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Presbyterians Moderate Mideast Stance

by Staff
July 14, 2010
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WASHINGTON, ( -- Last Friday, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly passed a heavily amended policy statement on the Middle East by a 558-119 vote. The original draft of the statement had provoked division, with pro-Palestinian groups hailing it and pro-Israel groups denouncing it. The final compromise was welcomed by leading representatives of both sides.

The amendments sought to remedy complaints that the PCUSA Middle East Study Committee report was slanted against Israel. Assembly commissioners inserted a "reaffirmation of Israel's right to exist as a sovereign nation within secure and internationally recognized borders." They "commend[ed] for study" rather than endorsed a radical Palestinian Christian manifesto. They demoted to background status a section of the report that compared Israel to "a Nazi state," the former Soviet Union, and apartheid South Africa.

The final policy statement still shows signs of bias. It levies a long list of demands against Israel; it asks the Palestinian Fatah and Hamas movements only to resolve their differences. The PCUSA policy urges the United States to cut off aid to Israel if it expands West Bank Jewish settlements. No other government in the region is similarly targeted for denial of U.S. aid.

Alan Wisdom, IRD Vice President and Director of its Presbyterian Action committee, commented:

"It is gratifying to see that the assembly moved this policy statement toward greater balance. Only by taking seriously the concerns of both Palestinians and Israelis can the church play a credible, constructive role in Mideast peacemaking. That kind of fairness is what most Presbyterians in the pews want, and it is what the assembly commissioners tried to deliver.

"Nevertheless, we must be watchful. The Middle East Study Committee report still comes down far harder on Israel than on any other actor in the region. Key positions in the PCUSA structure are still held by pro-Palestinian activists who see Israel as the source of all evil in the Middle East.

"Those church activists fail to take account of the larger regional context. Much of the Middle East is under the sway of non-democratic movements that oppress their own people and refuse to recognize the Jewish state. Israel stands out as a democracy seeking only to live at peace with its neighbors. The enemies of Israel are also-by and large-the enemies of the United States, the West, and the Christian minorities in the region."

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