Setting the record straight, again

Two years ago, after the last Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) General Assembly I had to write to set the record straight based on factually inaccurate descriptions of what happened at the 2016 GA, relating to Israel. Sadly, I need to do it again this year. The PCUSA General Assembly ended in St. Louis last weekend, and while there certainly were discouraging resolutions approved, the statement by the AJC is factually wrong on many levels as are the news stories that relied on it.

In its news release, the American Jewish Committee reports that PCUSA “approved an overture whose rationale includes a call to condemn the Balfour Declaration as unjust and accuses Israel of practicing apartheid; rejected the evenhandedness of an overture calling for the protection of both Israeli and Palestinian children; and disapproved an overture calling for an end to the description of Israel as a “colonial project” in Church publications.”

This is factually incorrect. It is true that there was an overture that called for PCUSA to study a letter provided by a coalition of Christians that included language in its rationale (which is not part of the actual policy) that condemned the Balfour Declaration, and condemned Israel on multiple grounds. it was because of that rationale that the committee members, and then the entire General Assembly, amended to overture to eliminate the request to study the letter. Moreover, the overture as passed merely acknowledges receipt of the letter, and takes no further action. In the PCUSA, the rationale for an overture might be valuable to a committee considering it, but it does not become policy. The AJC’s reporting of this outcome is factually inaccurate.

In addition, AJC reports that the General Assembly “disapproved an overture calling for an end to the description of Israel as a “colonial project” in Church publications. This is not what the GA disapproved. A commissioner’s resolution was sought demanding that the Church cease distribution of a slanted one-sided study guide issued by the church’s Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN). Once again, part of the rationale of that request was that the study treats Israel as a colonial project, but the assembly ostensibly disapproved the resolution out of concerns of censorship. The GA did NOT approve the calling of Israel as a colonial project.

I have no problem with criticizing the IPMN’s publication, which really shouldn’t be offered for sale in the PCUSA’s online store, particularly given the last General Assembly’s affirmation of a two-state solution including the right of the Jewish and Palestinian people to self-determination.  The reporting of the failure of a commissioner’s resolution seeking to cease distribution of a document as an affirmation of the language that Israel is a colonial project is not just false, it is fundamentally flawed. In today’s world, one might call it fake news.

I have already written about the unexpected shift that occurred in this General Assembly, where strong support was given for approaching the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a lens of reconciliation, and calling on the PCUSA to distribute information to congregations about people-to-people programs and shared society efforts between Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, that promote change. Compared with the votes for divestment in 2014, this is an important shift. Yes, there were plenty of lousy overtures approved, which were flawed in many ways, and certainly many American Jews should have reason to be highly leery of PCUSA, but it is inexcusable to falsely report what happened. What incentive does that give to those who challenged and achieved success on the items AJC misreported?

About the Author
Michael Gizzi is an active member of Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, and an elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). A political scientist and professor of criminal justice at Illinois State University, Gizzi is actively involved in research on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. His opinions are his own, and not those of Illinois State University.
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