limit our empathy for the suffering of others. Inaction and silence on our part enable actions we oppose and consequences we grieve."

June 27, 2010      [BEFORE THE ASSEMBLY]

Israeli “Agents” Infiltrate 
Presbyterian General Assembly
by James M. Wall

Photo: James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois.  From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine.  Jim launched his personal blog, Wallwritings, April 24, 2008.

Four professors–two from Vanderbilt, one from Auburn Theological Seminary, and one from Syracuse University–have burst on the national scene as strong opponents of a Middle East Study Commission resolution which will be presented to the Presbyterian Church, USA, General Assembly in Minneapolis, MN, July 3-10.

Between them, the four professors have produced two articles against the resolution, one in the Christian Century magazine, the other in Newsweek.

None of these academics are elected commissioners. Presumably they represent the highest tradition of scholarship that one expects to find in the Reformed denomination spawned by John Calvin, who, by the way, will reach the age of 501 on the closing day of this year’s General Assembly.

It is possible that one or more of the anti-resolution quartet members has devoted time to academic study of the history, politics and ethics involved in this issue, or conducted on-the-ground research investigation in the area.

There is, however, no evidence of practical nor scholarly wisdom regarding the current political situation in either article.

There is only the usual interfaith request for two of the three Abrahamic traditions to continue to love one another, and, in the Christian Century article, considerable attention to biblical history, which has no actual relevance to the current reality. Not unless we are prepared to reopen the Creek Indian nation’s claim on the state of Georgia.   

Read the rest of the article>>

Associated Press 
July 7, 2010

Presbyterians: End U.S.-Israel Aid Over
Settlements In Palestinian Land


Photo below: Delegates wait to speak at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, Friday, July 9, 2010 in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

MINNEAPOLIS — Presbyterian leaders strongly backed a proposal Friday that included a call to end U.S. aid to Israel unless the country stops settlement expansions in disputed Palestinian territories.

But they said the 172-page report, which details their church's approach to issues in the Middle East, was a sincere effort to mend long-standing fractures between the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and Jewish groups.

It earned qualified praise but also criticism from pro-Israel organizations, which have long taken issue with various Presbyterian statements on Middle East peace.

Church delegates approved the report by an 82 percent vote during the church's general assembly in Minneapolis. It's meant as a comprehensive guide to the denomination's more than 2 million members on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"We feel we've brought together people who previously had trouble talking about some of these issues together," said Rev. Karen Dimon, pastor at Northminster Presbyterian Church in North Syracuse, N.Y., and chairwoman of the committee that produced the report.

Ethan Felson, vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, said he still took issue with major aspects of the report, but said it contained "important signals" that could lessen long-standing tension between Presbyterians and pro-Israel Jews. He said it strengthens support for Israel's right to exist and removes comparisons of Israeli policy to apartheid.

"Concerns remain, but I have hope that authentic dialogue and better relations can come of this," Felson said.

The Anti-Defamation League said the report managed to "avoid a rupture with Jewish people, but bias against Israel continues." The Simon Wiesenthal Center said the report "takes definite sides in a complex struggle."

But the Rev. J.C. Austin, director of the Center for Christian Leadership at New York City's Auburn Seminary, disagreed.

"We are refusing to designate a winner or loser," said Austin, who helped prepare the report.

Photo (right): A general view of the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit in the occupied West Bank, on March 8, 2010. Beitar Illit is in the foreground of the photo. (GETTY)

The denomination's relationship with Jewish groups took a hit in 2004, when the church's general assembly voted to authorize "phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel" because of Israel's policies toward Palestinians. That stance has since been softened, and this year convention delegates voted down an amendment to the Middle East report that would have put divestment back on the table.

Despite the strong convention vote, some delegates expressed concern that the Middle East report remained too slanted toward a Palestinian perspective.

"There are many longtime friends in the Jewish community who believe this report misstates Jewish theology and misquotes the Jewish voice," said the Rev. Susan Zencka, pastor at Frame Memorial Presbyterian Church in Stevens Point, Wis. "We have come to a position of Palestine good, Israel bad. Life is not that simple."

But supporters stressed that the overarching goal of the report is to encourage activism toward peace in the Middle East.

"I fully support a state of Israel, but I also believe Israel's peace will not come until they seek peace with Palestinians," said Dottie Villesvik, a church elder from Everett, Wash.

The church's annual convention is scheduled through Saturday. It began July 3.
July 12, 2010    [AFTER THE ASSEMBLY]

This is No Longer Your Daddy's 
Presbyterian Church (USA)
by James M. Wall

Photo: GA commissioner standing in prayer (Jim Mone/Associated Press)

When commissioners to the 129th Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly left Minneapolis, they departed from a GA that achieved amazing, surprising, and unexpected results.

Reports on the Assembly in the secular media were formulaic, shaped by the American Jewish-Christian dialogue paradigm, which has been carefully built and sustained over many decades by the Israeli Hasbara (hebrew for "propaganda" or, more politely, "explanation".)

The New York Times reported on the GA actions with a short summary that was one-third about the GA actions, and two-thirds about Jewish response to those actions.

Nothing, of course, about any Muslim reactions, of which more later.

The Los Angeles Times had its usual "middle ground" lead, written by Mitchell Landsberg. Notice that his focus is not on the Presbyterians, but on the fact that the report included criticism of Israel.

In sports writing culture, this is known as reporting from the perspective of the home team.

A week ago, the Presbyterian Church USA seemed headed for a bruising, polarizing battle over a report on the Middle East that sharply criticized Israel.

On Friday, meeting in Minneapolis, the church's General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a resolution that seemed to placate nearly everyone on both sides of the issue — a "miracle," some said, that offered hope to those who see the Mideast as hopelessly deadlocked.

Sorry, Mitch, but you missed the final inning rally by the visiting team.

The big story out of Minneapolis is that this is no longer your Daddy's Presbyterian Church.
Of course, there were compromises by GA commissioners--this is, after all, a democratic body--but "placating nearly everyone"? Not even close.
Here, in summary, are key decisions reached by the 129th General Assembly during the week of July 3-10, 2010:

•   Approved a comprehensive report on the Middle East – its first since 1997--which calls for the following actions.

•   Called for an immediate cessation of all violence, whether perpetrated by Israelis or Palestinians;

•   Reaffirmed Israel’s right to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders

•   The end of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories;

•   An immediate freeze on the establishment and expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and on the Israeli acquisition of Palestinian land and buildings in East Jerusalem.

The General Assembly got down to the hard stuff when it "approved" the report of the Mission Responsibility Through its Investment (MRTI) committee, an ongoing unit of governance that identifies corporations and businesses deemed worthy or unworthy for the approved investment list.

The MRTI has complied its list on instructions from General Assemblies in 2004, 2006 and 2008.

The committee reached a compromise in its report by acknowledging "that Caterpillar has in many ways provided positive leadership to its community, its state, and the nation.

It has donated considerable resources and equipment in support of local development and disaster relief at home and overseas.

It has significantly improved workplace safety, acted aggressively to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and pursued environmental conservation within its production processes.

That was the carrot.

MRTI followed with a stick by "asking the GA to strongly denounce Caterpillar’s continued profit-making from non-peaceful uses of a number of its products on the basis of Christian principles and as a matter of social witness.

The MRTI also "calls 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.

This carrot and stick compromise was reached by the GA to avoid the dreaded step of "divesting" from Caterpillar.

It is pretty clear that BDS has its avid backers within the church, but they are still in the minority. For that reason, compromise was inevitable.

Denouncing, however, keeps CAT on the hot seat, provoking one commissioner to comment to a small group that since CAT would not go bankrupt if it lost Presbyterian investments (hardly), why not just go ahead and divest and leave the Peoria, Illinois-based company alone.

The answer, I suspect, lies in the reluctance among Americans to use economic tools against an "ally"--as opposed to, say, Iran, North Korea, or Cuba, you know, our "enemies".

The Jewish-Christian dialogue paradigm is too deep rooted, so far, to overcome resistance to the use of BDS as a tool to confront an "ally" on a justice issue.

Resistance to BDS is not strong in, for example, Great Britain, where the Methodist Church just approved a boycott of settlement products, of which there are many in the UK, especially produce.

In  France, a major labor union just agreed not to work on Israeli projects.

These are clear signs that the old ark is a moving.
Read the rest of this article by Jim Wall>>

The Institute for Middle East Understanding
July 10, 2010    [AFTER THE ASSEMBLY]

Presbyterian Church shouldn't accept
bullying at the pulpit

by Dr. Hanan Ashrawi

Photo: Dr. Hanan Ashrawi is an elected member of both the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee and the Palestinian Legislative Council.

This week probably will not be easy for Presbyterians. False accusations of anti-Semitism impugning the motives and integrity of the Church will hurt. But their work is vitally important and offers a tremendous opportunity to hold Israel to account for 43 years of occupation of Palestinian territory.

For decades, I have faced vicious ad hominem attacks as both a Christian and a Palestinian simply for daring to insist that the Palestinian people should live free and not be subject to Israeli occupation. Yes, notwithstanding the absurdity of the language, it occasionally hurts. But Presbyterians under verbal attack may be surprised at the growing number of Palestinians and Jews they find at their side. The rhetoric of the Israel lobby is ferocious because it seeks to obscure the cruel policies - Gazans put on a "diet" resulting in child stunting and malnutrition, the apartheid wall, white phosphorous used on civilians - enacted by the Israeli government.

When Katharine Henderson and Gustav Niebuhr call in the Washington Post for Presbyterians to "listen to all involved, including American Jews, essential partners who were not consulted in the report's preparation," Presbyterians should bear in mind that the American Jewish community is not monolithic and goes beyond the Israel lobby Henderson and Niebuhr evidently had in mind. The white community in the American South was not monolithic, the white community in apartheid South Africa was not monolithic, and Jews in the US and Israel are not monolithic.

In fact, a growing number of Jews support Palestinian freedom and some go so far as to support a campaign of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel - and Palestinians here and in the diaspora are working with them every day. I am no more surprised by this than African Americans were surprised to find whites of good will who supported bus boycotts and other economic instruments of change to overcome Jim Crow.

The Presbyterians' Middle East Study Committee is right to speak out against both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. But when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it would be an abdication of moral responsibility to regard the parties as equals in a conflict as B'nai B'rith does when it denigrates the Committee's report for "dramatically emphasiz[ing] perceived Israeli wrongdoing and Palestinian suffering."

No, one side is occupied and one is occupier. One side is subjugated and the other subjugates. As in South Africa, there is a clear line. Therefore, the Committee's strongly voiced concerns regarding Israeli policy make logical and moral sense.

The Committee's proposal to stop US military aid to Israel until such time as the settlement enterprise ceases is a good starting point. Anyone who shrank in horror at Israel's use of American weaponry last year in the Gaza Strip can support such a proposal - as can anyone who recognizes how ongoing settlement and colonization is foreclosing on a viable Palestinian state.

But the Presbyterians do not control Congress's purse strings despite the fears of some in the Israel lobby. They do control their own investment portfolio.

Therefore, I support individual overtures that move beyond the Committee's call, which "Strongly denounces Caterpillar's continued profit-making from non-peaceful uses of its products and presses Caterpillar to review carefully 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."

With Israel having just announced plans to raze 22 more homes in occupied East Jerusalem, a strong and timely signal could be sent to Caterpillar by divesting Presbyterian holdings in the company. Presbyterians have already engaged Caterpillar in good faith and gotten nowhere. Israeli retrofitted Caterpillar bulldozers continue to destroy Palestinian lives and homes. Moving now to divest from Caterpillar would not be overly precipitous. Failure to act will indicate to Israel and Caterpillar a willingness to wring hands, but not take meaningful nonviolent action. We must vigorously seize upon such nonviolence as a powerful moral means to advance freedom and justice for both peoples and work together to stave off a possible future that devolves into further violence, ill-will, and misery.

While the Presbyterians "affirm the legitimacy of Israel as a state," they rightly recognize the "continuing occupation of Palestine (West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem) to be illegitimate, illegal under international law, and an enduring threat to peace in the region." Without strong and immediate nonviolent action challenging the Netanyahu government's policies, the stated U.S. goal of a two-state solution will soon be derailed by Israeli settlement activity. Many Israel lobby voices will urge the Presbyterians not to act this week. But as Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. said in March of 1968, drawing on his spirituality, "...there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right."



July 18, 2010   [AFTER THE ASSEMBLY]

Who "Won" the PCUSA Assembly?
The Answer May Surprise You 
by James M. Wall

Who “won” the Minneapolis Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly?

To answer that question, we first need to ask, who did not win?

The religious arm of the Israel Lobby did not win, in spite of what you may have read in Newsweek, in the Los Angeles Times and in the American Jewish media.

When a “What's Good for Israel” spin is set in rapid motion, you know you are witnessing the work of an operation that left Minneapolis surprised and disappointed at the outcome.

Something had to be done, and quickly, before the public-and the folks back in Tel Aviv-heard that the Protestant/Israeli Iron Wall has been breached.

Something, indeed, had to be done, and that something was to launch a ”save the Jewish-Christian dialogue” media blitz.

The blitz included a second Newsweek appearance this month in a column by Katharine R. Henderson,  president of Auburn Theological Seminary.

With respected Protestant leaders like Henderson as allies, the state of Israel did exactly what the US private healthcare industry did when it kept a public option out of President Obama's health care bill. They control the process in their favor.

In a fancy bit of footwork, health care lobbyist Liz Fowler rotated between a job as a public policy adviser to WellPoint Inc, the nation's largest publicly traded health benefits company, and a position as a top advisor to Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont), who receives massive campaign funds from the insurance industry.

Bill Moyers reported on his television program how Fowler killed the public option in the bill. Fowler, by the way, has a new job. President Obama asked her to implement the health care bill for the administration. This news appeared  as a minor item July 14 in the Billings Gazette.

That is how the Lobby system works. A lobby recruits allies, develops plans, cultivates decision makers, and pays to control the final outcome of legislation affecting its client. With Liz Fowler in control, the private health care industry got the health care bill the heath care industry wanted.

It works the same way with the Israel Lobby. Experienced in such matters, the Lobby knew what it had to do when confronted by all those bleeding heart Progressives in the Presbyterian Church (USA), which for years has been the lobby's greatest nightmare, a denomination that will not stay on the reservation.

The Lobby has had a much easier time of it with Episcopalians and Lutherans, historic state churches accustomed to following a national consensus.

But oh, those Presbyterians. It was time for the Lobby to call on friendships inside the denomination, cultivated over many years with a single goal in mind: Protect, by any means possible, the “fragile” relationships between Christians and Jews.

Here is how it works:

Give a rabbi and a neighboring Presbyterian pastor free passage to the Holy Land. Provide their church and synagogue members with low rates in Israel's finer hotels. Travelers walk where Jesus walked.

By the time Holy Land travelers prepare to return home, religiously aglow, the entire delegation will be singing "cum ba yah" around the closing banquet table.

Some of those Presbyterian travelers might end up as voting commissioners when the General Assembly of the PCUSA meets to discuss a "controversial" report on the Israel-Palestine situation.

I do not know the background of one PCUSA commissioner who came to Minneapolis to vote on that  "controversial" report in Minneapolis in early July. I have no idea why he thinks the way he thinks.

But I do know his story, because he told his story to Josh Nathan-Kazis, who wrote about this particular commissioner for the on line edition of the national Jewish publication, Forward.

This commissioner sure sounds like he has sung a few choruses of "cum ba yah" with his Jewish neighbors, as is his right, and indeed duty, as a member of the Jewish-Christian dialogue caucus in the PCUSA.

The blogger's headline, Presbyterians Tone Down Report On Israel After Jewish Lobbying, could serve as a text for our discussion here on how lobbying works when it involves Presbyterians and Jewish lobbyists.

Here is how the Forward blogger tells the story:

Ask Pete Bloss why he worked against resolutions critical of Israel at the general assembly of the largest Presbyterian group in the United States, and the Gulfport, Miss., resident speaks more about Hurricane Katrina than about Israeli policy.

“The richness and diversity of points of view in the Jewish community really became clear to us when Jewish college groups started arriving,” he said, recalling the Jews who worked with his church on reconstruction projects after the 2005 disaster. “

We koshered our kitchen for several weeks.… We had rabbis teaching the Old Testament in our Sunday school classes. It was just wonderful to share things.”
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