Presbyterian Church working to undercut Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts?
07/05/2010 - 08:51
James Besser

If the Presbyterian Church (USA), which is meeting in Minneapolis this week, really cares about peace in the region it will soundly reject the latest report by its Middle East Study Committee.

This isn't about the frustrating search for some way to end the Middle East conflict; it's about a handful of determined Church activists with a serious grudge against the Jewish state, who don't much care that their churlish activism in the guise of religious morality is just making peace harder to attain.

It's the reason the approach taken by Presbyterian activists makes the major Jewish peace groups profoundly uneasy. The Jewish groups want a negotiated peace, while the Church activists seem mostly interested in lashing out against  Israel regardless of the impact on faltering efforts to achieve peace.  

Church activists always tout Jewish groups that support their point of view – but chances are, they're groups so fringy you've never heard of them. You don't see J Street and Americans for Peace Now lined up with the Presbyterian “peace” activists.

Look, let's reduce this to some very simple principles.

If you believe in a two-state solution and in the need for both sides to make compromises to reach it, you have to assure both that their core needs will be respected and protected - a lesson the Obama administration learned the hard way during its first year.

If you continually weigh in about how one side is always at fault and the other can do no wrong - even when it does wrong – you make even reasonable people on the side you keep condemning suspicious of the “peace” you advocate.  

If you argue that one side's narrative of the long conflict is correct and the others' is bunk, you become part of a conflict-sustaining problem that posits the situation in black and white terms, not part of a solution that must ultimately recognize the reality that both sides have legitimate grievances, fears and aspirations.

When you advance totally one-sided reports and resolutions, you encourage and enable the extremists on both sides who reject the peace you claim you support – the Israeli extremists who say “the world is against us, anyway, so we should just do what we want” and the Palestinian extremists who believe that if they just hold out long enough, international pressure will somehow make Israel disappear.

It's not a sin to believe Israel's occupation of the West Bank is wrong; it is counterproductive naivete to argue that Israel alone is responsible for the failure of efforts to end it. It's not “anti-Israel” to argue that Israel must come to terms with Palestinian aspirations; a majority of Israelis feel that way, after all. It's either stupid or malicious to argue that Israel has to do a lot to make peace happens, the Palestinians almost nothing.

It's fascinating to me that the mainline Protestant churches keep doing this.

They preach a negotiated peace, but do everything they can to make Israelis believe negotiations will be rigged against them. They give lip service to the desire of Israelis to live lives free of the daily threat of terrorism, but then describe Palestinian as an understandable response to an oppressive occupation. They scold Israel like teachers in a Sunday school classroom, then wonder why they are dismissed as apologists for those who have sworn to wipe Israel off the map.

They damage an already faltering U.S. peace effort for the same reasons.

And they undercut centrist American Jews who long for a genuine peace that respects both Jewish and Palestinian aspirations, but who don't want to be taken for saps.

If you believe in a two state solution that respects the needs of both sides and strives to address their legitimate grievances, the Presbyterian Church report and those who support it are working hard against your interests.

view counter

Add comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

Comment Guidelines

The Jewish Week feels comments create a valuable conversation and wants to feature your thoughts on our website. To make everyone feel welcome, we won't publish comments that are profane, irrelevant, promotional or make personal attacks.


I am a Presbyterian (USA) pastor. I am NOT a commissioner to the General Assembly that is meeting this week so I don't get a vote on this. I oppose the MESC report as biased and ridiculous. The idea that if Israel pulled back to the Green Line unilaterally that peace would flourish not only between Israel and Palestine but across the region is ridiculous and hasn't read the foundational policies of Fatah and Hamas. The idea that there can be one secular state in Israel/Palestine fails to take seriously the security of Israel and the threats of Palestinians and surrounding nations. But I suggest that there is another issue at hand: why should anyone care what the General Assembly of the PCUSA thinks? We are a quickly shrinking denomination that no longer has ties with and influence on the government here in America. This is not to say that the GA shouldn't do the right thing and send the MESC report to the trash can. It fails to face the complexity of the situation in Israel/Palestine. But if passed prevent it WILL make any possibility of the PCUSA working together with American Jews and Jewish groups impossible. And by so doing prevent any possibility that the PCUSA could actually make a difference in Israel/Palestine. In other words besides offending Jewish friends this report will make no difference at all in the greater scheme of things. The only people who will care what the GA says are the Jewish community here in America and members of the PCUSA. And if the commissioners to the GA want to see what will happen if this report is approved all they have to do is look back to 2004 and see what happened when that GA passed a call for divestment in corporations that support Israel. Beyond that passing this report will make all the difference of and the sound of one hand clapping
Steve Feldman is spreading drivel. He writes "look up Plan D", to suggest that the Haganah set out to expel Arab residents of the Mandate from the get-go. That's just nonsense. If anyone is truly interested in the real, and far more complex story than Mr. Feldman seeks to simplify with faux intellectual assertions, do read Benny Morris' 1948. Professor Morris is no sugar-coater of how the Palestinians fled and/or were expelled both before and after May of 1948. But he debunks the Ilan Pappe nonsense that Feldman asserts as gospel here that Plan D evidences an intent to expel Palestinians at the threshold of the conflict. Mr. Feldman sounds as if he's the only one in the Jewish community who has more than a Hebrew School education. To the extent such an education is lacking, Mr. Feldman has merely subscribed to another dogma to fit his black and white world view. He would fit in fine with the ignorant haters who seek to represent the great swath of decent and peace-loving Presbyterians in this country.
Haganah Plan D specifically called for "Destruction of villages (setting fire to, blowing up, and planting mines in the debris)" and for expulsion of the entire population of villages-- men, women and children. Was this a plan to expel Palestinians? Maybe not (I certainly did not claim it was). Did it result in the expulsions of Palestinians? It did according to Israeli historians. Jews planned to create a Jewish state in a land where hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish men, women and children were already living. How do you do that without getting rid of them? This wasn't covered in my Hebrew School education. Ask yourselves if it was covered in yours. Knowing that hundreds of thousand of Christian and Muslim Palestinian men, women and children were violently expelled from their homes and villages changes my view of the conflict. I think it will change the views of other Jews who share the Jewish values of truth, justice and peace.
I've actually contacted people on the Presbyterian Church's Middle East Study Committee and find them to be devoted to peace and understanding and very sympathetic to Jewish people. But that doesn't make them overlook the ugly facts: hundreds of thousands of Palestinian men, women and children were violently expelled from their homes and villages to create a state run by and for Jews (Look up Haganah Plan D if this part of the history wasn't covered in your hebrew school education. It wasn't covered in mine). By any quantitative measure, the violence done by Israelis to Palestinian families far, far exceeds the violence being done by Palestinians to Israeli people. Presbyterians are calling for the violence and discrimination to end-- all of the violence and discrimination, whether done by Jews or non-Jews. I applaud their efforts. They are on the mark in thinking that peace will come when Jews and non-Jews are treated as equals Steve Feldman