on Israel: Visitors write pro and con
minister Earl Arnold, of East Syracuse, NY, writes in support of the GA
actions. He suggests that the Assembly acted out of frustration, after
years of calling on both sides to act for peace. Noting the diversity of
views on Israel within the American Jewish community, he also urges that
we continue to listen to the voices of our sister churches in
I agree with the position of the 216th
General Assembly on divestment. I was at the Assembly in Richmond, and
although I didn't hear the debate in the committee, I had a clear sense of
frustration in the Assembly. For years -- ever since 1948! -- the
Presbyterian Church has been issuing statements, affirming both the right of
the State of Israel to exist within secure borders and the right of the
Palestinians to live in peace and self-determination. Again and again, the
Presbyterian Church has called on leaders on both sides to renounce violence
and seek a path of peace. Over the years, there have been some encouraging
moves in that direction, but for the past several years, both sides have
appeared to insist on escalating the violence in the region. The feeling I
got at the Assembly was that the commissioners had reached the end of the
line with "words" and were ready to move to "actions" in an attempt to get
the attention of leaders who had ignored previous calls to seek peace
through peaceful means.
Over the summer, I was involved, along with
our Presbytery Executive, in a face-to-face conversation with three people
purporting to represent the Jewish community. (None was a rabbi, by the way,
though our Executive had worked with one in the county Interreligious
Council.) We had a polite but heartfelt exchange of views, which I thought
was very helpful. I said essentially what I said in the previous paragraph,
and went on to say, "Our church has been speaking for years, but nobody
seemed to be listening. Now at last we've got your attention!" We explained
the process by which the General Assembly acted on the overture from the
Presbytery of St. Augustine, and indicated that our Presbytery could send up
an overture to the Assembly in 2006. They offered to speak to the Presbytery
and to Presbyterian churches, and we allowed that we'd really prefer to
explore dialogue with members of local synagogues. To this date, nothing
further has come of those suggestions.
I think it's important not to confuse the
position of the State of Israel and its U. S. representatives with the
position of the American Jewish community. American Jews are very diverse in
their level of support for policies of the State of Israel like "the wall."
A week ago, I was in California at a "reunion" of coworkers, most of whom
were Jewish. The question was asked of me, "what are the Presbyterians doing
these days?" I explained briefly about the divestment issue, and the only
replies I got were brief affirmations that the policy of "the wall" seems
likely to make things worse rather than better. These folks knew me well
enough that if they had strong disagreement, they would have said so, though
we probably wouldn't have argued about it.
The other thing I feel is important is for
American Christians to remember that we have Christian partners in the
Middle East with whom we have had long-standing relationships. We need to
listen to their voices as well as the voices of Israelis (which are also
quite diverse!) as we consider our position as a church. In fact, the
testimonies of the several Christian pastors from the Middle East who were
present at the 216th General Assembly played a big role in moving that
Assembly to act.
I've found the various statements from our
Stated Clerk Cliff Kirkpatrick, Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase, and other
leaders of the denomination very helpful, and they have been transmitted to
pastors and churches in our presbytery. I hope others on this list are
receiving and reading those missives, as we discern how to address the
issues of violence and peace in Israel and Palestine.
East Syracuse, NY
A visitor argues against the PC(USA)
action to consider divestment in relation to Israel. It is, he says, "a
quiet divestment of Israel's Bible and Savior from the church."
Almost all US Presbyterians are either Democrats or Republicans and the
divestment resolution flies in the face of the platforms of both parties and
the longstanding policies of the US government. Many Presbyterians are
associated with universities, either directly or as alumni, yet every US
university has rejected divestment proposals when presented.
It would appear from this that either Presbyterians are
utterly without influence in the US, or that the GA resolution represents
almost no one but the GA itself. It is not Israel that is isolated by the
divestment resolution but the GA.
Worse yet, the gradual divestment of church money from
Israel, by the same act, is a quiet divestment of Israel's Bible and Savior
from the church. Who do you think is the loser by that exchange?
Point Richmond, California
Another visitor sees virtues and
problems in the recent actions:
Kathleen Eschen-Pipes, a minister in Santa Cruz, CA,
comments that PC(USA) criticism of the recent delegation visit to Hezbollah
is understandable, but should be seen in the context of good efforts to
improve our understanding of Islam, and to engage in dialogue with "our
[Received 11-20-04, posted here 11-22-04]
In the past few months, the Presbyterian Church's profile in the Arab world
has changed. Before then, many Arabs may not have even known the word
"Presbyterian," since we have few sister churches in the region. The GA's
actions on Israel in July have changed our image among Arabs. According to
a recent article by the
Presbyterian News Service, the GA's actions got front page coverage
throughout the Middle East. Christians in Bethlehem reported hearing
positive words about Presbyterians from their Muslim neighbors.
The PC(USA)'s actions also may have been viewed by Arabs in contrast with
statements by the Roman Catholic Church. A few weeks before the GA's action,
Vatican representatives and Jewish leaders, including Rabbi Gary
Bretton-Granatoor, Director of Interfaith Affairs for the Anti-Defamation
League, issued an accord which rejects "anti-Semitism in all its forms,
including anti-Zionism as a more recent manifestation of anti-Semitism."
While most Catholics have not even noticed this statement, many Jews and
Muslims have interpreted it as Vatican condemnation of criticism of Israel.
In this context, I can understand why Detterick, Kirkpatrick and Ufford-Chase
considered several of the decisions related to the Advisory Committee on
Social Witness Policy's visit to Khiam Detention Center "misguided." The
committee should not have spoken to the press, especially not to a
television crew. They also should not have visited a Hezbollah-run museum
and memorial before trying to meet with a member of Sharon's cabinet.
Without knowing more of the details, I would also put Ron Stone's remarks in
the category of "misguided." In the context of a press conference with Arab
journalists, he certainly did not reflect the policy of the PC(USA) when he
said, "As an elder of our church, I'd like to say that according to my
recent experience, relations and conversations with Islamic leaders are a
lot easier than dealings and dialogue with Jewish leaders." I do not know
Ron Stone and I have not seen enough of his remarks to judge whether they
themselves were "reprehensible."
Stone's remarks may accurately reflect his recent experience. Since 9/11,
many Presbyterians have worked to improve relations with our Muslim
colleagues. Also, since the GA's actions in July, many Presbyterian pastors
have found that previously good relations with their Jewish colleagues have
become strained. Even so, though Ron Stone prefaced his remarks as an
individual in his recent experience with individuals, his remarks gave the
Arab press the opportunity to exploit stereotypes about the relative
reasonableness of all Jews and all Muslims. Whether Ron Stone's remarks were
reprehensible, stereotypes of Jews or Muslims certainly are.
Although I believe that many specifics of the visit were misguided, I do
question whether it was misguided of the ACSWP to meet with Hezbollah at
all. If we take Jesus' injunction to love our enemies seriously, can't we
talk to them? Whether our words and actions are noticed by others --
Catholic, Jewish or Muslim -- may influence our style, but should not impede
the believer's calling to peacemaking.
Santa Cruz, CA