A look at Middle East Study report of the Presbyterian Church USA: The Kairos Documentposted by Peter Menkin, FullMonday, July 19th 2010 @ 11:55 AM (not yet rated)
A look at Middle East Study report of the Presbyterian Church USA: The Kairos Document...third in a series of three...by Peter Menkin
The Kairos Document is a work that is a kind of Christian peaceful means of declaring war based on various “peaceful methods” of protest and action regarding an unfair and unjust nation’s activities in its own national self-hood, in its own national actions and policies against its citizens, and in its own national actions against another people. The Kairos Document is a work created by Palestinian Christians and aimed at Israel, as a State, a government, and this writer thinks also in its reflection on its Jewish citizens and Jews in general regardless of nationality.
That latter statement about it is a reflection of Jews as people, rather than the government of Israel and Israeli actions towards Palestine is probably the widest area of judgment against what is in many respectable quarters considered a radical document that should not be adopted as recommended by the Presbyterian/Israel policy committee on the Middle East by the Presbyterian Church USA at their General Assembly meeting July, 2010. All of the parts of the Kairos Document have been strongly criticized, and held as anti-Semitic by major mainline Jewish organizations in the United States, including the respected human rights organization, The Wiesenthal Center, based in Los Angeles.
This article is the third in a series of three on the Middle East Policy Committee of the Presbyterian Church USA paper that is more than 150 pages long and can be found here. It is the final of the three reports in this series, and for readers not familiar with the Kairos Document, a PDF of the Document is found here. This is an important Document, supported by many Presbyterians, obviously since it appears in their recommendations for policy towards Israel, and is popularly support by numerous “peace” groups in the United States, and even in Europe and the Middle East.
In an effort to be more transparent in this last of the series, this writer offers an opinion regarding the Israeli need for peace, and peace for all the Middle East. With the proviso that this is a commentary and report, not an editorial or opinion piece reflecting the writer’s views, nonetheless, it is appropriate to say that the key element for work towards peace in the Middle East is continuing dialogue, lack of hostilities, which means truces and aspects of various kinds of truces. This takes a mature diplomatic series of helpful actions on the part of nations. The effort of the Presbyterian Church USA in its policy recommendations is an effort to work towards peace, as is the intent of the Presbyterian Church USA. No doubt of their sincerity, in this writer’s estimation, and is the clear work of the Presbyterian as they form Christian responses to Israel and Middle East issues.
Readers who are familiar with the Presbyterian Church USA policy report and have followed it as it has developed know it is a controversial document made all the more controversial by its inclusion this year with the Kairos Document as part of its recommendation for adoption. One recognizes Jewish Community fear and repulsion of what it believes is anti-Semitism and a planned policy that will get rid of the State of Israel. The list of organizations believing this act of affairs is long, and this writer prefers to stay with one example, The Wiesenthal Center. After all, this is a commentary and report for the web and as such requires out of fairness a statement and statements that reflect this major concern and shocked series of observations resulting in opinions held by Israelis and significantly for this writer, noted Jewish organizations in the United States. They are joined by many other voices who find the report unbalanced and unfair to Israel and the Jewish Community. That said, and with the hope that there is much of worth in the report that Christians and Presbyterians need to read and even adopt, in all fairness to the Presbyterian Church USA, this commentary and report will go on with the effort to tell about the Committee recommendations in this space of words. Please note this article also is a compilation of other comments and reports on the Kairos Document in an effort to outline and illuminate the issues.
The “Christian Century”, a more liberal American magazine has looked at the report and two writers who are themselves respected academics comment on the paper coming before the General Assembly. The writers are: Ted A. Smith and Amy-Jill Levine. The title of their article is: “Habits of anti-Judaism: Critiquing a PCUSA report on Israel/Palestine.”
The assembly charged the committee with preparing "a comprehensive study, with recommendations, that is focused on Israel/Palestine within the complex context of the Middle East."
The study committee made several moves that demonstrate its desire to avoid some of the most common forms of false witness against Jews. For example, it notes that most Presbyterians reject supersessionist narratives in which "Christians have supplanted Jews" to become "the only legitimate heirs of God's covenant with Abraham." Signaling this rejection of supersessionism, the report speaks of "Older Testament" and "Newer Testament" in its biblical references. Such language is neither necessary nor sufficient for avoiding supersessionism, but it at least suggests a desire to proclaim a gospel that does not begin with God's rejection of Jews.
Though critical of the Middle East Study Committee report, the academics who say much in their Christian Century article given the Presbyterian Church USA good marks for a good attitude.
What the Presbyterian Committee itself asks is that Presbyterian Church USA members, and Christians in general, take time to look at this report. The Reverend Doctor Ron Shive, in a Press Statement, says, “It is a challenge to present a report of this length,” “The temptation to lift out a sound bite to support or defend one’s position will be incredibly strong. But we prayerfully ask that everyone read the full report for themselves and make use of the additional resources at www.pcusa.org/middleeastpeace.”
“The situation in the Middle East is too critical to do anything less,” he says.
Here in the same Press Statement is a good representation of the Middle East Study Committee interests and perspective:
Within the report is a review of General Assembly policy statements on the Middle East, which date back to the founding of the State of Israel in 1948. The committee found that these statements have consistently called for a two-state solution with rights, dignity, and security for both Israelis and Palestinians.
However, the committee’s report lifts up the growing urgency to find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “The real concern that we all embrace is that the window of opportunity for an end to the occupation and the viability of a two-state solution is rapidly closing. This is due in large part to the rapid growth of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the increasing number of bypass roads, the injustice of the separation barrier, and tragic numbers of house demolitions.”
The report continues, “A just and lasting peace and security for Israel is possible when the occupation has ended and the Palestinian acts of violent resistance are no longer employed. A just and lasting peace and security for the Palestinians is possible when the occupation has ended and Israel does not need to resort to military force to maintain its illegal land possession. If there were no occupation, there would be no Palestinian resistance. If there was no Palestinian resistance, Israelis could live in peace and security.”
“Inexcusable acts of violence have been committed by both the powerful occupying forces of the Israeli military and the Jewish settlers in the West Bank, as well as the Palestinians, of whom a relatively small minority has resorted to violence as a means of resisting the occupation.”
The committee concludes, “Violence is not an acceptable means to peace, regardless of its rationale.”
It is clear that the report is a “peace” document, for it says, “Violence is not an acceptable means to peace, regardless of its rationale.”
A reader can see in the Press Statement the explanatory position regarding the report and its intention, seen by its Chairman Ron Shive. The Reverend Doctor Ron Shive makes a good spokesman for the statements released by the Presbyterian Church USA. Their Statement regarding the report continues at length:
The committee’s 39 recommendations to the 219th General Assembly are as detailed and extensive as the report itself.
In their introductory comments to the recommendations, committee members write that they seek to strengthen the PC(USA)’s “past positions on behalf of peace between Israelis and Palestinians and the cessation of violence by all parties, and its opposition to Israel’s ongoing expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and its continuing occupation of those territories.”
The comments continue, “We also call upon the various Palestinian political factions to negotiate a unified government prepared to recognize Israel’s existence. We proclaim our alarm and dismay—both over the increasingly rapid exodus of Christians from Israel/Palestine caused by anti-Palestinian discrimination and oppression, the growth of Islamic and Jewish fundamentalism, and the occupation-related absence of economic opportunity; and also over the exodus of Christians from other parts of the region caused by various military, economic, religious, and cultural factors. And we oppose the government of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, its sponsorship of international guerilla warfare, and the threat these pose both to Israel and to Arab states.”
The committee writes, “We deeply value our relationships with Jews and Muslims in the United States, Israel, and the predominantly Muslim countries of the Middle East. Yet the bonds of friendship must neither prevent us from speaking nor limit our empathy for the suffering of others. Inaction and silence on our part enable actions we oppose and consequences we grieve. We recognize how great a burden past misguided actions by our government have placed on Christians throughout the Muslim world. We recognize that massive amounts of U.S tax money are feeding the various conflicts in the Middle East—including two current wars of arguable necessity and Jewish settlements in Palestine.”
And finally, “We also recognize that our concern to end support for both violence in all its forms and the ongoing occupation and settlement of Palestine places demands of integrity on how the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) uses its own resources and investments. Let us be clear: We do affirm the legitimacy of Israel as a state, but consider the continuing occupation of Palestine (West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem) to be illegitimate, illegal under international law, and an enduring threat to peace in the region. Furthermore, we recognize that any support for that occupation weakens the moral standing of our nation internationally and our security.”
Interest in the PC(USA)’s approach to an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been intensified since the General Assembly’s action in 2004 to begin the processing of divesting from companies whose activities support continued human rights violations.
The Presbyterian Church USA was stung by statements in the Jewish Community (USA) that they are anti-Semitic. In another lengthy statement, made in February, 2010, the Presbyterian Church replied to the assertion of anti-Semitism on the part of The Wiesenthal Center, a respected human rights organization. This is their lengthy reply to that complaint, painfully made by The Wiesenthal Center.
February 23, 2010
A statement from the Reverend Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) regarding the work of the General Assembly Middle East Study Team.
A human rights organization within the Jewish community has issued a statement about the report to the 219th General Assembly (2010) from the General Assembly committee to prepare a comprehensive study focused on Israel/Palestine. The statement says, “…we are deeply troubled that current moves underway in the Church radically depart from its 2008 commitment that its review of Middle East policies would be balanced and fair.”
The Middle East Study Team’s report, which …contains a letter to the American Jewish community. The study team begins the letter by saying:
We want to be sure to say to you in no uncertain terms: We support the existence of Israel as a sovereign nation within secure and recognized borders. No “but,” no “let’s get this out of the way so we can say what we really want to say.” We support Israel’s existence as granted by the U.N. General Assembly. We support Israel’s existence as a home for the Jewish people. We have said this before, and we say this again. We say it because we believe it; we say it because we want it to continue to be true.
The team, which engaged in intensive study, meetings, and travel to the Middle East since their appointment following the 218th General Assembly (2008), continues:
And, at the same time, we are distressed by the continued policies that surround the Occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights, in particular. Many of us come to this work out of a love for Israel. And it is because of this love that we continue to say the things we say about the excesses of Occupation, the settlement infrastructure, and the absolute death knell it is sounding for the hopes of a two-state solution, a solution that the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has supported for more than sixty years.
Several previous General Assemblies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have adopted statements about Israel/Palestine. Two excerpts:
In 2004: The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has approved numerous resolutions on Israel and Palestine, repeatedly affirming, clearly and unequivocally, Israel’s right to exist within permanent, recognized, and “secure” borders (for example: 1969, 1974, 1977, 1983, 1989, etc.). It has deplored the cycle of escalating violence—carried out by both Palestinians and Israelis—which is rooted in Israel’s continued occupation of Palestinian territories (cf. statements of successive assemblies since 1967). Presbyterians have continued to be concerned about the loss of so many innocent lives of Israelis and Palestinians (see “Resolution on the Middle East,” approved in 1997, and “Resolution on Israel and Palestine: End the Occupation Now,” approved in 2003).” GA Minutes, 2004, p. 66.
In 2006: We call upon the church…”To work through peaceful means with American and Israeli Jewish, American and Palestinian Muslim, and Palestinian Christian communities and their affiliated organizations towards the creation of a socially, economically, geographically, and politically viable and secure Palestinian state, alongside an equally viable and secure Israeli state, both of which have a right to exist.” GA Minutes, 2006, p. 945.
I join the Middle East Study Team that will be reporting to this summer’s General Assembly in asking all people to continue to pray, and work, for the peace of Jerusalem.
The reader can readily see, the PC (USA) committee report was controversial and criticized even before officially released in March. In February, 2010 The Wiesenthal Center offered this letter by one of its people:
I am deeply disturbed by the dangerous campaign to delegitimize the Jewish State and her supporters launched by a committee that is dominated by activists openly hostile to Israel. They are poised to place the policy of PCUSA on a collision course with Israel’s survival.
The adoption of the findings proposed by the committee charged to reexamine PCUSA's Middle East policy will be nothing short of a declaration of war on the Jewish State. It will encourage extremists in the Middle East, demonize supporters of Israel in America, and destroy the era of good will that has been fostered with the Jewish community over decades.
I urge PCUSA to live up to its 2008 General Assembly commitment to listen to many voices on the Middle East and adopt policies fair to both Israelis and Palestinians.
Rabbi Yitzoch Adlerstein in email correspondence with this writer noted areas of the Kairos Document that he says are repugnant and destructive to the peace process. The Rabbi is on the staff of The Wiesenthal Center and specializes in interfaith relations. Wikipedia says this of Rabbi Adlerstein: Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein (b. 1950 in New York) is an Orthodox rabbi who has played an important role as spokesman, teacher, and writer on behalf of Orthodox Judaism as well as for the Baal teshuva movement in the United States. He is a leading exponent of the moderation of Haredi Judaism in relation to the outside world.
“He writes prolifically for a wide spectrum of Orthodox Jews and his essays have been published in Jewish Action (the official magazine of the Orthodox Union); The Jewish Observer (the official magazine of Agudath Israel of America); the Torah u-Madda Journal (of Yeshiva University); Tradition journal (of the Rabbinical Council of America); the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, The Jewish Press (an English-language weekly with the largest circulation); in the publications of the National Council of Young Israel and in many other print and online forums. He is the co-founder and a featured writer on Cross-Currents, an online journal of Orthodox Jewish thought published in blog format.
He has eight children, Wikipedia also says, “Adlerstein is the director of Interfaith Affairs for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He holds the Sydney M. Irmas Adjunct Chair in Jewish Law and Ethics at Loyola Law School and teaches senior high school girls at Yeshiva of Los Angeles.
“He writes regularly for the Cross-Currents online journal, and writes the "Bytes & PCs" column in the quarterly Jewish Action magazine. He is frequently quoted by the Los Angeles Times and many other print and online publications as a voice of Haredi Judaism .
“In 2000, his elucidation of "Be'er Hagolah" (ISBN 1-57819-463-6) the classic defense of Rabbinic Judaism by Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (1525–1609) (known as the Maharal) was published by Mesorah Publications, a subsidiary of ArtScroll the leading publishers of English language Orthodox Judaica.
“He currently resides in Los Angeles with his wife Reena, known for her exceptional culinary skills and hospitality.”
The comments by Rabbi Adlerstein on excerpts from the Kairos Document as sent to this writer. First the introduction to the Kairos Document:
A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering
We, a group of Christian Palestinians, after prayer, reflection and an exchange of opinion, cry out from within the suffering in our country, under the Israeli occupation, with a cry of hope in the absence of all hope, a cry full of prayer and faith in a God ever vigilant, in God’s divine providence for all the inhabitants of this land. ..
Why now? Because today we have reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people. 1. The reality on the ground
1.1 “They say: 'Peace, peace' when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14). 1.1.1 The separation wall erected on Palestinian territory[YA1] , [YA: which has saved the lives of thousands of Arabs as well as Jews. Fences are uncomfortable, death is final.] a large part of which has been confiscated for this purpose, has turned our towns and villages into prisons, separating them from one another, making them dispersed and divided cantons. Gaza, especially after the cruel war Israel launched against it[YA2] [YA: No reference to the 8,000 rockets they launched against Israel’s civilians.] during December 2008 and January 2009, continues to live in inhuman conditions, under permanent blockade and cut off from the other Palestinian territories.
1.1.2 Israeli settlements ravage our land in the name of God and in the name of force, controlling our natural resources, including water and agricultural land, thus depriving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and constituting an obstacle to any political solution.
1.1.3 Reality is the daily humiliation to which we are subjected at the military checkpoints, as we make our way to jobs, schools or hospitals.
1.1.5 Religious liberty is severely restricted; the freedom of access to the holy places is denied under the pretext of security[YA3] . [YA: You call the thousands of casualties during the Second Intifadah a pretext?] Jerusalem and its holy places are out of bounds for many Christians and Muslims from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
1.1.6 Refugees are also part of our reality. Most of them are still living in camps under difficult circumstances. They have been waiting for their right of return[YA4] , [YA: Who kept them there, if not their Arab brothers. A “right of return” means the end of the State of Israel, period.] generation after generation. What will be their fate?
1.1.7 And the prisoners? The thousands of prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons[YA5] [Are they there for parking violations, or for murdering Israeli civilians.] are part of our reality. The Israelis move heaven and earth to gain the release of one prisoner, and those thousands of Palestinian prisoners, when will they have their freedom?
1.2 Also part of this reality is the Israeli disregard of international law … Human rights are violated and despite the various reports of local and international human rights' organizations, the injustice continues.
1.3 Emigration is another element in our reality. The absence of any vision or spark of hope for peace and freedom pushes young people, both Muslim and Christian, to emigrate. … The shrinking number of Christians, particularly in Palestine[YA6] , [YA: Shrinking in areas of Arab control. Growing on the Israeli side of the Green Line.] for is one of the dangerous consequences
1.4 In the face of this reality, Israel justifies its actions as self-defence, including occupation, collective punishment and all other forms of reprisals against the Palestinians. In our opinion, this vision is a reversal of reality. Yes, there is Palestinian resistance to the occupation. However, if there were no occupation, there would be no resistance[YA7] . [YA: Really? Tell that to the victims of the Hebron pogrom in 1929, and scores of lesser ones between then and 1967 when the “occupation” began.]
1.5 The Palestinian response to this reality was diverse. Some responded through negotiations: that was the official position of the Palestinian Authority, but it did not advance the peace process. Some political parties followed the way of armed resistance[YA8] . [YA: So suicide bombing is given the moral approval of these clergy. Just a form of “resistance.” Perfectly understandable.] Israel used this as a pretext to accuse the Palestinians of being terrorists and was able to distort the real nature of the conflict, presenting it as an Israeli war against terror, rather than an Israeli occupation faced by Palestinian legal resistance aiming at ending it.
2.2.2 We believe that the Word of God is a living Word, casting a particular light on each period of history, manifesting to Christian believers what God is saying to us here and now. For this reason, it is unacceptable to transform the Word of God into letters of stone that pervert the love of God and His providence in the life of both peoples and individuals. This is precisely the error in fundamentalist Biblical interpretation that brings us death and destruction when the word of God is petrified and transmitted from generation to generation as a dead letter. This dead letter is used as a weapon in our present history in order to deprive us of our rights in our own land.
2.3 We believe that our land has a universal mission[YA9] . [YA: i.e. but not a promise to the Jewish people.] In this universality, the meaning of the promises, of the land, of the election, of the people of God open up to include all of humanity, starting from all the peoples of this land. In light of the teachings of the Holy Bible, the promise of the land has never been a political programme, but rather the prelude to complete universal salvation. It was the initiation of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God on earth.
2.3.2 Our presence in this land, as Christian and Muslim Palestinians, is not accidental but rather deeply rooted in the history and geography of this land, resonant with the connectedness of any other people to the land it lives in. It was an injustice when we were driven out. The West sought to make amends for what Jews had endured in the countries of Europe, but it made amends on our account and in our land[YA10] . [YA: Disregarding thousands of years of continual Jewish presence in the Land, and a century of building it prior to the proclamation of the State, these folks want to start Israel’s history with a Western guilt trip after the Holocaust!] They tried to correct an injustice and the result was a new injustice.
2.3.3 Furthermore, we know that certain theologians in the West try to attach a biblical and theological legitimacy to the infringement of our rights. Thus, the promises, according to their interpretation, have become a menace to our very existence. The "good news" in the Gospel itself has become "a harbinger of death" for us. We call on these theologians to deepen their reflection on the Word of God and to rectify their interpretations so that they might see in the Word of God a source of life for all peoples.
2.3.4 Our connectedness to this land is a natural right. It is not an ideological or a theological question only[YA11] . [YA: Is there a parallel Jewish connection? Why not?]
2.4 Therefore, we declare that any use of the Bible to legitimize or support political options and positions that are based upon injustice, imposed by one person on another, or by one people on another, transform religion into human ideology and strip the Word of God of its holiness, its universality and truth.
2.5 We also declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God. It distorts the image of God in the Israeli who has become an occupier just as it distorts this image in the Palestinian living under occupation. We declare that any theology, seemingly based on the Bible or on faith or on history, that legitimizes the occupation, is far from Christian teachings, because it calls for violence and holy war in the name of God Almighty, subordinating God to temporary human interests, and distorting the divine image in the human beings living under both political and theological injustice.
3.3.4 In addition to that, we see a determination among many to overcome the resentments of the past and to be ready for reconciliation once justice has been restored. Public awareness of the need to restore political rights to the Palestinians is increasing, and Jewish and Israeli voices, advocating peace and justice, are raised in support
3.4.1 The mission of the Church is prophetic, to speak the Word of God courageously, honestly and lovingly in the local context and in the midst of daily events. If she does take sides, it is with the oppressed
4.2.1 The aggression against the Palestinian people which is the Israeli occupation, is an evil that must be resisted. It is an evil and a sin that must be resisted and removed.
4.2.6 Palestinian civil organizations, as well as international organizations, NGOs and certain religious institutions call on individuals, companies and states to engage in divestment and in an economic and commercial boycott of everything produced by the occupation. …. In this spirit and with this dedication we will eventually reach the longed-for resolution to our problems, as indeed happened in South Africa and with many other liberation movements in the world.
4.3 We call on Israel to give up its injustice towards us, not to twist the truth of reality of the occupation by pretending that it is a battle against terrorism[YA12] . [Funny, I could have sworn that it was about terrorism. Ask (and polls have!) how large a majority of Israelis agree that they should trade land for peace, and agree to a Palestinian state. Then find out how many – how few –Palestinians are willing to acknowledge the right of a Jewish state to exist.] The roots of "terrorism" are in the human injustice committed and in the evil of the occupation. These must be removed if there be a sincere intention to remove "terrorism". However, it is also a call to repentance; to revisit fundamentalist theological positions that support certain unjust political options with regard to the Palestinian people.
6.3 We condemn all forms of racism, whether religious or ethnic, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia
9.3 Trying to make the state a religious state, Jewish or Islamic, suffocates the state, confines it within narrow limits, and transforms it into a state that practices discrimination and exclusion[YA13] , [YA: Hmm. Always wondered about countries like the UK (Anglican) Norway (Church of Norway) and about 20 other democracies. Of course, none of the dozens of Muslim states are democratic. Maybe that is their point.] preferring one citizen over another. We appeal to both religious Jews and Muslims: let the state be a state for all its citizens, with a vision constructed on respect for religion but also equality, justice, liberty and respect for pluralism and not on domination by a religion or a numerical majority.
The Jewish protest that expresses its distaste of the Kairos Document and the Presbyterian Church USA acceptance of same continues, as this Press Statement from B’nai B’rith demonstrates:
B'nai B'rith International is urging delegates to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to oppose the adoption of reports and resolutions that demonize Israel and target it with such measures as a proposed suspension of American military aid. The mainline Protestant denomination's biannual convention gets underway July 3 in Minneapolis.
Among the materials slated for consideration by the assembly is a Middle
East Study Committee report whose content dramatically emphasizes
perceived Israeli wrongdoing and Palestinian suffering, while belittling
Arab obligations, historical Jewish roots in the land, and the Jewish
state's efforts for peace in the face of terrorism. The report also fails to recognize that Israel is the Middle East's only free, pluralistic society and the only country in the region whose Christian population has grown in actual numbers.
The 172-page report positively cites "Kairos," itself a highly inflammatory Palestinian Christian document, and endorses the recommendation of the church's Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee to enounce one company for its lawful sale of products to the Israel Defense Forces. Individual presbytery overtures go even further, calling for outright divestment from the company and explicitly endorsing "Kairos," which refers to terrorism as "resistance," embraces outdated supersessionist ideas, calls for boycotts against the Jewish state, and labels Israeli policies a "sin against God."
Writers for “The Washington Post’s” “On Faith” find the Middle East Study Committee Report distasteful at best. Katharine Henderson and Gustav Niebuhr in their guest article of June 22, 2010 titled, “Peacemaking is more than pointing fingers,” say:
How best to encourage peace in the Middle East? The week of July 4, Presbyterians will tackle this most daunting of questions when they convene their denomination's General Assembly--its top policymaking body--in Minneapolis. Awaiting the 600 commissioners--as representatives of the Presbyterian Church (USA) are called--will be a scaldingly critical 150-page report. It rebukes Israel for its treatment of Palestinian neighbors and calls for the denomination and the American government to squeeze the Jewish state financially.
We do not like it, and have signed a letter circulating among Presbyterians nationwide, calling on the General Assembly to reject the Middle East Study Committee's report. Why? Because we find that report to be unbalanced, historically inaccurate, theologically flawed and politically damaging.
(Rev. Dr. Katharine Henderson is President of Auburn Seminary. Gustav Niebuhr is an associate professor of religion and the media at Syracuse University, author of "Beyond Tolerance: How People Across America Are Building Bridges Between Faiths," and a member of the Auburn Board of Directors. Both are On Faith panelists.)
The previous Presbyterian Church General Assembly Moderator in February, 2010 introduces the Middle East Study Committee members. Bruce Reyes-Chow said in that statement:
Members of the Committee to Prepare a Comprehensive Study Focused on Israel Palestine:
Reverend Dr. Susan R. Andrews, Hudson River Presbytery, Synod of the Northeast
Elder Dr. Frederic W. Bush, Los Ranchos Presbytery, Synod of Southern California and Hawaii
Elder Dr. Nahida H. Gordon, Muskingum Valley Presbytery, Synod of the Covenant
Reverend Dr. John Huffman, Los Ranchos Presbytery, Synod of Southern California and Hawaii
Elder Lucy Janjigian, Palisades Presbytery, Synod of the Northeast
Reverend Rebecca Reyes, New Hope Presbytery, Synod of Mid-Atlantic
Reverend Marthame Sanders, Greater Atlanta Presbytery, Synod of South Atlantic
Reverend Dr. Ronald L. Shive, Chair, Salem Presbytery, Synod of Mid-Atlantic
Reverend Dr. John W. Wimberly, Jr., National Capital Presbytery, Mid-Atlantic
We have asked Ron Shive to chair this committee.
Committee Chairman Ron Shive said in an article appearing in “Jewish Week” by Stuart Ain that his “…committee was careful not to endorse any other parts of the Kairos Palestine document. The Reverend Doctor Ron Shive said Kairos was endorsed in part in an effort to “stand with our Christian partners in the Middle East” who wrote it. The one member of the committee who voted against the recommendations, Rev. Byron Shafer, a retired Bible teacher at Fordham University, said he did so because it is tipped in favor of the Palestinians.
“If it were adopted by our GA in July, it would be identifying the church with one side in the conflict — namely the Palestinian-Christian side,” he said. “Missing from this report is a narrative balance. I don’t find an acknowledgement of the ways in which some Palestinian and Arab nations have contributed to the conflict. The focus is on Israel as the more powerful party and the one that is guilty.”
Chairman Shive disagreed with that conclusion, insisting that the report adopted a “balanced approach.” So reports, “Jewish Weekly.”
“We attempted to listen to a number of different groups of people — and be assured we listened to Jewish, Muslim and Palestinian voices. There was earlier criticism that we did not speak enough with American Jewish voices, but our real concern was to talk with Israelis who were in the middle of the conflict.
“We talked to Jewish voices in Israel and most were American born. It made sense to speak with Jews in the thick of things. Our limited time and resources prohibited us from more than a limited engagement. And we did not hear the extensive views of American Muslims either.”
In the blog, “The Reformed Pastor,” the author makes numerous comments on the Presbyterian Church USA committee report and chooses sections from the Kairos Report he finds relevant. This writer thought his comments, and especially his choice of selections worth noting here in this commentary and report.
“The “Special Committee to Prepare a Comprehensive Study Focused on Israel/Palestine” is getting ready to belch forth its report, and the Presbyterian News Service has advance details:
“With several sections of its massive final report still to be completed and edited, the committee approved with just one dissenting vote a package of 30+ recommendations calling for an immediate end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank; endorsement of the emphases on hope, love, non-violence, and reconciliation found in an ecumenical statement by Palestinian Christians called the Kairos Palestine Document; and urging the U.S. government to take swift action toward a just peace that guarantees secure states for both Israel and Palestine — the commonly called ‘two state solution.’
“This committee brings such a diversity of opinion and a wealth of experience from the region of our concern,” said Committee Chair the Rev. Ron Shive (Salem Presbytery) in a press release issued by the committee. ‘Given the variety of personal experience we bring to these conversations, the fact that we were able to reach such strong consensus on our report and recommendations demonstrates the unity of the Spirit and our witness for justice and peace for all peoples.’
“The report affirms historic PC(USA) positions — an immediate cessation of violence by both sides, an immediate freeze on the construction and expansion of Israeli settlements on occupied territory, the relocation of Israel’s “separation barrier” to the internationally recognized 1967 border, a shared status for Jerusalem, equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and immediate resumption of negotiations toward a two-state solution.
“The committee calls on the United States to:”
•repent of its “sinful behavior” throughout the Middle East, including the war in Iraq, its “continuing support of non-democratic regimes,” and its “acquiescence” in the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands;
•eliminate tax loopholes that permit U.S. citizens to make donations “to organizations that support human rights violations and breaches of international law and U.N. resolutions”;
•account for the percentage of U.S. foreign aid that supports such activities and redirect that aid toward the rebuilding of Gaza and the “dismantling of remaining settlement infrastructure; and
•“employ the strategic use of influence and the withholding of financial and military aid in order to enforce Israel’s compliance with international law and peacemaking efforts.”
•the main Palestinian political parties — Fatah and Hamas — to work toward immediate reconciliation;
•all parties in the Middle East, including Iran and Israel, to refrain from all nuclear arms proliferation;
•Egypt and Israel to end their blockades of Gaza;
•all parties in the Middle East to “cease rhetoric and actions that demonize others, including Iranian leaders’ holocaust denials, threats by Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas against Israel, and threats by Israel to transfer masses of Palestinians to Jordan;
•Syria and Israel to resume negotiations about the status of the Golan Heights;
•creation of an international council for Jerusalem, which is a spiritual center for all three Abrahamic faiths — Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
“The Reformed Pastor” also adds in his blog this interesting note of reporting: “At the suggestion of the Rev. Susan Andrews of Hudson River Presbytery, the committee added the following footnote: ‘The phrase ‘the right of Israel to exist’ is a source of pain for some members of our study committee who are in solidarity with Palestinians, who feel that the creation of the state of Israel has denied them their inalienable human rights.’
The Jewish Community continues in its criticism of the Kairos Document. As we know, the criticism started early. Here is a longer comment from The Wiesenthal Center press statement, “2010 Jerusalem Conference at the Regency Hotel, Jerusalem, February 16, 2010.”
Then, on the first day of Chanukah past, a group of Palestinian Christians issued the Kairos Document, immediately embraced by a slew of Protestant denominations. It calls for a general boycott of Israel, arguing that Christians are required by their faith to side with the “oppressed” – meaning the Palestinians. It speaks of the evils of the “Occupation”, but is silent on any evils committed by the Palestinians. It links any Jewish connection to the Land only to survivors of the Holocaust, denying 3,000 years of Jewish domicile in the land. Most importantly, connecting the dots to the previous documents, these leaders declare that there must not be a Jewish State, because any religious state has to be inherently racist. It ignores the state religions of England, Norway, Greece, Denmark, Argentina, and Thailand, not to mention the two dozen officially and oppressively Muslim states in Israel’s neighborhood. Kairos launches a new Biblical fundamentalism, in which ‘specialness is reserved’ for Palestinians. The Jews? They are written out of Scripture.
Within days Kairos won accolades from different Protestant and Catholic groups. They most serious impact so far, however, comes from a church whose leadership took pride of first place in the campaign against Israel. The Presbyterian Church (USA) (PCUSA) in 2004 was the first mainline American Protestant group to call for divestment from Israel. The move proved enormously unpopular with the rank and file of the church, and the move was rescinded in 2006. In 2008, its General Assembly considered – and accepted – what everyone thought were mutually exclusive overtures, one pro-Palestinian, and one more balanced. One of them called for greater balance in church policies and material, and a thorough reexamination of PCUSA policy on the Middle East. Nonetheless, the “Special Committee to Prepare a Comprehensive Study Focused on Israel/Palestine” that was subsequently assembled included only one pro-Israel member who soon quit in disgust. The committee of nine had at least seven members and three staffers who had strongly indicated pro-Palestinian views before their appointment. Several were direct imports from PCUSA’s Israel-Palestine Mission Network (IPMN), whose blog has hosted anti-Semitic videos and material from Muslim terrorist groups.
A February 2nd, 2010 press release told the world what to expect from the committee’s report. It will ask the United States government to “employ the strategic use of influence and the withholding of financial and military aid” from Israel. It will concede Israel’s right to exist, but append an apology to Palestinians for that concession! In the words of one member of the committee, “To say this [the right of Israel to exist] is to give Israel a pass on the way Israel was created and denies the legitimacy of the Palestinian people.” Perhaps most importantly, it will enthusiastically embrace the Kairos Document. Altogether, the PCUSA report should be considered as nothing less than a declaration of war on Israel and her supporters.
Viola Larson’s blog “Naming His Grace,” notes these sections of the Kairos Document as important, and this writer agrees:
- 1. “The Word of God is a living Word, casting a particular light on each period of history, manifesting to Christian believers what God is saying to us here and now.”
- 2. “For this reason, [see above] it is unacceptable to transform the Word of God into letters of stone that pervert the love of God and his providence in the life of both peoples and individuals.”
- 3. “We believe that our land has a universal mission. In this universality, the meaning of the promises, of the land, of the election, of the people of God open up to include all of humanity, starting from the peoples of this land. In light of the teachings of the Holy Bible, the promise of the land has never been a political programme, but rather the preclude to complete universal salvation. It was the initiation of the fulfillment of the Kingdom of God on earth.”
“Our presence in this land, as Christian and Muslim Palestinians, is not accidental but rather deeply rooted in the history and geography of this land, resonant with the connectedness of any other-people to the land it lives in.”
More key sections of the Kairos Document. These were selected by Will Spotts, a Presbyterian, whose blog is here:
4 c. Calls upon Israel to release, without any further delay, withheld Palestinian tax moneys to the Palestinian National Authority.
4 d. Calls on the Israeli government to end immediately its blockade of Gaza, and on the U.S. government to end any support it is giving to the blockade, and also calls on the Egyptian government to facilitate the passage of humanitarian supplies into Gaza as well as consumer goods from the strip.
4 e. Urges the main Palestinian political parties (Fatah and Hamas) to set aside their differences, to pursue an ideology of nonviolence, to reconcile immediately, and to work for peace with each other and with their neighbor, Israel, for the sake of their people, and also calls on the U.S. government to offer support for such reconciliation.
4 f. Supports the establishment of an international council for Jerusalem to ensure the nondiscriminatory treatment of all Jerusalemites, including fair allocation of housing and family unification permits, free movement of religious workers of all faiths, fair provision of city services in exchange for taxes, protection of all religious and historic sites, international scientific review of all archeological sites and labeling of historic sites, and equitably accessible mass transit from both Israeli and Palestinian areas and links to the West Bank and Gaza.
The Addendum to this commentary and report is inadequate. This writer believes the unique and creative Christian document that reveals the pain of the Palestinian Christians is a cry that asks people throughout the world, especially Christians, to take action and moral action, especially against Israel. Many people are impressed by this Kairos Document, but its failures are apparent in statements like Israel is an apartheid state. Granted that inflammatory remarks and charges are almost impossible to avoid in a document that is like an accusation as well as a call; this writer can’t say how Presbyterian Church USA will act on its content, attitude, and especially its accusatory statements and reflections on history (as the document sees contemporary affairs and history). Certainly, Christians will find the Presbyterian Church USA answer in General Assembly this July, 2010 important.
In looking through the Kairos Document, this writer thinks these sections help the interested reader to also understand the Document:
This document is the Christian Palestinians’ word to the world about what is happening in Palestine. It is written at this time when we wanted to see the Glory of the grace of God in this land and in the sufferings of its people. In this spirit the document requests the international community to stand by the Palestinian people who have faced oppression, displacement, suffering and clear apartheid for more than six decades. The suffering continues while the international community silently looks on at the occupying State, Israel. Our word is a cry of hope, with love, prayer and faith in God. We address it first of all to ourselves and then to all the churches and Christians in the world, asking them to stand against injustice and apartheid, urging them to work for a just peace in our region, calling on them to revisit theologies that justify crimes perpetrated against our people and the dispossession of the land.
As Palestinian Christians we hope that this document will provide the turning point to focus the efforts of all peace-loving peoples in the world, especially our Christian sisters and brothers. We hope also that it will be welcomed positively and will receive strong support, as was the South Africa Kairos document launched in 1985, which, at that time proved to be a tool in the struggle against oppression and occupation. We believe that
liberation from occupation is in the interest of all peoples in the region because the problem is not just a political one, but one in which human beings are destroyed.
We pray God to inspire us all, particularly our leaders and policy-makers, to find the way of justice and equality, and to realize that it is the only way that leads to the genuine peace we are seeking.
Now the quotes are again selected, they are chosen for a religious and spiritual statement.
1. The reality on the ground
1.1 “They say: 'Peace, peace' when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14). These days, everyone is speaking about peace in the Middle East and the peace process. So far, however, these are simply words; the reality is one of Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, deprivation of our freedom and all that results from this situation:
1.1.1 The separation wall erected on Palestinian territory, a large part of which has been confiscated for this purpose, has turned our towns and villages into prisons, separating them from one another, making them dispersed and divided cantons. Gaza, especially after the cruel war Israel launched against it during December 2008 and January 2009, continues to live in inhuman conditions, under permanent blockade and cut off from the other Palestinian territories.
1.1.2 Israeli settlements ravage our land in the name of God and in the name of force, controlling our natural resources, including water and agricultural land, thus depriving hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, and constituting an obstacle to any political solution.
1.1.3 Reality is the daily humiliation to which we are subjected at the military checkpoints, as we make our way to jobs, schools or hospitals.
In its way, the Kairos Document makes it charges against Israel:
1.1.7 And the prisoners? The thousands of prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons are part of our reality. The Israelis move heaven and earth to gain the release of one prisoner, and those thousands of Palestinian prisoners, when will they have their freedom?
1.1.8 Jerusalem is the heart of our reality. It is, at the same time, symbol of peace and sign of conflict. While the separation wall divides Palestinian neighbourhoods, Jerusalem continues to be emptied of its Palestinian citizens, Christians and Muslims. Their identity cards are confiscated, which means the loss of their right to reside in Jerusalem. Their homes are demolished or expropriated. Jerusalem, city of reconciliation, has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle rather than peace.
1.2 Also part of this reality is the Israeli disregard of international law and international resolutions, as well as the paralysis of the Arab world and the international community in the face of this contempt. Human rights are violated and despite the various reports of local and international human rights' organizations, the injustice continues.
1.2.1 Palestinians within the State of Israel, who have also suffered a historical injustice, although they are citizens and have the rights and obligations of citizenship, still suffer from discriminatory policies. They too are waiting to enjoy full rights and equality like all other citizens in the state.
A Christian Statement:
2. A word of faith
We believe in one God, a good and just God
2.1 We believe in God, one God, Creator of the universe and of humanity. We believe in a good and just God, who loves each one of his creatures. We believe that every human being is created in God’s image and likeness and that every one's dignity is derived from the dignity of the Almighty One. We believe that this dignity is one and the same in each and all of us. This means for us, here and now, in this land in particular, that God created us not so that we might engage in strife and conflict but rather that we might come and know and love one another, and together build up the land in love and mutual respect.
2.1.1 We also believe in God's eternal Word, His only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, whom God sent as the Saviour of the world.
2.1.2 We believ