PCUSA Approves Softer Mideast Report; Avoids Rift

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approved a significantly modified version of a Middle East report on Friday that, for the most part, placated both Jews and Palestinians.

Avoiding what could have been devastating to Presbyterian-Jewish relations, the church's General Assembly overwhelmingly passed a report by its Middle East study committee that removed more objectionable language.

Gone was the recommendation to divest from the Caterpillar company, whose bulldozers are used by Israel to demolish Palestinian homes. Instead, the church "strongly" denounced the Caterpillar company for allowing its products to be used in non-peaceful ways by Israel.

Also, the final report removed divisive language such as calling Israel to repent of its "sinful behavior" throughout the Middle East and comparing the Israeli policy to "apartheid."

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a coalition of 13 prominent Jewish organizations, applauded the church for demonstrating its "desire for broader understanding in the quest for peace" with the more balanced final report.

Specifically, the Jewish coalition appreciated the church report recognizing Israel's right to exist as a sovereign nation within secure borders. It also applauded the Presbyterian church resisting from adopting boycotts, divestments, and sanctions as prescribed in the original report.

"Serious concerns remain about some aspects of the MESC report and other actions including the unfortunate referral for further study of a well-considered paper on Presbyterian-Jewish relations," said the JCPA in a statement. "That said, the General Assembly has modeled a more inclusive voice on the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

Jewish groups had fervently denounced the original report by the church's Middle East Study Committee. They criticized the report for being one-sided and anti-Israel. The Jewish humanitarian group B'Nai B'Rith said the report "dramatically emphasizes" Israel's responsibility for the Israel-Palestinian conflict, while "belittling" Arab wrongdoings.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the nation's largest Jewish human rights organizations, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, had warned that if the committee's report is approved it would damage interfaith ties.

"Adoption of this poisonous document by the Presbyterian Church will be nothing short of a declaration of war on Israel and her supporters," the center had stated.

But in the end, both Israeli and Palestinians appeared satisfied with the more toned down report.

The Palestine News Network in its article on the PC(USA) Middle East report highlighted that the church still calls on the U.S. government to withhold aid to Israel if the nation continues to build settlements in the West Bank.

They were also pleased that the report commended the Kairos Palestine document, a highly controversial document written by Palestinian Christians that is severely critical of Israel. However, the final report only adopted positive aspects of the document that called for hope, non-violence, love of enemy and reconciliation.

"Concerns remain, but I have hope that authentic dialogue and better relations can come of this," said Ethan Felson, vice president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, according to The Associated Press.

The modified report was approved by a 558 to 119 vote by the church's General Assembly, its highest legislative body. The PC(USA), which has more than 2 million members, met July 3-10.

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