Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Middle East Study Team-a one sided story

Commentary on "What We Have Seen and Heard" and some "recommendations":

Two of the main new and final documents released by the Presbyterian (U.S.A.) Middle East Study Committee are D. What We Have Seen and Heard the last section of part 1 and Recommendations. The third part consists of Notes from a Humanistic, Liberal Zionist: A Personal Narrative, A Plea for Justice: A Historical Analysis and the Appendices.

In this posting I want to mostly address “What We Have Seen and Heard,” which I believe allows the reader to understand not only why the study committee formulated their theology, letters and recommendations the way they did, it also proves that as far as issues about the Middle East go they are not a diverse group. I will also look at a few of the recommendations. My next posting will focus on only the recommendations which I find, in some places, grandiose and in other places vague.

I may do a later posting on “A plea for justice: A Historical Analysis” by Nahida H. Gordon and Frederic Bush, two members of the committee. This is a very long paper and as I began to read it I found their early history of modern Israel was a one-sided incomplete history that gives a slanted view to the rest of the paper. It deserves a fuller review.

But the first and most important point I want to make in this posting, and the next, is that despite the insistence in the recommendations as well as in the theology paper that the study committee agrees that Israel has a right to exist the focus of the committee is on an Israel that would not be a Jewish State.

For instance, one of the recommendations under the subtitle “III For the Witness of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” is f. “Endorses the Kairos Palestine document (“A Moment of Truth”) in its emphasis on hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy, and reconciliation; lifts the document up for study and discussion by Presbyterians; and directs the creation of a study guide for the document through the appropriate channel of the General Assembly Mission Council.” As a have explained in another posting the Kairos Palestine Document encourages the existence of a non-Jewish Israel.[1]

Our Witness: ‘What We Have Seen and Heard”: The methodology as explained in the first part of the paper “has been to engage as many representatives from a spectrum of perspectives on the Israel-Palestine conflict and to embrace the witness and concerns of our Christian partners in the region.” But the resources used proves that the perspectives were generally all pro-Palestinian and certainly not toward a Jewish Israel.[2]

Two Unparalleled Experiences: The paper is shaped by the thoughts of Avraham Burg the author of The Holocaust is Over; We Must rise from its Ashes. (correction see below)* The idea is that both the Jewish and Palestinian people are suffering from “psycho-trauma” and that is affecting the way they react to one another. The Jewish people are reacting to the six million people killed in the Holocaust and the Palestinians are reacting to what is called the Nakba (the Catastrophe) the losses suffered by 750, 000 Palestinians who became refugees from their homes and lands during the 1948 war for Israel’s independence.

Using a different author, Steven R. Feldman, the committee members quote his very coarse words:

“The emotional baggage of the Holocaust and the displacements of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians affect people’s perceptions of the objective reality of the Israeli Palestinian conflict, a reality in which people are being killed. One side may perceive the blowing up a bus or a disco as justified retaliation; the other side may perceive the isolation of Gaza and the killing of far greater numbers of Palestinians with tanks and F-16s as justified retaliation. The objective reality remains the same: people are dying.”

There are at least three things wrong with these thoughts:

1. Such words as ‘emotional baggage’ used to describe the affects of the Holocaust on the Jewish people is insulting.

2. Equating the Nakba with the Holocaust is demeaning and over simplistic. Historically we know that some Palestinians were forced out by some Israeli troops. We also know that some fled and others were encouraged to leave by the Arab states that started the conflict.

3. Attempting to use emotions evolving from the Holocaust as the reason for Israel’s actions in defense of her citizens is Orwellian and scary.

And here is a clearer explanation of that last thought. The blowing up of buses in that paragraph above is made to seem less than “the killing of far greater numbers of Palestinians with tanks and F-16s.” But the blowing up of a bus is meant to kill innocent civilians while the tanks and F-16s no matter how awful, and they are awful, are meant for defense. This part of the paper is a propaganda piece which belongs in the pages of such books as Animal Farm.

Vignette: In the paper four members of the Presbyterian Middle East Study team give personal accounts of their feelings as they travel in the Middle East and as they dialogue with each other and various representatives of the region. One of the stories is by Nahida H. Gordon. She is an American Palestinian who was born in Jerusalem and lived in Jaffa.[3] Gordon mourns the loss of her home in the 1948 war and asks the question, “-why were the Palestinians deemed to be an expendable people for the purpose of assuaging the guilt of Western Christianity?”

Lucy Janjigian is also an American Palestinian born in Jerusalem. She begins her troubling story by writing that “Around 1946, militant Zionists began blowing up British soldiers and policemen. July 22, 1946 was Palestine’s Sept 11." There is nothing in her personal story about the horrible accounts of Arabs killing Jews during this time but it happened as well. Janjigian manages to find quotes and references to Israel’s actions as Nazi like and the separation wall as an apartheid wall.

Susan R. Andrews who was past Moderator of the General Assembly writes about several Middle East Countries and persons, including an “elder-physician from Iraq and a pastor from Iran. She also reveals her perspective on the history of Israel’s early beginnings with this statement, “I see a church packed with Christians in predominantly Muslin Amman Jordan—most of the families displaced by the 1948 invasion of Palestine by Israeli-soldiers.” (My emphasis.)

The last person is an Evangelical Pastor, John A. Huffman, who has some good things to say about Israel as a sign of God’s keeping power. But he does not seem to understand the problems Israel faces and called for divestment before he was chosen to be on the committee and calls for divestment now. I have two main reasons for pointing to these vignettes.

The first is they show that the members of this committee were not diverse in their feelings about Israel. The second is that in the recommendations the committee is asking to continue on for two more years shaping the policies of the PCUSA in the Middle East.

Once again under the subtitle “For the Witness of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)” the committee recommends:

“The 219th General Assembly (2010): …Authorizes the creation of a Monitoring Group on the Middle East for the next two years that will consist of the members of this study committee to assist the appropriate General Assembly Mission Council offices and the Middle East staff team in monitoring progress and guiding actions to ensure adequate implementation of policy directions approved by the General Assembly, given the growing complexity and interrelatedness of issues in the region.”

If we are going to keep attempting to guide the continuing conflicts in the Middle East specifically that part which belongs to Israel and the Palestinian people we need a far more diverse group of people. Not necessarily diverse in theology although that is good, but diverse in their feelings and attitudes about Israel. And not just one or two pro-Jewish-Israel people but as many as there are pro-Palestinians. (In this committee there was only one pro-Israel person who left because of discouragement)

As I have stated before and will again, may God have mercy on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).

[1] See
Presbyterian Middle East Study Team & "The Kairos Palestine Document" no longer a Jewish Nation?

[2] See Appendices “List of Contacts Made by Middle East Study Committee”

[3] The theological paper presented by the committee had within its footnotes, for the sake of the two American Palestinians on the committee this thought, “The phrase ‘the right of Israel to exist’ is a source of pain for some members of the 2009-2010 Middle East Study Committee, who are solidarity with Palestinians who feel the state of Israel has denied them their inalienable human rights.”
* I have attributed One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israel-Palestinian Impasse to the wrong author. The author is Ali Abunimah.


Beloved Spear said...

A few caveats: The "embrace" of the Kairos document is a qualified embrace. It's affirming what is positive in that document, while not making any affirmation of the more inflammatory or negative positions. That's hardly a call to put it in the Book of Confessions.

The report recommendations, to my reading, are also unqualified in their affirmation of the right of Israel to exist. It's repeated, reaffirmed, and clear as a bell. That's not to say I'm in total agreement with the report. But most of it...and particularly the recommendations...are not as unbalanced as I had feared.

Viola Larson said...

Hi Beloved Spear

The only qualification that the committee members have for the Kairos report is that they do not embrace the complete boycott or divestment it recommends. In all of the papers only the one by the "liberal Zionist" refers to Israel as a Jewish State. There has been a push from many directions to undo the Jewishness of Israel. And I see it in the statements made by the papers. Perhaps I should write more on this.

Presbyman said...


As I commented on Reformed Pastor's blog, the composition of the Committee is a concern. The original committee had ONE member who opposed the PC(USA)'s earlier call for partial divestment from Israel. Every other member, whether otherwise progressive or evangelical, supported divestment. It would not have been difficult to find similar numbers of people who were pro-divestment, anti-divestment, and neutral (and in each group one can find progressives and evangelicals.). But that was not done, as we can see. True diversity of opinion does not mean having seven or eight people with one view versus ONE person with another view.

Thank you for your thorough engagement with these documents, Viola. This is a service to the church.

John Erthein
Erie, PA

Dexter Van Zile said...


Good work.

I am reading the materials proffered by the Middle East Study Committee and am amazed at the one-sided narrative. It's just amazing.

I've written briefly on the material in the "historical analysis" here:

The committee's repeated affirmations of Israel's right to exist in the letter to American Jews are undermined with a stunning denunciation of the Jews who moved into Palestine in the first half of the 20th Century and open contempt for the notion of Jewish sovereignty.

The comparison between immigrant Jews and Armenians was an innovation that I have not seen before. It is a new expression of contempt. The anti-Zionists in the PC(USA) have done a new thing. They have provided people with yet another reason to heap abuse on the modern state of Israel.

I read the description of Jews who entered Palestine in the first half of the 20th century to some of my Jewish friends and colleagues and they gasped. And these are people who have seen terrible things written in print and broadcast on the internet. One reason why the passage elicits such feelings of shock is that it comes from people who describe themselves as attempting to bring reconciliation to the Middle East.

People who read that passage and take it to heart will only feel more contempt for Israel and its Jewish inhabitants.

This is just one obvious problem with the narrative offered in this document.

There are others.

Dexter Van Zile said...

Many others.

Viola Larson said...

Hi Dexter,
That is a very good article. Thanks for pointing me and others to it. It is very hard to cover all of the material that has been put out by this committee-so it is good that other people are writing. Thank you.

Viola Larson said...

Thank you John. Not only are all of the members anti-Israel, all of their advisors are too.

John McNeese said...

Having read Parts 1 and 2 of “Breaking Down the Walls” the report of the Middle East Study Committee to the 219th General Assembly (2010) of the Presbyterian Church (USA), I commend this courageous committee for its hard work and its recommendations. From my research and readings over the past few years, they are on the right track.

However, in my opinion, the option for a two state solution sailed away years ago. The recent approval of 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem on the same day of Biden’s visit to Israel and Israel's announcement that it is adding two holy sites in occupied Palestinian territory to its list of national heritage sites is a further demonstration of Israel’s intransigence. They are not serious about a viable two state solution. The only other option would be a single state with equal rights for all its citizens.

Former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert in an interview with Haaretz in November 2008 said: “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses, and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights (also for the Palestinians in the territories), then, as soon as that happens, the State of Israel is finished,...The Jewish organizations, which were our power base in America, will be the first to come out against us, because they will say they cannot support a state that does not support democracy and equal voting rights for all its residents." That time is at hand.

John McNeese
Ponca City, OK

Viola Larson said...

John Mc,
You have just confirmed a suspicion that I have had for quite awhile and that I am preparing to write about as I write on the Recommendations part of the documents. Although you won't like it thanks for clearing the way.

John McNeese said...

Oh, my! Do I smell a conspiracy theory being hatched? I can affirm that to the best of knowledge I have not met nor do I know any of the committee members. I contributed nothing to the committee’s work nor did I express an opinion to them. The only comments I have made have been to your blog and a few others on “your side of the aisle.”

Viola Larson said...

Don't worry John,
I'm not accusing you of anything. I don't believe in conspiracy theories either.

Unknown said...

Viola, I appreciate hearing how you perceived the quote taken from my book Compartments. I'd love to send you a copy of the book so you could see the full context of the quote. You are obviously a thoughtful, caring person, and I think you would find the book interesting (even if you still disagree vehemently with my conclusions). If you would accept a copy, just send me an address I can send it to.

Best wishes!
Steve Feldman