Minority bid falls short, but assembly affirms goal of separate states for Israel and Palestine 

PORTLAND, Ore. — Several members of the General Assembly’s Middle East Issues committee took to the assembly floor on June 24 in their effort to put the brakes on a wide-ranging action plan aimed at Israel’s violations of Palestinians’ rights.

They called that plan (08-06) flawed in both its tone and its mastery of facts, and they argued that delaying it long enough to fix its problems would do less harm than rushing to adopt and implement it.

Their argument for adoption of a minority report on that action plan fell short, however. The assembly instead voted 429-129 for an amended version of a report called “For Human Values in the Absence of a Just Peace,” drafted for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) by its Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP).

The report’s wide-ranging recommendations call for, among other things, an end to Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinians and its alleged abuses of children.

Commissioners line up to speak
Commissioners line up to speak

It also calls for Congress to review Israel’s use of U.S.-made military and police equipment, and for consideration of tax and trade policies that would discourage Americans from investing in or doing business with Israeli settlements. It also asks the United States drop any threat to veto full United Nations membership for Palestine.

As submitted by ACSWP, the report also says the PC(USA) should reevaluate its commitment to separate states for Palestinians and Israelis. One of the report’s authors told the assembly June 24 that didn’t mean ACSWP was suggesting the church should withdraw its support for two states, however.

“We do not abandon PC(USA)’s historic preference for a just and equitable two-state solution,” but ACSWP “seeks to respond to facts on the ground, rather than impose a state,” said Doug Tilton, a Presbyterian mission co-worker in South Africa.

On June 24, the General Assembly went further. It added a comment to the report that affirms the assembly’s preference for a two-state solution — and specifically affirms the right of Israel and Palestine to each exist as a separate, sovereign nation.

“The assembly also affirms our desire to stay in conversation with our partners in Israel who work for peace,” the new language says. “Finally, the assembly expresses its opposition to any efforts to deny or undermine the rights of the Palestinian people or the Jewish people to self-determination.”

In addition to their concern about the two-state commitment, authors of the minority report challenged ACSWP’s version of some facts, including Israel’s standing as a true democracy. They also warned that the report was poorly written, and that some language in the document could be read as anti-Semitic.

One of the six minority report authors, Brian Paulson, a teaching elder in the Chicago Presbytery, told the assembly June 24 that the church needed “to keep and expand our circle of allies in Israel, Palestine and the world,” but that the “repeatedly divisive, often acerbic” language in the document written by ACSWP was likely to have the opposite effect.

The ACSWP report “so often misses its point in its effort to put its point across that it may do harm,” he said.

Backers of the minority report had originally tried, unsuccessfully, to get the Middle East Issues committee to agree to a two-year delay of adoption of the ACSWP document to allow time for the Presbyterian Mission Agency to improve it. ACSWP members who helped write it, however, said Palestinian rights were under such direct attack that a delay of that length would be unconscionable.

During debate on the assembly floor June 24, backers of the minority report   proposed a shorter timeline that would allow a revised plan to take place as soon as the end of 2016, but that would mean the General Assembly wouldn’t get to vote on the revisions, and some commissioners weren’t willing to allow that to happen.

A commissioner plans to call the question
A commissioner plans to call the question

On June 24, the General Assembly also adopted by a 464-95 vote a measure (08-02) calling for the church to advocate for the human rights of children in Israel and Palestine. That resolution also includes language calling on the Palestinian Authority and Hamas as well as Israel to denounce and cease incitement of violence against children or at the hands of children

On a 483-72 vote, the assembly rejected an overture (08-01) calling for a boycott of all products produced by Hewlett-Packard and an affiliate, Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, based on the use of those companies’ technology in the Israeli naval blockade of Gaza and biometric scanning equipment in the West Bank.

The assembly approved, by a vote of 407-146, a plan (08-07) for denomination-wide study of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement — commonly known as BDS and often described as a concerted, international strategy for isolating, weakening and, if possible, destroying Israel through economic pressure. As amended in committee, the plan requires Presbyterians to draw interfaith partners who oppose BDS into the discussion.

By a 476-74 vote, the assembly adopted the Middle East committee’s reasoning that the study of BDS was a sufficient answer to a commissioners’ resolution (08-08) that called for the denomination to refrain from financial support and affiliation with the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. The resolution described that organization as an umbrella organization of BDS advocacy groups.