The debates around Israel-Palestine at the 2016 General Assembly in Portland were among the most civil and productive that we have seen in many years. As a result, they produced results that caused both sides to feel as though they had accomplished some of their goals. If such an outcome reduces stress within the PCUSA around Israel-Palestine issues, it can only make us more effective peacemakers.
From the Presbyterians for Middle East Peace perspective, we accomplished significant progress in a number of areas. They include:
The stated goal of many BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction) activists is to work toward the creation of one, Palestinian state. The study paper from the Advisory Committee of Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) would have pushed the PCUSA in that direction had it gone un-amended. But two amendments were offered to the report and approved by the General Assembly that are clear, unequivocal restatements of the PCUSA’s historic commitment to two states for two peoples. The paper itself contains many flaws---partisan rhetoric, factual errors, misrepresentations of major figures such as Thomas Friedman, and a lack of theological and biblical grounding. They were not corrected. But the biggest flaw---the movement toward one state was rejected by a near consensus vote.
The attempt to initiate a boycott against HP because of the way its products are used in Israel was rejected in a landslide vote.
A paper which made outlandish charges against Israel regarding its treatment of children was approved. However, for the first time, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority were called to task for the way they have incited youth to attack Israelis and, in the process, lose their own youthful lives.
An effort to have a denomination-wide study of the Palestinian BDS movement was altered to include anti-BDS materials and have congregations engage in study in partnership with their Jewish and Muslim community neighbors. This will result in a true educational project rather than one which, in essence, would explain only the pro-BDS position.
The committee heard a presentation by a commissioner on the problems of the BDS movement in a way never before seen at a General Assembly. While the committee ultimately rejected the commissioner’s resolution, it was an eye-opener for many to see the agenda of the BDS movement and the violent consequences of some of its adherents.
This is a time to give thanks to God and the GA commissioners for the balanced way they approached the issues before them. In God’s mysterious ways, perhaps it can be a time when long-time opponents on this issue can find common ground upon which we can build a truly effective peacemaking strategy in the years ahead. To God goes the glory!