Presbyterians Spar on Middle East Issues

Delegates at the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)'s 219th General Assembly have had little peace over a recently published report from its Middle East Study Committee, who claim the document purposed to promote peace in the conflict-ridden region.

Words such as "unbalanced" and "slanted" have been used to describe the report, which was authored by a committee of PC(U.S.A.) members that some have described as anti-Israeli activists.

One member of the committee, the Rev. Byron Shafer, declined to sign off on the report saying that the document is "heavily one sided" and "does not express a deep love for Israel."

"Were this General Assembly to adopt it, we would pour fuel on the fire, not further the cause of peace," Shafer said.

Among the tenants of the report include recommendations for the U.S. government to possibly withhold military aid from Israel as well as endorsement of the Kairos Palestine document, which calls Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza "a sin against God and humanity" and advocates for boycotting the country.

Several Jewish groups have voiced in their concern over the Kairos Palestine document, called "poisonous" by Jewish human rights group the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

"Adoption of this poisonous document by the Presbyterian Church will be nothing short of a declaration of war on Israel and her supporters," the group said in a statement released in February.

Last week, international Jewish group B'nai B'rith also expressed their concern over Kairos Palestine, which they say "demonizes" Israel.

"Peace cannot be accomplished by aiming boycotts or divestment, as Kairos does, at businesses engaged with Israel," the group said.

Commenting on the report in its entirety, B'nai B'rith said it "reflects a strikingly incomplete and unbalanced, and thus unhelpful, narrative of the history and reality in the Middle East."

"It minimizes the roots of the Jewish people in Israel, as well as Israelis' painful sacrifices for peace, while magnifying Palestinians' suffering, but not their responsibilities and perpetuation of violence," they added.

Meanwhile, the report's authors have defended their recommendations in part on the basis of the rapidly declining number of Christians in the Holy Land, who have left due to conflict and harassment.

"The window of opportunity… is rapidly closing," said committee member the Rev. Susan Andrews.

"It is a complex situation that demands action," particularly as it relates to giving voice to those who have not been heard over the years, she added, according to The Layman.

Acknowledging those who called the report unbalanced, Andrews said that, "We are trying in this report to speak truth and love," adding that members of the church are called to be "ambassadors of reconciliation."

"When there is justice there can be peace," she noted.

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