ST. LOUIS — The General Assembly’s Middle East Issues Committee sped smoothly through much of its agenda June 18. The only close votes were on a measure that calls on congregations to support grassroots peacemaking efforts and one that takes the RE/MAX real estate company to task for persisting in marketing property in Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Before endorsing this commissioners’ resolution, committee members questioned what the term “grassroots” peacemaking really means and examined arguments against the resolution offered by several advisory groups within the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). One of them, the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, accused the resolution’s authors of setting up “a false dichotomy between policy and grassroots action.”
After deleting some other language that some members found puzzling, the Middle East panel voted 29-25 to send the measure forward to the General Assembly.
The committee voted 31-22 for an overture from the Presbytery of the Redwoods after learning that — for the second time in a row — RE/MAX had waited until the day before a Presbyterian General Assembly convened to send a letter explaining its reasons for continuing to sell property in areas where Jews only could buy it.
In 2016, just before the previous General Assembly, RE/MAX founder and then CEO Dave Liniger announced that the company would stop receiving revenues from settlement properties. That year’s assembly responded to what it considered a show of good faith by RE/MAX by calling on the company to “do everything within its legal and moral power to stop facilitating the sale and rental of property in Israeli settlement colonies.”
Since then, however, RE/MAX’s Israeli franchise has continued to rent and sell settlement houses. David Jones, a ruling elder from the Redwoods Presbytery, showed this year’s committee members a letter from a RE/MAX official, dated June 14, that claims the company is “constricted in our ability to influence the operational policies” of RE/MAX offices in Israel.
Jones said it appeared RE/MAX had engaged the PC(USA) in “a financial shell game.”
In addition to repeating the earlier appeal, the new measure calls on RE/MAX to exclude settlement property listings from its global database and to call on RE/MAX Europe to stop its franchises from selling or renting property in Israeli settlements.
The committee also voted:
- To unanimously approve an amended version of an overture from the Presbytery of the Cascades calling for the church to petition the U.S. government to use all diplomatic means to bring about a durable ceasefire in the Syrian conflict. The amended version adds the United Nations Security Council to a list of other recommended parties in such a peacemaking effort.
- To reject an overturecondemning the militarization of children in Palestine and the production of educational literature and curriculum that dehumanizes Israeli or Palestinian children or attempts to “cleanse” the historical narrative of the Palestinian and the Jewish people. The vote was 48-8.
- To acknowledge and respond to a letter from the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine (NCCOP) in accordance with existing policy statements of previous General Assemblies. This measure, a pared-down version of an overture from the Presbytery of Grace, was approved on a 52-3 vote. The committee ruled that the action on this overture was a sufficient answer to a similar overture from the Presbytery of San Francisco.
- To unanimously approve a recommendation from the church’s Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns that the church prepare a report on the status of Jerusalem to be presented to the 224thGeneral Assembly.
- To unanimously approve a commissioners’ resolution encouraging all parties to the “Iran Nuclear Deal,” the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, to continue to comply with its terms, and urging the U.S. government to reconsider its unilateral withdrawal from the agreement.