The PFMEP Blog

The PFMEP Blog focuses on advancing Middle East Peace.

Thoughtful comments on blog articles can provide additional insight and stimulate productive debate. We welcome comments from a diverse group of contributors.
John Wimberly

Methodists Reject BDS

The United Methodist Church's (UMC) General Conference met last week in Portland, Oregon in the same rooms where the PC(USA) General Assembly (GA) will soon meet. They made some very interesting decisions regarding Israel-Palestine peacemaking that will surely have a ripple effect within the PC(USA). Like the Episcopal Church, they again rejected divestment overtures seeking to declare Israel to be the singular obstacle to peace in the conflict. In addition, they issued a clear repudiation of UMC involvement in the international Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement.

By almost a two-thirds majority, the UMC delegates asked Methodist groups to sever involvement with the BDS umbrella group End the Occupation.

End the Occupation has been a driving force behind a ten-year divestment campaign which reached a climax with the PC(USA)’s narrow vote in 2014 to divest from three companies doing business with Israel’s defense forces.   Incredibly, Anna Baltzer, the National Organizer for End the Occupation and prominent leader of the BDS movement in the U.S., was a "Resource Person" to the last two General Assemblies representing a standing GA committee. She was allowed to speak in committee hearings when concerned Presbyterians attending the hearing were not. The appointment of an international leader and advocate of the BDS movement as a committee “Resource Person” showed flagrant disregard for the ethical standards called for in the committee process. This should not have happened in 2012 and 2014, and should not be permitted this summer in Portland.

Divestment proposals put before the UMC General Conference were very similar to those narrowly approved at the 2014 PCUSA GA. By strong majorities, the UMC committees rejected the divestment overtures on the basis that they declared Israel to be the sole obstacle to peace when it is clear to diplomats and other experts that Palestinian groups such as Hamas, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, are also major obstacles to peace. In their place, they chose an option rejected by the PC(USA) GA in 2014---to invest in peace.

Events at the UMC General Conference in Portland raise several interesting questions. Will Presbyterians wake up to the fact that PC(USA) policies regarding Israel-Palestine are being driven by secular BDS organizations and not by serious theological and biblical reflection? Will Presbyterians join Episcopalians and Methodists in rejecting a simplistic, dualistic approach to the Middle East conflict in which one side (Israel) is portrayed as the problem and the other side (Palestinians) is portrayed as innocents? Will Presbyterians ask their standing committees to think for themselves rather than rubber stamping the leadership of a the secular, harsh BDS agenda?

Mike Gizzi

When history and facts don’t seem to matter: The Presbyterian Church, BDS, and the ‘largely non-violent First Intifada’

The Presbyterian Church (USA) has been tied up in the politics of the Boycott-Divest-Sanction (BDS) movement against Israel for more than a decade, culminating in a narrow four-vote majority in the 2014 General Assembly to divest church funds from HP, Motorola, and Caterpillar because of those company’s products being allegedly used to violent ends by Israel in the Palestinian territories. The GA tried to claim that its vote to divest was not about joining the BDS movement, but was a statement on socially responsible investment. This was wishful thinking because within 30 minutes of the GA’s vote, the New York Times reported that the Church had become aligned with the BDS Movement.

Now, two years later, another PC(USA) General Assembly approaches. This time, the BDS agenda is a bit more nuanced. A task force was commissioned by the GA in 2014 to examine the continued viability of the Church’s commitment to a Two State solution. Responsibility for this study fell on the Church’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP), which recently issued a report titled "Israel-Palestine: For Human Values in the Absence of a Justice Peace."  The ACSWP seeks to have their report endorsed by the GA this summer in Portland, Oregon, when it meets in mid-June. It should surprise no one that the report that was written mimics many of the Israel-targeted BDS arguments that have been used again and again.

John Wimberly

A Target on Our Back

The PCUSA Portland General Assembly is one of three denominational meetings this summer being targeted by the secular Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. The US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, referred to hereafter as “End the Occupation”, a non-Presbyterian, secular umbrella organization promoting BDS, has zeroed in on the Methodist, Presbyterian and Unitarian Universalist denominational meetings. As their Call to Action concludes, “Here’s to 2016 being the most exciting year for church divestment yet!” 

In Portland, the BDS movement, which refuses to recognize the right of the Jewish people to a state, is committed to seeing the PCUSA end its historic commitment to a two state solution. Through groups like End the Occupation it will strongly lobby in support of an ACSWP Study paper coming to the General Assembly that recommends the PCUSA no longer support a two state solution. We at Presbyterians for Middle East Peace strongly urge the GA to continue support of the only diplomatic approach endorsed by the world’s major powers.

End the Occupation and the Presbyterian-related Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) have worked closely to align the PCUSA with the BDS movement’s agenda. The two groups have enlisted Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), a small fringe group of American Jewish young people, in their efforts. The efforts of End the Occupation, IPMN and JVP have been vigorously denounced by all mainline Jewish organizations. J Street, a very progressive Jewish organization, has also opposed all efforts to divest that are trumpeted by End the Occupation, IPMN and JVP.

Of course, forgotten in the statements of End the Occupation and, oftentimes, IPMN is the fact that the 2014 General Assembly explicitly distanced itself from the BDS movement. In the overture endorsing divestment of GA funds from three companies, the General Assembly stated, “This action on divestment does not mean an alignment with the overall strategy of the global BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement.” Further distancing itself from BDS efforts, the General Assembly instructed the IPMN to place a disclaimer on its controversial paper Zionism Unsettled, stating that the document in no way represented the positions of the PCUSA.

In 2014, opponents of divestment warned that it was naïve to think the PCUSA would not be viewed as being in alignment with the BDS movement if we voted to divest. Sadly, the opponents were prophetic. Within minutes of the 2014 vote, the BDS movement was sending messages around the world that the PCUSA had joined their movement. That message has continued unabated for two years.

At Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, we hope that commissioners will realize that we, the PCUSA, are being used cynically by a secular BDS movement that in no way shares our theological commitments. Let’s get the target off our back.       

George Douglas

Jews & Arabs Refuse To Be Enemies

We talk often of the barriers to peace in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, but little attention is focused on the barriers faced by Palestinians who favor coexistence and peace with Israel. Late in the evening of Monday, May 2, Palestinian activist Baha Nabata was shot dead in the Shuafat refugee camp adjacent to East Jerusalem. His assailant escaped on a motor bike. His killing was reported in the Israeli media. It did not receive any coverage we know of by the Palestinian Maan News Agency, or in the international media.

Mr. Nabata was a well known civil rights and youth leader in his community. His numerous accomplishments included paving the camp’s roads, setting up emergency medical services for residents, and training firefighters with help from the Jerusalem Fire Department. He also led a youth group in the adjacent Palestinian neighborhood of Ras Shehada.

His activities caused him to be in contact and cooperate with Israeli municipal officials. For this he was branded by some Palestinians as a traitor, and for this Mr. Nabata feared for his life and eventually paid the ultimate price.

George Douglas

PFMEP GA breakfast speakers announced

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict will again be an intensely debated issue at the upcoming General Assembly in Portland. Presbyterians for Middle East Peace will be hosting a breakfast meeting on Saturday, June 18. If you are attending GA, we hope you will join us. Registration information is available at General Assembly information.

We are excited to have two very special guest speakers at the breakfast: noted Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid, and Arab-Christian Israeli scholar and diplomat George Deek. 

Bassem Eid is a Jerusalem-based political analyst, human rights pioneer and expert commentator in Arab and Palestinian affairs. In 1996, he founded the Jerusalem based Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group. In 2016, he assumed the role of chairman of the Center for Near East Policy Research.

George Deek, currently a Fulbright Scholar at Georgetown University, is an Arab-Christian Israeli that hails from the city of Jaffa, where his family has lived for over 400 years. He graduated with two degrees, LL.B. in Law and B.A. in Government, at the Interdisciplinary Center of Herzliya. After having worked as a lawyer in a private firm in Tel-Aviv, he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2008.

Mr. Eid was born in the Jordanian-occupied Old City in East Jerusalem, and spent the first 33 years of his life in the Shuafat refugee camp adjacent to East Jerusalem. He rose to prominence during the first Intifada, the Palestinian uprising and was a senior field researcher for B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. 

Mr. Eid’s work focused on both Israeli and Palestinian human rights issues. He publicly condemned the widespread murder of Palestinian dissidents, often for reasons unrelated to the Intifada. In 1995, following his report about the Palestinian Preventative Security Service, he came under attack by some Palestinian leaders for revealing human rights violations committed by the Palestinian Authority (PA). He continued his criticisms of human rights policies of both Israeli and Palestinian armed forces. Arrested by Arafat’s Presidential Guard (Force 17), he was released after 25 hours following widespread international condemnation. 

Mr. Deek previously served as the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Embassy of Israel in Norway between July 2012 and January 2015, where he also served as Chargé d'Affaires between February and September 2014. Previously he served as Israel's Deputy Chief of Mission in Nigeria (2009-2012).  

Mr. Deek was involved from a young age in the promotion of mutual understanding and co-existence between Jews and Arabs in Israel. He was the co-editor of the first local newspaper of Jaffa “YaffoSheli/ Yafati” (“My Jaffa” in Hebrew and Arabic); He led various Arab-Jewish delegations and programs to the United States, Germany and the United Kingdom; He was the manager of the "Arab-Jewish" debate forum of Israel's leading news website Ynet. He lead the youth movement of the Arab-Christian community in Israel, while also managing the musical school of the community, where over 120 children and youth of the ages 7-25 years received education and music lessons for free.

Both of our speakers are uniquely qualified to share their insights into the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and both will share their ideas for peacemaking and coexistence. We hope you will join us in Portland. For those who cannot, we will have videos of their presentations available on the PFMEP website.