223rd General Assembly–Day Three

Day two of committee meetings is in the books. Surprisingly, my committee 12, Middle East Issues ran ahead of schedule most of the day. The overtures I thought would be hotly debated passed easily and the ones I the thought would pass easily were hotly debated. In the end, they all went the way I thought they would and many with unanimous or near-unanimous votes.

Item 12-03, On Creating a Task Force to Examine NCCOP’s Call to Ecumenical Solidarity for Justice for Palestinians—From the Presbytery of Grace, passed with amendments on a vote of 52-3. Interestingly, the amendments deleted the requirement to create a task force. The National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine (NCCOP) submitted a letter and there was some discussion about the content of the letter. Some of the contents seemed fine, other parts gave us some concern. However, item 1 of the overture simply receives and acknowledges the letter without necessarily agreeing with the contents.

The second part called for creating a task force to examine the nine-part call to ecumenical solidarity for justice for Palestinians in the West bank, Gaza, in Israel, throughout refugee camps and the diaspora. The committee believed there were already adequate staff, committees, task forces, and mission networks in existence within PC(USA) to do this work and an additional task force was not needed. The work of these entities will also be informed by existing policy statements of previous General Assemblies. A member asked what these polices were and the moderator responded, somewhat jokingly, “well, this is the 223rdGeneral Assembly”. However, the committee had been provided a resource that listed the current policies.

Item 3 was the modified to reflect the previous amendments and basically calls for the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy to coordinate this work and make recommendations to the 224thGeneral Assembly as necessary in continuing to act in solidarity with our partners in Palestine and Israel. The fourth item was unchanged and simply invites further ecumenical dialog, especially with the World Council of Churches.

Item 12-04, On Responding to the Open Letter from the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine (NCOOP) to the World Council of Churches and the Ecumenical Movement—From the Presbytery of San Franciscowas dealt with quickly. The originator admitted that item 12-03 was a better embodiment of what he wanted so we voted 54-0 to answer with action on another resolution.

Item 12-06, For the Protection of the Children of Israel and Palestine—From the Presbytery of Philadelphia, was disapproved on a 48-8 vote. This vote does not mean we do care about the children but reflects two issues. One, we believed the PC(USA) was already addressing these issues. Two, the sources given in support of this resolution were predominantly opinion pieces and one item, a footnote from a UNICEF report, was mis-interpreted. I refer to this as the Google resolution—doing a Google search for sources, especially on something to be presented to a well-educated Presbyterian group, just does not cut it. I don’t know that the outcome would have been different but, had it been well-referenced with academic and primary sources, it may have been received differently.

Item 12-07, On Urging RE/MAX to Stop Facilitating the Sale of Property in Israeli Settlement Colonies—From the Presbytery of Redwoodswas approved on a 31-22 vote. The overture advocate for this resolution when asked why they were going after RE/MAX when there were other realtors in Jerusalem said, they liked to focus on one company and then use them as an example to put pressure on others. The intent of the resolution is noble—to get RE/MAX to stop discriminating on who they sell property to in Jerusalem—but I was not confident of the success. RE/MAX ignored the efforts of the PC(USA) and sent a letter the day before the 222ndGeneral Assembly. This year, they sent a letter the day before the 223rdGeneral Assembly. They claim to have little influence over the franchises in Israel and their global structure was not, in my opinion, explained well. I think many of the negative votes were due to the belief that there was not much that the company could do. I voted against the resolution simply because I think they letter RE/MAX submitted was clear—they are notgoing to do anything. If the goal is to put pressure in one company and then use them as an example, I think it is time to move on to another company. The negative votes must be carefully understood, I do not think anyone on the committee condones what RE/MAX is doing.

Item 12-08, A Resolution on the Status of Jerusalem—From the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concernswas approved 52-0. There is a good bit in this resolution but it boils down to the expectation that all people will be treated fairly and equally in Jerusalem. It also recognizes that Jerusalem is important to Christians, Jews, and Muslims and has, for much of history, been peacefully occupied by all three. We heard from several Palestinian Christians about the second-class treatment they received simply because they were Palestinian.

Item 12-09, On Responding to the Current Syrian Crisis—From the Presbytery of the Cascadeswas approved as amended with comments on a 55-0 vote. This resolution calls for the killing to stop in Syria and directs the stated clerk to send a message to the President of the US, Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense, and each Senator and Representative, in cooperation with the UN Security Council and other major parties to bring about a durable ceasefire. It asks that there be work towards reconciliation and asks that the US contribute fully to the humanitarian, human rights, and peace-building work of the UN.

The third item of this resolution was modified by removing “religious” and making some additions. “Religious” was removed because, as we had been told several times in public comment that religious in the Middle East is more often than not interpreted to be “political” rather than the faith communities we think of. The fourth item encourages us to Deepen our Partnership with Syrian Christian. One way of doing this is to have local congregations establish personal contacts and partnerships with the Syrians.

Item 12-11, Commissioners’ Resolution: Resolution on Reconciliation Ministries in Israel and Palestinewas approved as amended on a 29-25 vote. This resolution called for more PC(USA) congregation to support grassroots efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians together; to instruct the staff and agencies to develop resources to help congregations find and work with those organizations, and to encourage all to avoid describing grassroots peacemaking efforts as “normalization of an unjust situation”. The amendment struck that last part due to the “normalization” comment. As one commenter stated, reconciliation was possible in South Africa only after apartheid had ended. Another described normalization as tell an older bully and a younger child on a playground to love one another without removing the bully.

The Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), the Advocacy Committee for Racial Ethnic Concerns (ACREC) and the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) all recommended a vote to disapprove in part because they believe much of this is already being done. Let’s just say that I agree.

Item 12-12, Commissioners’ Resolution: On Ending the Classification of Israel as a “Colonial Project”, was disapproved on a 48-4 vote (to be confirmed once it is published). This resolution involved tow issues. First, it asked that we reject the notion that Israel is “a colonial project”. PMA provided numerous academic references indicating that it is a colonial project. This was clarified later in discussion that the idea is that what Israel is doing in the West Bank and in Gaza is colonization, not that the State of Israel was a colonization project. The committee had to agree that what Israel was doing is colonization.

The second part of the resolution asked that the PC(USA) stop distributing the book Why Palestine Matters: The Struggle to End Colonialismand to instruct PC(USA) staff and official agencies to avoid language that can be interpreted as advocacy for the idea that Israel is a colonial project. Restricting language used by the PC(USA) is censorship, as the committee agreed. Why Palestine Mattersis admittedly controversial but it does carry a disclaimer that is speaks tonot forthe PC(USA). As one of our Young Adult Advisory Delegates stated, our denomination encourages discussion and debate and there in nothing wrong with distributing something that raises some controversy.

Item 12-13, Commissioner’s Resolution: On Opposing and Disengagement from Iran, was approved 52-0. A clerical error in publishing this CR in PC-Biz resulted in the very first statement being incomplete and confusing. After extended discussion and amendment, we found out what the originator had submitted, confirmed that it was a clerical error, and found our amendment process had resulted in the original, intended language. I am confident this resolution will have no impact on the current administration but it calls for all parties of the “Iran Nuclear Deal”—the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) —to continue their compliance and urges the US Government to reconsider its unilateral withdrawal.

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