Thursday, July 5, 2012

The 220th GA's Middle East and Peacemaking Issues committee and too many controls

Working with Presbyterians has often been referred to as herding cats. While the commissioners and moderator of committee 15 (Middle East and Peacemaking issues)  performed carefully and thoughtfully, General Assembly Mission Council (GAMC) and Mission Responsibility Through Investments (MRTI), and those organizations and people they are aligned with kept tight controls, occasionally without some commissioners realizing it. The leadership organizations may have thought they were trying to herd cats, but instead they were in some cases controlling thoughtful, intelligent Presbyterians.

The contingent of resource people guiding the Middle East and Peacemaking Issues committee was the controlling factor. In fact, most items voted on by members of committee 15 were carefully and tightly controlled by a whole gamut of people, some interested in a one state solution, delegitimization of Israel, apartheid, the Boycott, Divestment Sanctions movement (BDS), and even people who are truly anti-Semitic.

Communication’s Director of the Presbyterian Israel Palestine Mission Network, Noushin Framke was a resource person speaking several times. She was introduced as a member of The Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns (She is the chair)but she is also the Communications Director of Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) and according to a report by The Jewish Federations of North America has a seat on MRTI, the organization that brought the recommendation to divest from three companies doing business with Israel.

Just recently the IPMN closed their Facebook page where they often linked to sites that are truly anti-Semitic. In one case they posted a picture of President Obama wearing Star of David earrings. One commenter had written “Our glorious leader has his head firmly lodged between AIPAC’s buttcheeks.” Framke clicked ‘like.’ Framke has expressed a desire for a one state solution for the region, meaning that Israel would no longer be a Jewish State.[1]

Carol Hylkema, who is head of IPMN and the previous chairperson of MRTI, spoke before the committee. Her influence is wide in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Before the General Assembly in 2010, the IPMN linked a letter to an overture which had a note in it accusing Jewish groups of sending a bomb to Louisville and burning a Church. Hylkema returned a harsh letter to me when I posted an article about the letter and emailed her with my article. My article can be found here, I have no words: Carol Hylkema's answer to my e-mail. The IPMN letter can be seen here, “’Christians and Jews’ and Example of Occupation Theology.”

Another resource person who was introduced was Anna Baltzer, a Jewish activist who is part of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. [2] She is also co-founder of US Campaign member group, the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee. Baltzer was also introduced as a member of the Presbyterian Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns.

There was a great many official resource people and in a real way they often over powered the desires of the Committee. One example, when some in the committee wished to not only recommend divestment but at the same time lift up 15-10 from the Philadelphia Presbytery highlighting the call for ministry in both Israel and Palestine they were informed that there was already a task force doing that very thing, but their report on the needs of the Palestinians was not ready.

However the committee wished to emphasis the interests of the makers of the item. That is use a wider base of many grassroots organizations who would not necessarily be Presbyterian officials; organizations of which many were already operating in the Middle East. Too easily ideas kept being redirected toward Louisville and Presbyterian agencies.

When the committee looked at an overture that insisted that Israel be named an apartheid state several people, including Noushin Framke and Anna Baltzer were called up to give definitions of racism. Thankfully the committee did not wish to call Israel an apartheid state. Nor looking at item 15-09 did they want to make Israel the cause of the Palestinian Christians leaving the Holy Land.

It is truly unfair for a committee, who has been chosen to seek the mind of Christ and vote on policies for the church, to be overwhelmed with so many institutional Presbyterian organizations all with the same viewpoints about Israel—some of course more extreme than others. Resources are good and helpful, but this was too much of a good thing.

[1] Taken from a booklet by Peggy Obrecht with information copied from the IPMN Facebook page by Ethan Felson. (And I am also a witness to this and much more.)

[2]  U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation seeks to end all given to Israel by the United States.


will spotts said...

"too much of a good thing."

Not sure that's how I'd characterize it ... Too much of something certainly.

If the report of the committee featured on OGA site is to be believed, the committee doesn't even clearly understand what it did vote for.

Viola Larson said...

I meant that resources can be good but even resources if given to much can be bad.

You know I think divestment is awful- it throws all of the PCUSA into the BDS movement.

Reformed Catholic said...

I suspect the usual suspects were stunned when the substitute motion that basically echos the Philadelphia overture was passed as the main motion.

No divesture, but investment in the West Bank ..

will spotts said...

Wow - that has gone differently than I expected.