The report of a Middle East Study Committee, up for adoption this week at the church’s 219th General Assembly, could “delegitimize us as peacemakers,” said Katherine Henderson, president of Auburn Seminary. She said it “veers in tone and context” from previous statements by the church.
Byron Shafer, one of the study committee’s nine members – and the only one to vote against the report’s adoption – called the document one-sided and said it “does not express a deep love for Israel.”
Speaking a breakfast meeting of the group Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, Henderson, Shafer, and Rachel Lerner of the Jewish peace advocacy group J Street called the report blatantly pro-Palestinian and said it was riddled with historical inaccuracies. More than 75 GA participants and observers attended the session.
“The writers of this report did not speak to American Jews at all,” Henderson said.
Lerner called the report “so one-sided and so devoid of balance” that it would “actually be counterproductive” in peacemaking efforts. She said the study committee never consulted J Street, which favors a two-state solution to Israeli-Palestinian conflict but understands that “its history and its context are immensely complex.”
She said Jews who have read the panel’s report have all had the same bewildered response. They have asked, “How could they do this?” – and have questioned how Jews could work with a church that would countenance it, she said.
The report, called “Breaking Down the Walls,” reflects extensive contacts between committee members and Christians in Israel and Palestine, and it recommends for denominational study “Kairos Palestine,” a document prepared by Palestinian Christians.
Shafer, of the New York City Presbytery, called this and other study materials recommended in the report “overwhelmingly one-sided” in their pro-Palestinian perspective. The committee recommends that the study materials be “received” rather than officially adopted by the church.
Shafer said the report’s imbalance is apparent in the page count of sections giving the Palestinian and Israeli perspectives on the history of their conflict. The Palestinian narrative runs to 77 pages, including maps, and the Israeli section contains only eight pages, he said.
Shafer said the report affirms Israel’s right to exist only once. He said the committee removed statements of that right from several other places in the text and omitted it from a list of past actions of the General Assembly that should be reaffirmed.
He said the report inaccurately claims Palestinian resistance would end if Israel withdrew from Palestinian territory, and he said it describes the 1967 war against neighboring Arab powers in biased, pro-Palestinian terms.
Adopting the report as written “would in my opinion be taking the Palestinian side over against the Israeli,” Shafer said. It would, he added, be “pouring fuel on the fire” rather than contributing to peace.
The Middle East Peacemaking Issues Committee, which will take action on the report, voted later Sunday to set aside time Monday to hear perspectives on it from the group that sponsored the breakfast – Presbyterians for Middle East Peace – and from a separate, church-sponsored group, the Israel-Palestine Mission Network.
Votes to set aside time for other views on the report came after one of its authors and supporters, Susan Andrews of the Hudson River Presbytery, addressed the Peacemaking Issues panel. A member of that group, Philip Keevil of the Presbytery of Lehigh, made the motion to hear “an alternative perspective” for which there was “a very compelling presentation to be made.”
Dottie Villesvik of Puget Sound Presbytery moved for time for the Israel-Palestine Mission Network.