Presbyterian Church working to undercut Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts?

If the Presbyterian Church (USA), which is meeting in Minneapolis this week, really cares about peace in the region it will soundly reject the latest report by its Middle East Study Committee.

This isn’t about the frustrating search for some way to end the Middle East conflict; it’s about a handful of determined Church activists with a serious grudge against the Jewish state, who don’t much care that their churlish activism in the guise of religious morality is just making peace harder to attain.

It’s the reason the approach taken by Presbyterian activists makes the major Jewish peace groups profoundly uneasy. The Jewish groups want a negotiated peace, while the Church activists seem mostly interested in lashing out against  Israel regardless of the impact on faltering efforts to achieve peace.  

Church activists always tout Jewish groups that support their point of view – but chances are, they’re groups so fringy you’ve never heard of them. You don’t see J Street and Americans for Peace Now lined up with the Presbyterian “peace” activists.

Look, let’s reduce this to some very simple principles.

If you believe in a two-state solution and in the need for both sides to make compromises to reach it, you have to assure both that their core needs will be respected and protected – a lesson the Obama administration learned the hard way during its first year.

If you continually weigh in about how one side is always at fault and the other can do no wrong – even when it does wrong – you make even reasonable people on the side you keep condemning suspicious of the “peace” you advocate.  

If you argue that one side’s narrative of the long conflict is correct and the others’ is bunk, you become part of a conflict-sustaining problem that posits the situation in black and white terms, not part of a solution that must ultimately recognize the reality that both sides have legitimate grievances, fears and aspirations.

When you advance totally one-sided reports and resolutions, you encourage and enable the extremists on both sides who reject the peace you claim you support – the Israeli extremists who say “the world is against us, anyway, so we should just do what we want” and the Palestinian extremists who believe that if they just hold out long enough, international pressure will somehow make Israel disappear.

It’s not a sin to believe Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is wrong; it is counterproductive naivete to argue that Israel alone is responsible for the failure of efforts to end it. It’s not “anti-Israel” to argue that Israel must come to terms with Palestinian aspirations; a majority of Israelis feel that way, after all. It’s either stupid or malicious to argue that Israel has to do a lot to make peace happens, the Palestinians almost nothing.

It’s fascinating to me that the mainline Protestant churches keep doing this.

They preach a negotiated peace, but do everything they can to make Israelis believe negotiations will be rigged against them. They give lip service to the desire of Israelis to live lives free of the daily threat of terrorism, but then describe Palestinian as an understandable response to an oppressive occupation. They scold Israel like teachers in a Sunday school classroom, then wonder why they are dismissed as apologists for those who have sworn to wipe Israel off the map.

They damage an already faltering U.S. peace effort for the same reasons.

And they undercut centrist American Jews who long for a genuine peace that respects both Jewish and Palestinian aspirations, but who don’t want to be taken for saps.

If you believe in a two state solution that respects the needs of both sides and strives to address their legitimate grievances, the Presbyterian Church report and those who support it are working hard against your interests.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.