The Presbyterians for Middle East Peace (PFMEP), a small, brave and genuine group that seeks peaceful solutions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict amongst the Israel-haters of the greater Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) invited me for a second time, to participate and give testimony at the 223rd General Assembly (GA) in St. Louis last month. Having participated twice at these assemblies, I found that the PCUSA are an unfortunate group of people, stuck in a circle of blame, stereotypes and prejudice against the Jewish State as they repeat the same slogans and phrases year after year in the echo chamber of the GA.
On the first day, I testified on a resolution that sought to blame Hamas for the current violence taking place at the Israeli-Gaza border, but the resolution was defeated by anti-Israel activists. Following the vote, I was approached from behind by a Palestinian agitator by the name of Bassem Masri, who said in Arabic, “I know who you are. I am going to kill you.” He asked why I said that Hamas is militarizing the children of Gaza, and added, “Do you want the Jews to kill them?” I tried to leave the hall, but he followed me all the way back to my hotel as he harassed and threatened me, calling me a ‘traitor, collaborator, Arab-Zionist, and so on.
Unfortunately, following this incident, I saw the true face of the Presbyterian Church. General Assembly Stated Clerk, the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, II. He issued a statement (based on a letter to a concerned Assembly-goer) addressing the confrontation that occurred outside the Assembly Committee on the Middle East Issues meeting room on Monday.
Nelson Stated: “Admittedly, Presbyterians tend to have strong feelings about public issues and, in the case of the search for peace in the Middle East, that exposes the General Assembly to strong, divergent opinions. Sometimes that exposes us to the existential passion of people embedded in the struggle, who have been invited to provide information and advice to the assembly committees. When that passion boils over, we have to deal with the results. This appeared to be the case as Mr. Masri, perceiving Mr. Eid (representing an advocacy group often seen as slow to criticize Israel) to be a Palestinian traitor to the Palestinian cause, became abusive and threatening.”
Apparently, “passions boiling over” is a legitimate excuse for death threats and harassment under the guise of transparency and a platform for ‘divergent opinions,’ particularly if the person being harassed is with a group that is “slow to criticize Israel.”
I’ve also been accused of being a liar. Nelson’s statement alleges that, “We take seriously allegations of death threats made by Mr. Masri against Mr. Eid, although we are unable to substantiate these charges either through the review of the video made by Mr. Masri or by the testimony of Palestinian bystanders.”
Bassem Masri was never removed from the GA even though there was no clear reason as to why he was participating. He did not give any testimony. He was a spectator whom I was forced to see every day for the 6-day conference, wondering if he would act on his word. Masri is a criminal, with a lengthy police record and someone who has been known to have a drug problem and several DUIs (driving under the influence). He is one of the foremost agitators in the Ferguson (Mike Brown) riots and is known to police in St. Louis. What’s truly shocking is that a pro-Hamas, violent activist like Masri is running for State Representative in Missouri! When I filed a Police report against Masri, the police detective said he knew him very well and said if Masri wins State Rep, he will move to Jerusalem to ‘live with me!’ It’s a mystery to me that a man like Masri, with a violent and criminal past, who openly supports terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, was not removed from the conference. Unless of course, the PCUSA shares his views.
The lack of integrity and honesty by the PCUSA is blatantly obvious and disappointing. Their delusions run so deep, they even suggest that God made a mistake in giving Israel the Promised Land, going against the very Bible they supposedly believe in.
The PFMEP, the keepers of sanity in the Presbyterian Church, responded by stating the following:
“In the opening worship of the Presbyterian General Assembly in St. Louis yesterday, the Call to Confession read, “The Hebrew people crossed the Jordan into the promised land—freed to build new lives in a land flowing with milk and honey. But at what cost to those already living there?” The Prayer of Confession expands the focus to all migrating peoples who have crossed into new lands “when our claim to land displaces others, stripping away all sense of security and denying their hope of home.
The Call to and Prayer of Confession neatly avoided the biblical fact that the entry of the people of Israel into the Promised Land was not only a mandate from God; but God reaffirmed the mandate numerous times with Abraham and Sarah and other Jewish notables in the Bible once the people inhabited the Promised Land. There were many complaints by commissioners about the liturgy.
One might ask, “From whence comes such a philosophy (turned into a theology)?” The answer is pretty easy. It comes from the obsession of some within the Presbyterian community to condemn and demonize Israel and the Jewish people. The GA will be asked to support the notion that Israel is a “colonial project,” not a people returning to land they inhabited, literally, for thousands of years. The Call to and Prayer of Confession were a unabashed setup for such a grotesque interpretation of Israel’s history.”
When the core of your ideology as a religious group is twisted by political agenda and motives, your ship is sinking.
Bassem Eid is a Jerusalem-based political analyst, human rights pioneer and expert commentator in Arab and Palestinian affairs.
For more information, visit www.bassemeid.com