Friday, July 9, 2010

AP's take on the Presbyterian statement

This article is interesting. It focuses on how the pro-Israeli groups feel about the Presbyterian report rather than addressing any of the findings of the report... It doesn't mention the unfulfilled intention of divesting from Caterpillar.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


It is hard to express how crushed and disheartened I am. I thought I went into this GA with low expectations, but I think I was wrong. I may have had low expectations in my head, but it seems that I had higher expectations in my heart.

On issue after issue, Committee 14, the committee that is dealing with Israel/Palestine issue is defeating resolutions that I approve. Yesterday they voted to denounce Caterpillar for their profit-making from the construction of specialized bulldozers used solely to demolish Palestinian homes, but after five years of fruitless negotiations with Caterpillar, they decided not to divest. In other word, we are saying, we seroiusly deplore the money you are making from the occupation, but keep giving us the money from our profits. In other words, we are not willing to make any financial or moral sacrifices. (Our denomination has about 140,000 shares in Caterpillar, for a total worth of around 10 million dollars.)

Today, they voted to significantly water down the Middle East Study Report. They voted to remove the entire third section, which is the section that has all the information about the facts on the ground. They voted not to approve the first section, which includes letters to various communities and a theological background, but to simply "receive" it. In other words, they somewhat eviscerated the report. What's worse, they did so unanimously. Apparently, part of the rationale was that they think the larger Assembly, when it votes on these issues, will not vote for the report -- it is too "controversial" in this view -- so they water it down ahead of time.
Don't get me started on the disturbing insight this experience has provided into the workings of our denomination.

Later, they voted to disapprove the motion calling the system in the Palestinian territories "apartheid." Several said they thought the term was too inflammatory. The lone African-American on the committee spoke twice in favor of the motion. Perhaps because of her experience as a woman of color, perhaps because she comes from Atlanta presbytery which has been strong on Israel-Palestine issues, perhaps for another reason -- in any case, she seemed to
"get it."

Based on these votes, I think I understand the trajectory of the committee. They won't take bold action, even when such action is called for. Frankly, I suspect the committee members are simply not able to "get it" through resolutions and brief discussions alone. The default position to compromise and support Israel seem to be too strong.

Part of what I am taking away from the GA so far, is that this is not the most important venue. The most important venue is through individual relationships and conversations and through personal experience in the region.

I forgot to mention that one of my colleagues from seminary, whom I know and remember well, is leading the opposition on every resolution I support. That is also hard to bear.


General Assembly

I don't know what has been more frustrating, the proceedings of the General Assembly's Middle East Committee or trying to get internet access here at the assembly. Although I brought my laptop here, I haven't been able to connect at either the Hyatt or the Hilton where I am staying. It has been a long time since I have been so frustrated trying to access the internet.

I missed some of the events that occurred here Friday evening and Saturday morning. Friday evening, former Speaker of the Israeli Knesset Avraham Burg spoke as did Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, who our trip visited a month ago. Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions spoke Saturday afternoon.

Saturday evening I sat through part of the elections of the new moderator, but as I was tired and the election lasted over four hours (and I did not have a vote), I did not stay for the whole thing.

On Sunday afternoon, after a wonderful worship service in the morning, the Middle East committee finally began its work. No sooner had they begun than a request from a commissioner was made to hear an opposing side to the Middle East Study Committee report that was to be presented. This request was out of order, but unfortunately the moderator did not recognize it as such. It also revealed from the very beginning that there would be some strong opposition on the committee to the resolutions I support. Eventually the committee decided to allow the Presbyterians for Middle East Peace to have 10 minutes to present a critique of the report, and then to let the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, of which I am a part, have a 10 minutes. This was a decent compromise, in my opinion, but really the whole process was out of order.

Earlier that morning, I have been to the breakfast sponsored by the Presbyterians for Middle East Peace. Three speakers critiqued the Middle East Study Committee's (MESC) report. I knew before going to the breakfast that I would not agree with the positions expressed at it, but I wanted to hear the other side's viewpoint. I was not surprised by what I heard. I don't agree with their critiques and their call for "balance" in a situation that is fundamentally unbalanced. They seemed to be saying "let's not be too critical of Israel because then they won't listen to us." One positive note about the breakfast, however, was that at least a quarter of the participants were from the Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN), who like me, had come to hear the opposing side.

The IPMN is well organized and we are here in force. Indeed, it seems we outnumber the opposition. Sunday evening the IPMN hosted a dinner for the network at which 75 people showed up, the most that have ever been at a General Assembly. I have enjoyed meeting new people from the network and reconnecting with some older faces. It is good to know that we are not alone.

Due to the frustrating difficulties with internet access, I am behind on this blog, and have not yet brought it up to the present. Hopefully I can do that soon.