At the end of the day Monday, the Middle East Issues Committee voted 58-18 to approve with comment, the controversial Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) report 08-06 entitled “Israel-Palestine: For Human Values in the Absence of a Just Peace.”
The report with recommendations was developed by ACSWP in response to a request from the 221st General Assembly of the PCUSA in 2014. That assembly asked ACSWP to “make a recommendation about whether the General Assembly should continue to call for a two-state solution in Israel Palestine, or take a neutral stance that seeks not to determine for Israelis and Palestinians what the right ‘solution’ should be.”
A “two-state solution” is understood to mean that the sovereign democratic state os Israel would co-exist between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea alongside a sovereign Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza. A “neutral stance” is just what it sounds like – alternate possibilities including that favored by many Palestinian activists, of a single Arab-majority state ruling over the entire land. Where do the Jews fit into that vision? That question is answered by many variant speculative scenarios.
What is now before the GA for action is a full report with recommendations that, if approved, would require the denomination to act and advocate with both the Israeli and U.S. governments. The PCUSA would ask the U.S. government to resist using its veto power at the UN which currently prevents the full membership for Palestine.
The denomination would also directly pressure Israel by:
- lobbying the U.S. Congress to hold hearings on Israeli use of U.S.-made military and police equipment in the West Bank;
- Call on the Internal Revenue Service to pursue revocation of the tax exempt status and tax advantages for individuals and organizations that support Israeli settlements on Palestinian land;
- Pressure the U.S. government to lower trade barriers for Palestinian goods made in the West Bank and require labeling of goods made in Israeli settlements.
A minority report is expected and the business will come before the GA plenary on either Thursday or Friday.
On my way t0 the committee’s meeting, I asked a young man in a J-street ball cap, “How are things going in there?” He answered cautiously, “well, that depends if you love or hate Israel.”
While not all of the business before the Middle East Issues Committee #10 is related to the conflict, relationship or future of the people and the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, the most energetic and lengthy debates center on Israel.
Efforts to substantively amend the report failed although two incidental comments were amended to the report approved by the committee. One comment affirms commitment to a two-state solution and the other affirms a commitment to continue working with partners in Israel interested in peace.
During debate, Rev. Roy Howard shared that a line from an article by Thomas Friedman in the New York Times is being used in the report to advocate for the end of hope for peaceful diplomatic. He emailed Friedman and this was his response he received:
Thank you for coming by my office for a chat about my position on a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians. I am appalled to learn that some people have been extracting a line from one of my columns to suggest that I am no longer for a two-state solution. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I have stood for a two-state solution my entire life, and still do. It is the only just, fair, and secure way to resolve the struggle between two peoples over the same land. Out of my despair that the current leadership in Israel may be no longer willing to pursue such a solution, I have written some provocative columns to suggest that it may be too late. But deep down I hope that is not the case and I hope my columns will shock Israelis into understanding the terrible implications for a Jewish democratic state if they abandoned the two-state option. It is the only way to go forward.
Bless you for your good works on behalf of two states for two people.
Former IDF soldier, Eric Flamm, testified that the two state solution remains the best option for an end to the conflict. “I lived in Israel for seven years from 1994-2001. During that time, I served in the Israel Defense Forces as a combat soldier.”
He warned that only one state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River would result in a civil war. Flamm said, “A single state would not address the needs of security and full political and civil rights for both groups.”
He went on to say “the two-state solution remains the only viable option and has been endorsed by each of most recent Israeli and Palestinian leaders. We can build consensus around crystal clear denunciations of the violence and affirmation of opposition to unilateral actions that move the sides further from, rather than toward, peaceful diplomatic resolution of the conflict.”
Flamm concluded, “I’ve seen first hand that there is nothing inherently hostile in either of these two populations. The two-state solution remains the best answer to this conflict.”
Dr. Michael Gizzi, ruling elder from Great Rivers Presbytery, and a political scientist professor at Illinois State University said that he was “surprised and disappointed when (he) read the ACSWP report, from both its lack of intellectual rigor, failure to seek out multiple viewpoints, and the use of language that distorts facts.”
He noted that “on the very first page, the report provides a brief history of the conflict, in which the First Intifada is described as a ‘largely non-violent movement that led to the Oslo Accords.’ What the authors of the report apparently are trying to do is to equate the Palestinian resistance, then led by Yasser Arafat and the PLO as being on the same moral level as the American civil rights movement, in which Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used the strategy of nonviolent civil disobedience to effect change. King led bus boycotts, sit-ins and marches to overcome legal segregation.”
He then that pointed out that 1,300 people died in the First Intifada between 1987-1991, concluding, “That is not non-violent resistance.”
Gizzi identified several other facts in error.
- Report claims Jerusalem has always been a city open to all. But from 1948-1967, when the city was under Jordanian control, Jews were not allowed in East Jerusalem nor in the Old City.
- The report claims that the status of East Jerusalem was resolved in the 1993 Oslo Accords. But it wasn’t. It was one of several hot-button issues left unresolved in Oslo, so a tentative agreement could be reached.
- The report cites a 2013 UN Report listing instances of mistreatment of children by Israel, but fails to mention a 2014 UN Report that praises Israel for significant progress on resolving the issues listed in 2013.
- The report claims that Israelis lead “relatively secure lives.” In fact, 63 percent of Israeli children near the Gaza strip suffer PTSD. 67 percent of Israelis in a 2016 poll fear being hurt in the current wave of terror aimed at them.
A motion to amend by deleting section 2. e. 2. failed 20-56.
For acknowledgment and confession of our complicity in the injustices in Israel-Palestine, that:
(2) Appropriate agencies of the assembly support measures by the Internal Revenue Service (or related units of the United States government) to investigate and possibly revoke the 501(c)(3) status for organizations, and tax deductions for individuals, that promote and finance the development or operation of Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law and obstacles to peace.
Another motion to refer the document back to the Presbyterian Mission Agency for editing failed as well.
Conversations about Israel spilled over into other committees at the General Assembly. The Theological Issues committee which is dealing with a re-write of the denomination’s Directory for Worship, reduced the number of times the word “Israel” appears in the book to three and in two of those three places was convinced to specify ancient Israel, in an effort to distinguish it from the modern nation state.