A Fresh Coat of Paint for the Rubble: The message the Presbyterian Church (USA) sent to Palestinian Christians

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As a Jewish observer of the 220th General Assembly of the PC(USA), I was impressed by the level of concern for the feelings of Jews. During the deliberations of the Middle East Peacemaking Issues committee, American and Israeli Jews with a variety of opinions concerning divestment were given the opportunity to speak, demonstrating both the deep divisions that exist within my own community around these issues, and the commitment of Presbyterians to ensuring fairness and equal representation. The committee listened compassionately to these and other perspectives, and voted its conscience, endorsing divestment by a large majority.

I was offended when Rabbi Gil Rosenthal, the only Jew permitted to address the full General Assembly, abused his invitation to deliver an interfaith greeting and instead delivered a five-minute, fear-mongering speech against divestment, an act which Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons later described as being “over the line”. I was disappointed that a guest invited to speak as a friend of the church would behave in so unfriendly a way, but also that the Presbyterian commitment to equal representation that was so evident in committee did not lead the Assembly to permit anyone, Jewish or otherwise, to respond to Rabbi Rosenthal’s unexpected advocacy with a speech of equal length in support of divestment. 

Though I am disappointed with this failure of the Assembly’s process, and disappointed that only two commissioners abstained from the critical 333-331-2 vote after twelve of them accepted a free trip to Israel from an anti-divestment lobbying group, I will not turn away from my friends in the PC(USA). I believe with all my heart that the Church will eventually make the right choice on this and all of the other difficult choices with which it grapples. When that day comes, as it already has for the Quakers who divested from Caterpillar earlier this year, myself and countless other Jews will find our relationships with this church, and our commitment to interfaith partnerships, not threatened, but vastly strengthened.

But this is not about the opinions of some Jews. This is about the lives of Palestinians.

Given that this is actually about Palestinians, including but not limited to Palestinian Christians, I humbly ask Presbyterians and others to reflect upon the message sent to those Palestinians by the church’s decision to offer only new investment, and only talk of peace, while continuing to reap the financial rewards of violence and oppression:

We have heard your plea, Christians of the Holy Land. We have heard the roar of the bulldozers, and the cries of the children trapped behind walls and checkpoints. We have heard the deafening silence of the companies which after eight years of engagement still allow their products to be used to perpetuate your suffering.

You have asked us to stop investing in the cameras that line your prison walls. We cannot.

You have asked us to stop benefiting from the machinery of the checkpoints that prevent you from reaching your jobs, your schools, your hospitals, and our holy places. We cannot.

You have asked us to stop profiting from the bulldozers used to raze your olive groves, among which our Lord Jesus Christ once walked. We cannot.

We cannot do this, our Brothers and Sisters in Christ, because of what some of our friends might think.

We have no choice, our fellow Christians.

The barriers will continue to be erected upon your land, and we will continue to profit from them.

The checkpoints will continue to prevent you from walking in the footsteps of Jesus, and we will continue to profit from them.

But there is hope, our brothers and sisters. For though our purses shall continue to grow fat with the spoils of violence and injustice, we remain Christians at heart.

Return now to your battered homes, cleave unto your spouse, and unto your children. Cast aside your fear, for we have heard your plea. And with the help of The Spirit, we have discerned.

Though you may awake to the roar of the bulldozers, to the screams of your children, and to the crumbling of your walls, fear not. 

For we shall be there, our Brothers and Sisters in Christ, to offer a fresh coat of paint for the rubble.

Rejoice, and be glad in it.

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The satirical reflection offered in the second part of this piece should be read in lieu of scripture at every Presbyterian Church this Sunday.

333 traitors to their God.
How else can one put it.
One of the reasons I shy from organized religion is the number of hypocrites within.
Yea, the other half are upstanding and admirable, but personally I don’t the patience to deal with the coward half.

Good piece by Ben-Israel
Reminds me of Mark Twain’s War Prayer

I watched the Presbyterian proceedings on the live stream; thanks to Mondo for providing that link and other coverage. I also looked at some of the on-line reports. The commissioners, who took the binding votes, seem to have overruled the broad sentiments of the church. Recall that voting took place in 2 stages, an advisory round, and the commissioner round. Advisory votes came from 4 bodies or groups of delegates to the GA. One was… Read more »

“the only Jew permitted to address the full General Assembly” As if the Presbyterians did a great injustice by permitting only one Jew to speak at the Assembly! That one Jew was one more than any Muslims they permitted to address the Assembly, let alone any Palestinians. Nonetheless, this was a Presybterian Church GA, by Presbyterians, for Presybterians–they weren’t obliged to let any non-Presbyterian address the Assembly, be it Jew, Muslim, or Buddhist so this… Read more »