On February 25, 2016, the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A. – PCUSA) published a report titled “Israel-Palestine: For Human Values in the Absence of a Just Peace.” The publication urges the U.S. government to review financial and military aid to Israel and promotes the Kairos Palestine document and Christ at the Checkpoint, which use theological language to oppose Jewish self-determination and call for anti-Israel BDS (boycotts, divestment, sanctions). The authors stress that “core justice and human rights issues demand more attention at this time,” while only tacitly supporting a two-state framework for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The report, which references the church’s decision to adopt BDS tactics, will be presented at the 2016 PCUSA General Assembly, and suggests an escalation of discriminatory attacks singling out Israel. This escalation contradicts other voices within the Presbyterian Church that are challenging the anti-Israel narrative and calling for a rejection of BDS.
One-Sided View of the Conflict
As in the past, the authors of this ACSWP document relied on a very narrow segment of NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to produce the report. These include pro-BDS groups such as the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Sabeel, Christ at the Checkpoint, and Badil. ACSWP PCUSA officials also met with highly politicized and biased Israeli NGOs such as B’Tselem, Breaking the Silence, and Rabbis for Human Rights.
The almost-exclusive reliance on sources that are, in many cases, openly hostile to Israel and present highly distorted analyses resulted in a one-sided distorted view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In addition to promoting BDS, the document downplays the threat of terrorism directed against Israeli civilians, while blaming Israel for Palestinian terror attacks and the hostility of neighboring states. Moreover, it views the conflict solely through the prism of ostensible Israeli strength and Palestinian weakness. This narrative patronizes Palestinians by absolving them of responsibility for their own actions and presents a sympathetic view of Palestinian violence.
Additionally, analysis of Israeli military operations is misleading and is divorced of the context in which the fighting took place. The reference to Israel’s purported nuclear arsenal in the context of counterterror operations against Palestinian groups is both misleading and highly inflammatory.
ACSWP’s strong vs. weak narrative
- “The military confrontation between Hamas forces in Gaza and the Israeli military is lopsided…On the other hand, Israeli forces have massive material superiority… They also have nuclear arms, ready and waiting.” (emphasis added)
- “The study report accompanying this resolution describes these trends further, noting the growth of Israeli power and resources and the weakening of Palestinian economic capacity, institutions and culture, and even family life.”
- “We reject any false equivalence between the capacity of a prosperous nuclear-armed state and that of a poor, divided, occupied set of cantons.”
- “Hamas has arguably offered long-term truces to Israel in the past, but it also promotes an antagonistic ideology, which mirrors the extremist Israeli settler parties.” (emphasis added)
- “Leaders of Hamas face other challenges, some of their own making and some due to repeated Israeli military efforts to remove them since their victory in the free and fair elections of 2006, since which some have been imprisoned and others killed by rockets or drones. It is hard to think long term when massive inequality in wealth and weaponry would make any political leader’s work seem impossible…” (emphasis added)
- “The Israeli government has conquered the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem and labels any resistance as ‘terrorism,’ even though international law gives an occupied people the right to armed struggle to resist the occupier.” (emphases added)
- “Today, however, although neighboring states may be unfriendly (due to refugees or border areas Israel continues to hold from past wars), Israel faces no significant military challenges from any of them. While there have been occasional internal spikes of violence (such as knife attacks in late 2015) and indiscriminate rocket attacks, most Israelis lead relatively secure lives. These attacks, as well as the fear of attack via tunnels into Israeli village areas (most tunnels are from Gaza to Egypt), continue to grip and shape internal Israeli politics and subvert the two-state process.” (emphasis added)
- The document “affirms the traditional freedom of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and other religious, civic, and private organizations in the United States to determine their own practices of investment or divestment, boycott or selective purchasing.” (emphasis added)
- “In solidarity with those who suffer, the General Assembly: encourages Presbyterians to read and reflect on documents like Kairos-Palestine that come from our Palestinian brothers and sisters and to support programs like Christ at the Checkpoint.”
On US policy
- “The Assembly urges Congress to hold hearings into the use of US made and subsidized military and police equipment by the Government of Israel in carrying out policies that abuse human rights, violate Geneva Accords, or oppose American principles of religious liberty and non-discrimination.” (emphasis added)
- The report “supports US Government enforcement of laws requiring correct labeling of the place of production for imports to the US of goods from Israeli settlements and of laws sustaining the prohibition on Israeli participation in the US Visa Waiver Program until Israeli ceases to discriminate against US Passport holders of Palestinian origin.”
- “Repeating the mantra of ‘Two-State Solution’ has kept US funding flowing to Israel but has failed to end the violence or lead to mutually accepted solutions.”
- “Israeli authorities tightly limit the access of Palestinians to water, while assuring that their own citizens and the settlers have full access 24-7.”
- “When the IDF raids a village or refugee camp, the first shots are typically at the rooftop water tanks—easy targets— so the Palestinians will worry about how to have water the rest of the week, instead of organizing resistance to the invasion.”
On Collective Punishment
- “The population of Gaza… is being punished collectively.”