Minneapolis -- July 6, 2010
Note: Events are taking place as this blog entry is being written. Updates to follow.
The Middle East Peacemaking Committee is currently considering major changes to the Middle East Study Committee Report under consideration at the PC(USA)'s General Assembly. The changes would include an explicit affirmation of Israel's right to exist (which was missing from the original MESC report) and a more nuanced endorsement of the Kairos Document that does not affirm its calls for boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel.
The amendments would also delete a specific reference to the World Council of Church's Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Israel-Palestine, a controversial organization that like other so-called peace making programs related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, draws attention to Israeli policies while offering little if any testimony to the actions of Hamas and Hezbollah.
The amendments will also delete an entire section of the document which includes a highly distorted "historical analysis" and replace it with a "series of eight narratives … four arising from the range of authentically 'pro-Palestinian' perspectives (including both Christian and Muslim) and four from the authentically 'pro-Israel' perspectives…" These narratives will be solicited and chosen by a monitoring group that will be appointed after the General Assembly.
"Hopefully these changes will reflect more fully the narratives of the conflict," a proponent of the amendments said.
The amendments, if they survive the committee process and are approved by the General Assembly, will also limit the number of people from the Middle East Study Committee that can serve on the group mentioned above.
The original document submitted by the Middle East Study Committee called for the creation of a "Monitoring Group on the Middle East" that would convene until the 2012 General Assembly and make another report to that body. The original report stated that this group would "consist of the members of this study committee."
The proposed amendment calls for the creation of a seven member monitoring group that will include "at least one, but no more than two members of the existing MESC."
This is a clear effort to limit the influence of the current members of the Middle East Study Committee on the yet-to-be created monitoring group.
Early Discussion Around Kairos Document
The amendments, if approved, would also call for the General Assembly to "endorse the Kairos Palestinian document ("A Moment of Truth") in its emphasis on hope for liberation, nonviolence, love of enemy, and reconciliation, but not other elements, such as its call for BDS." The amendment would also lift the document up for study and discussion by the Presbyterian, and direct the Monitoring Group for the Middle East to create a study guide for the document."
Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb came to the defense of the Kairos Document during these proceedings stating that it included a call boycotts divestments and sanctions as a way to avoid getting caught in the trap of "non-violent apathy."
"If you read Martin Luther King's letter from Montgomery, that is the power you see in this document," he said. "I encourage you not to be selective. Even the Bible, I have a problem with some sections but I wouldn't take them out," he said eliciting laughter from the audience.
This neat trick of rhetoric prompted a polite response from a committee member who said that the amendment was needed to get the report passed by the committee.
"With all due respect, the Kairos Document isn't the bible," he said.
Getting the Report Passed
The goal of these amendments committee members stated is to get the report approved by the General Assembly.
"We heard the concerns of the people who want to throw [the MESC] report out," said one of the proponents of the amendments. "The amendments are to make it more passable to the entire church, then we wouldn't lose the entire report."
The calls to reject the report outright made by some Presbyterians, including Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, definitely caught the attention of the committee members.