The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights organization, posted an alert to supporters on Feb. 22, with the headline: “Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Ready to Declare War Against Israel: Take Action Now.”
The alert, regarding a report that’s not completed yet from a General Assembly Middle East study group, states that “adoption of this poisonous document by the Presbyterian Church will be nothing short of a declaration of war on Israel and her supporters.”
Following that, top Presbyterian leaders – in Louisville this week for a series of meetings – were flooded by more than 2,700 e-mails of protest, according to Sharon Youngs, communications director for the Office of the General Assembly. The Wiesenthal Center posting included a link people could use to send a pre-written e-mail to Gradye Parsons, the PC(USA)’s stated clerk; Bruce Reyes-Chow, moderator of the 218th General Assembly; and Linda Valentine, executive director of the General Assembly Mission Council.
At the assembly, based on indications so far, “there will be a huge amount of outside press” covering the Middle East issues, Tom Hay, director of operations for the Office of the General Assembly, told a joint meeting of the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly and the General Assembly Mission Council’s Executive Committee on Feb. 23.
The e-mail from the Wiesenthal Center describes the Middle East study group – whose members were appointed by Reyes-Chow and the two General Assembly moderators who preceded him – as being “dominated by activists openly hostile to Israel. They are poised to place the policy of the PC(USA) on a collision course with Israel’s survival.”
In response to the Wiesenthal Center’s posting, Parsons issued a statement on Feb. 23 regarding the work of the Middle East study group. That statement quotes both from previous General Assembly policy statements regarding Israel, and from the draft of an introductory letter the study group wrote to the American Jewish community – one of a series of introductory letters, each one addressed to a particular audience.
That letter includes this passage:
“We want to be sure to say to you in no uncertain terms: We support the existence of Israel as a sovereign nation within secure and recognized borders. No `but,’ no `let’s get this out of the way so we can say what we really want to say.’ We support Israel’s existence as granted by the U.N. General Assembly. We support Israel’s existence as a home for the Jewish people. We have said this before, and we say this again. We say it because we believe it; we say it because we want it to continue to be true.”
The 2008 General Assembly created the Middle East study group – which traveled as a group to the Middle East last summer, held its final meeting in late January, and is required to have its report complete by March 5. As the Outlook reported then, the study group approved 30 recommendations at its meeting Jan. 29-30 – but still had work to do, including writing an additional section of historical analysis.
Those recommendations range from asking that the two years from 2010 to 2012 be “a time of Presbyterian prayer and action for the Middle East” to one calling on the United States government “to repent of its sinful behavior throughout the Middle East, including its ongoing war in Iraq, its undermining of democratic processes in Iran and the Palestinian National Authority, its continuing support of non-democratic regimes, and its acquiescence to the ongoing Israeli Occupation.”
While the Wiesenthal Center criticism is focused on the study group’s work, the General Assembly Mission Council also will be discussing this week three other key reports involving Israel and the Middle East that also will be coming to the General Assembly in July.
The council’s Discipleship Committee will be considering two theological reports – one called “Christian and Jews: People of God,” and a second report called “Toward an Understanding of Christian-Muslim Relations.” Another issue likely to catch some attention is a recommendation from the denomination’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee that the assembly denounce Caterpillar. Inc., because the corporation is making a profit from products it sells and which are being used for “non-peaceful” purposes in Israel-Palestine.
That recommendation follows four years of attempts by MRTI to engage Caterpillar in conversation about the business it conducts in the Middle East.