Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Presbyterians Urged To Side With Palestinians

JOSH GERSTEIN, Staff Reporter of the Sun
June 25, 2008

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Presbyterian Church is hearing impassioned pleas to declare its solidarity with the Palestinian Arabs by adopting a series of anti-Israel measures, including proposals for divestment and for backing a suspension of American military aid to the Jewish state.At a session that began yesterday afternoon and stretched into the night, a church committee on peacemaking heard a range of public testimony on the measures, which may be referred on to the American church's general assembly holding its biannual meeting here this week.

"The situation in Palestine is dire. The call from our Palestinian brothers and sisters has fallen on deaf ears," a Presbyterian minister, Reverend William McGarvey of San Francisco, told the committee. "The American Christian church has largely watched this catastrophe continue as if we did not care."

In the first round of votes, the Presbyterian committee seemed to signal a reluctance to trigger a new round of recriminations by re-embracing a divestment initiative that the church adopted in 2004, but shied away from two years later. Last night, the peacemaking panel voted, 32-23, to strike language that would authorize a council of church leaders to carry out divestment without further approval from the general assembly.

However, moments later, the committee voted, 38-26, to endorse the Amman Call, a peace proposal that includes a Palestinian Arab "right of return," a guarantee that Jewish leaders contend would lead to the demise of Israel as a Jewish state.

Some Presbyterian leaders spoke out yesterday against the anti-Israel proposals and offered alternatives calling for a "nonpartisan" approach to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

"We have to try to do the impossible that is to try to say both sides in this conflict, 'We want to be an agent of reconciliation.' If we choose one side over the other, we have lost that opportunity," a minister from Idaho, Reverend Robert Henley, said.

"Whether it is our mission network, our staff, or our leadership, we are overinvested and have been for some time in the Palestinian narrative," a Presbyterian who leads an anti-divestment group, James Roberts, said.

A Palestinian religious leader, Archbishop Elias Chacour of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church in Haifa, told the Presbyterians that they should not adopt measures calling for further study and a more balanced approach.

"If the good Samaritan would not have cared, the Jew would have been killed. If he went on fact-finding, the Jew would have been killed. But he got his hands dirty. And I urge you to get your hands dirty, to take sides," the prelate said.

Although Father Chacour was designated to speak in favor of several of the anti-Israel proposals, he stopped short of endorsing the one calling for divestment against two American firms whose equipment is used by the Israeli Army. "Instead of being cornered with divestment, why don't you take a proactive initiative, a kind of reinvestment?" he asked. "We would welcome a positive action rather than continue criticism of one side against the other."

Jewish leaders have warned that passage of some of the "overtures" could lead to a rupture similar to what occurred in 2004, when a church convention voted "to initiate a process of phased selective divestment in multinational corporations operating in Israel."

Last month, six senators who are Presbyterians urged the church not to endorse the proposal to cut off defense help to Israel. "We are adamantly opposed to the call for the U.S. government to temporarily suspend military aid to Israel," senators Kyl of Arizona, Bond of Missouri, DeMint of South Carolina, Carper of Delaware, Shelby of Alabama, and Inhofe of Oklahoma wrote. "We ask that you take no action that would make a case for moral equivalency between the Israeli military, which is fighting to keep Israel safe, and Palestinian terrorists, who seek to destroy it."

A former American negotiator in the Middle East, Dennis Ross, also warned against taking the Palestinian side in the long-running dispute. "If your church is going to adopt a position that is one-sided in favor of the Palestinians, it takes no account of what the Israelis have done," Mr. Ross said in a videotaped message to delegates. "I find the resolution on divestment from companies doing business with Israel and the others that criticize Israel to be divorced from reality. They don't take into account the price the Israelis have paid or the concessions they made or the many times the Israelis in negotiations have been prepared to go very far and not found responsiveness on the other side."

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