Others, however, say the “Breaking Down The Walls” report attempts to be balanced – the result of listening to a range of voices concerned with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“We believe that our report, however, is quite fair, the report states in one of its introductory letters. Our analysis, both through careful research and through our experience of being in the Middle East, is that Israel is the most powerful party to the conflict. Therefore, Israel has both the responsibility and the ability to reverse the course of the current precipitous decline throughout the region.”
All of the report’s 30 recommendations will be part of a mass of business involving peace in the Middle East that the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) will consider when it meets in Minneapolis in July.
The PC(USA)’s policy statements on the Middle East are likely to draw particular attention because of the controversy that caught fire in 2004 when the General Assembly approved a process of phased, selective divestiture in some companies doing business in Israel — a position that later General Assemblies revisited and modified.
The report of the study committee was rolled out in sections early in March, and before long a variety of Jewish groups began to critique it.
The responses so far include:
» A statement from the Anti-Defamation League, calling the report “a toxic mix of bad history, politically motivated distortions, and offensive attacks on Judaism and Israel.” Abraham H. Foxman, the league’s national director, said in the statement that the PC(USA), after promising at the last General Assembly to take an even-handed approach regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, “has gone back on its word with this offensive and biased report.”
» A memo from the Jewish Council of Public Affairs to its members describes the study group report as being unbalanced and anti-Israel. “We are dismayed by the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s latest attempts to pressure the Christian community to delegitimize and demonize the State of Israel,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, the council’s president.
In responding to the study group report, there’s lots of territory to cover. The report is more than 150 pages long, with multiple sections, including introductory letters to a variety of audiences and sections written by a number of the study group members.
A personal narrative from Ron Kronish, a rabbi and educator from Jerusalem was included after some study group members said they did not think that an historical analysis written by committee members Nahida H. Gordon and Frederic W. Bush was balanced enough.
One observer, Dexter Van Zile, of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America described Gordon’s and Bush’s analysis as “explicitly anti-Zionist,” and provides examples as to why he thinks that is so.
Part of the report includes a series of eight introductory letters written to specific audiences including Presbyterians, American Jews and Muslims, Palestinians, Israelis, and Christians in the Middle East.
But Rachel Lerner, associate executive director of the J Street Education Fund — which describes itself as representing “pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans” — has criticized a reference to her organization in the letter to American Jews. That reference states that “we are hopeful as organizations like J-Street, B’Tselem, Jewish Voice for Peace, and others continue to raise the banner that being pro-Israel and being truly Jewish is not tantamount to complicity in the excesses of Israeli policy. It is our hope that the leadership of mainstream American Jewish organizations will catch up with this growing reality of Jewish identity in the U.S.”
Lerner, however, wrote in a J Street blog that “J Street was never approached by the Committee, nor have we had any conversations with PC(USA)’s leadership about this or any other study.
“We wish more groups, including J Street, were consulted on this document before its publication and that we had been able to relay our strong objections to many of its findings. We are dismayed at the attempt by the Committee to use J Street as political cover for this report.
One of the committee’s recommendations calls on the United States government “to exercise strategically its international influence, including the possible withholding of financial and military aid as a means of bringing Israel to compliance with international law and peacemaking efforts.”
There also has been criticism of a recommendation involving a document written by Palestinian Christians, released in December 2009 and known as the Kairos document, or “A Moment of Truth.” The committee’s recommendation is somewhat limited — stating that the committee endorses the document “in its hope for liberation, non-violence, love of enemy, and reconciliation,” and lifting it up for study and discussion by Presbyterians.
But the Anti-Defamation League’s statement says the Kairos document “excuses Palestinian terrorism and fully blames Israel for any and all Palestinian violence.”
It is these kinds of disagreements — disagreements over the language used in the report, its emphases, and intent — that are likely to keep this issue gathering steam until the assembly opens for business on July 3.