Thursday, May 24, 2012

Item 15-09 a flawed document- vote no & pray

I am not sure who put together the overture from the Presbytery of San Jose that is now item 15-09, but they did some manipulation with at least one of their sources. That leaves me to wonder about the rest of their material. Item 15-09 is one of the items in The Middle East and Peace Making Issues Committee, entitled, “On Human Rights and Religious Freedom of Arab Christians and Other Palestinian Citizens.” The Item is mainly concerned with better oversight of all religious holy sites in Israeli, yet it includes the idea that Israel persecutes Arab Christians. And in the rationale the decrease in the Arab Christian population is blamed on Israel.

The source the authors of 15-09 were rather dishonest with is “JCPA Background Paper: The Palestinian Christian Population.” This is an excellent paper which I highly recommend to all commissioners to the General Assembly of the PCUSA, in particular those commissioners who will be in committee 15. The author is Ethan Felson, Vice President of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. I wondered if he could be fair when writing about Christian communities and after reading the whole paper I see that he was fair. And it was his fairness that was misused.

At the beginning of the GA item rationale the authors write, “The decline of the population of the Arab Christian community has been reported by many sources including the State Department, the World Council of Churches, and the Palestinian Authority,” and then they name the JCPA and quote from Felson’s paper:
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs [JCPA] describes the pressures faced by the Christian community including “restrictions on visas and travel, family reunification, poor economic opportunities, and the difficulties of everyday life including checkpoints and in some instances residential separation from places of work due to the security barrier. These conditions are real.”
But the authors fail to quote what comes immediately after that:

The Palestinian Christian Community also faces pressures related to the Muslim majority among which they live. For example, in 2007, the only Christian bookstore in Gaza was firebombed, its owner kidnapped and murdered. These factors all contribute to emigration, which remains a real and serious concern.
Felson goes on to point out that the Palestinian Christians have a low birthrate and he figures that into his discussion of the seemingly decreasing population. The rest of his paper counters the charge that the Palestinian population is decreasing because of Israel. He uses numbers, charts and a great deal of general information that is very helpful. But my point is that the authors of item 15-09 took Felson’s paper and used it dishonestly to their advantage.

As to the concern of Item 15-09 about religious freedoms and the protection of holy sites, there is a more recent report, 2010, by the U.S. Department of State.[1] It does list abuses by various groups and even government officials although it is not an overwhelming report. As for protection of holy sites it includes this:

The 1967 Protection of Holy Sites Law safeguards the holy sites of all religious groups including in Jerusalem. All holy sites enjoy certain protections under the penal law, which make it a criminal offense to damage any holy site, and historic sites are also protected by the antiquities law. The government provided resources for the upkeep of holy places of all recognized religious communities, but provided significantly greater levels of government resources to Jewish holy places.

A government policy since 1967, upheld repeatedly by the Supreme Court and routinely enforced by the police citing security concerns, denies all non-Muslims the opportunity to worship at the Temple Mount. While the government ensured limited access to the Temple Mount to everyone regardless of religious beliefs, only Muslims were allowed to pray at the site, although their access has been occasionally restricted due to security concerns. Israeli police regulated traffic in and out of the compound and removed non-Muslim visitors if they appeared to be praying. Since 2000 the Jordanian Waqf that manages the site has restricted non-Muslims from entering the Dome of the Rock shrine and Al-Aqsa Mosque. Non-Muslim religious symbols are not allowed to be worn on the Temple Mount.
The report is very long it covers both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. And it covers the religious laws of all parties. Interestingly the PA and Israel have some of the same laws but in reverse. Islamic law affects a great deal of the West Bank and Jewish law, Israel. But different Christian communities, in both places, are given legal rights. Hamas on the other hand uses strict Sharia law.

Israel’s biggest problem stems from its desire for security and has to do with giving various faiths, both Christians and Muslims, access to their holy sites. Also, although Israeli law allows for proselytizing, still those who do have been harassed. But there are problems on all sides. One part of the report has this:

Nazareth (population 72,000), the city with the country's largest Arab majority, experienced strained relations between the growing Muslim majority and the Christian minority. On October 6, 2010, Sheikh Nazem Abu Salim, the imam of the Shihab al-Din mosque, was indicted for inciting violence against Christians and Jews that resulted in attacks (including one Jewish death), supporting Al Qaeda, and recruiting for global jihad. Some Arab Christians in Nazareth said that fear of reprisal by members of the Islamic Movement prevented them from proselytizing openly.

But also:

On October 29, 2010, an arsonist broke into the basement of the Christian Alliance Church in Jerusalem and set fire to the building, partly destroying it. Ten foreign volunteers were awakened and escaped, but required treatment for smoke inhalation. The church is located in a predominantly ultra-Orthodox neighborhood and allows Messianic Jewish and Arab Christian congregations to use its facilities. A large crowd of ultra-Orthodox Jews watched the fire, with four of the young men chanting loudly "Let it burn!" The fire marshal determined the cause was arson, and the police began an investigation
But here is the Presbyterian problem: For the GA to vote and pass this item which is aimed only at the Israeli government rather than at the whole complex situation is ludicrous. It really is a stab at the Jewish people. It makes no sense at all. Some religious persecution happens from a policy that is perhaps over sensitized to security needs. (Sometimes rightly sensitized.) Some abuse happens because a radical Muslim cleric becomes over zealous in his sermons and his people over zealous in their actions. Some happens because ultra religious Jews become over zealous in their speech and actions.

This isn’t an issue for Presbyterians to be voting on. And as I have shown the item itself is flawed. Some times, probably too many times, Presbyterians tend to believe they can solve the problems of the world by voting on them, and by sending mandates out to world leaders. Jesus made the statement that some demons only come out by fasting and prayer … But since you must vote, vote no. But do fast and pray for this troubled land.

[1] The authors of the report used a 2008 and 2009 report


Reformed Catholic said...

Viola ... an additional part of the problem is that the liberals believe that the 'world' really cares what we think. It doesn't, and all that will happen is that money will be spent to print up something that will be tossed in the dustbin along with all the other papers and pronouncements made by past GAs.

The only people who will pay attention are the anti-Semites who will have another small piece of ammunition to browbeat with.

will spotts said...

ACREC and ACSWP have wholeheartedly endorsed this document.

It is absurd on its face - to criticize Israel ?!?! among nations in the region for violations of RELIGIOUS FREEDOM ?!?!



AND ACSWP AND ACREC advise support. Of course, at the last GA, ACSWP singled out Israel alone in all the world for this same criticism. Something horrific is interfering with their thought processes.

Anonymous said...

Reformed Catholic, trust me, I hear about any action of the GA that is either pro or anti (or in between) Israel or pro or anti (or in between) Palestine FROM associates, friends and acquaintances in Israel, Palestine, or surrounding nations before I hear about it on PCUSA or PCUSA oriented websites like this one. Like it or not, Presbyterians have name recognition, and everyone assumes there are a lot more of us than there are, much as they assume this about other small groups.

What the GA says, Will be used by one side or the other, and will get press worldwide.

That said, Mr. Spotts, the Palestinian Christians I know, and I know a few, all tell me the same thing; Yes, fundamentalist Muslims are making things harder, and that disturbs them greatly. But, it is the actions of the Israelie government, and the squaters in the illegal settlements on Palestinian territory that are making life unbearable.

"We have lived with the Muslims for 1400 years afterall", as one friend put it.

I was 100% pro Israel, no questions allowed, all information otherwise instantly disgarded as anti semitism, "A few mistakes aside Israel is Wonderful look how good they are to everyone" etc. etc. until I did one important thing.

I started talking to, and listening to, Palestinian Christians.

Just because some fools are anti semites does not mean all criticism of Israel is unjust, and where they have been unjust, it is the role of the church to bring attention to it, as it is with all injustice.

Sometimes, the love of Israel on the part of ultra conservative Christians puts blinders on them.
I know. I used to have them to.


Viola Larson said...

Gene a lot could be said about what you have said but I haven't had my second cup of coffee yet. However there is just one comment you made I would like to address, that is ""We have lived with the Muslims for 1400 years afterall" as spoken by one of your friends.

Consider, your friend has not lived with the Muslims for 1400 years, so he must be referring to history. That history has sometimes been good and sometimes bad. Today in many Arab countries it is very bad.

On top of that the Arab Christian has to take a nationalist stand-in order to survive. His Christianity comes second. There are many problems with that statement. Much of what is wrong at the moment is Hamas.

will spotts said...


You seem to be under the misapprehension that I'm suggesting criticism of Israel is antisemitic. Antisemitism is antisemitism; and there is a fair amount of that in some (and I emphasize the word some) PC(USA) related activism.

That's not my point here. Nor am I commenting on who Palestinians believe to be the problem. Aspects of that are valid.

No - my point is that Israel is singled out - ONCE AGAIN - in PC(USA) business for criticism. In this particular area, the criticism is focused on religious discrimination.

And that - picking Israel out of all the nations in the world for special criticism in that area - is ridiculous.

What is not happening in Israel is religious compulsion where people in minority religions literally face the prospect of death regularly. Yes, one religion is favored (given legal preference) in Israel ... but that is not the same thing at all.

The only explanation for the single use of Israel - both now and in the ACSWP report in 2010 - is some extraordinary bias.

My apologies if I was not clear. But my reaction is not a reaction that grows from particular support of Israel. It is a reaction to a specifically Presbyterian injustice.

Will Spotts
North East, MD

Anonymous said...


The cherry picking of the JCPA report is a nice touch on the part of these activists. The problem for them is, with this magical invention called "the internet," we can fact-check them! I can't imagine Gene Kelly (lol) would support that kind of tactic.

Keep up the good work, sister.

John Erthein
DeFuniak Springs, FL