The undersigned prayerfully and respectfully beseech the commissioners to the 225th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. to defeat Overture INT 02 for the following reasons:
• The International Committee’s hearings failed to meet the basic PCUSA tradition of hearing both sides of an argument. When discussing Israel-Palestine issues in the past, commissioners were given extensive background materials by those supporting and opposing overtures. Non-commissioner advocates on both sides of an issue were given time to speak to the committee members (This could have been done today easily with zoom). None of this happened in 2022. In a debate that gave this explosive overture only somewhat over an hour of attention, the committee members heard from three overture advocates who supported the overture with sometimes inaccurate historical and current data. No one, NO ONE, from the opposition to this overture was allowed to speak. Thus, when the committee members debated the overture, they were given only one side of this highly controversial issue. If INT-02 passes in plenary, can anyone of us look our Jewish friends and colleagues in the eye and say, “Well, we examined the issue thoroughly and this is where we came out.” Absolutely not.
• Rather than denouncing some of its policies toward the West Bank and Gaza, calling Israel itself apartheid is simply indefensible. In Israel, Jews, Arabs, Druze, Bedouin, and all minorities have equal rights under the law, can vote, hold office, serve on the Supreme Court and in the military. They all have access to the same healthcare and education systems. The current ruling coalition was completed only when Arab elected officials were included in the coalition. Those are uncontested facts. To lump Israel’s policies toward the Occupied Territories with Israel’s policies toward its citizens in Israel itself reflects either amazing ignorance of the Israel-Palestine conflict or a deliberate attempt to fool commissioners.
• In the overture’s rationale, to end apartheid, all Palestinian refugees, and their descendants (over 6 million people) must be allowed to take up residence in Israel. To approve such a radical concept would be to over-ride more than twenty years of actions by PCUSA General Assemblies affirming Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. This sea change would “extinguish Israel as a Jewish state,” according to President Obama and many others.
• The advocates claim widespread support of the Jewish community in the US and Israel defining Israel as apartheid, but an overwhelming number of Jews find that charge offensive, as do many Presbyterians. In fact, a recent poll done by prominent U.S. Jewish Democrats shows only 25% of respondents agreeing with the idea that Israel as apartheid. In contrast, 67% of respondents said “Israel doesn’t have a right to exist” is an antisemitic statement. Passing this overture with its accompanying rationale will place us in an antisemitic group in the eyes of 2/3 of the American Jewish community.
• The committee was not informed that the Lutheran (ECLA) and Episcopal Church are both taking the next two years to study the accusation that Israel is an apartheid state. If the PCUSA votes on this again in 2024, which it surely will, it will have the opportunity to read the studies and recommendations of those two denominations. Both denominations have a large presence in the Middle East, something the PCUSA does not have.
We ask commissioners to vote against labeling Israel an apartheid nation just as commissioners have done several times in the recent past. Instead, let us wait until 2024 when the same overture will surely reappear and hold hearings that reflect our commitment to hearing all sides of an issue. We would also be informed by the studies of the two mainline U.S. denominations with the largest presence in the Middle East. Thank you.