A Review from the Pew

My previous post complained about the report from the PC(USA) Middle East Study Committee.  I attempted to read the report with an open mind *, but ultimately it was too frustrating.  Reading certain phrases or arguments would cause me to pause and ask myself ...

... What do they mean by that?
... Is this true?
... What is the agenda here?
... Is the alternative view missing?

I tried to record these pauses, but there were so many it became unmanageable.  The things I did note are below.  I make no claims of Middle East expertism; this is just my personal review as a layman who sits in the pew (nearly) every Sunday and who has a passing acquaintance with the issues.
The committee writes:

... we have striven to bring a balance between the pastoral, priestly, and prophetic roles of our church’s calling

Is there a similar stance on balancing the perspectives in the report.  I assume since one person on the committee refused to sign it, that his or her views were not represented.  Is there a minority report?

Increasingly, we find that we are living in a world with numerous
walls and barriers.

Which barriers should we focus on, the ones erected by others, or the ones we erect within our own congregations?  Is this report not "fencing off" Middle East problems, drawing a line in the sand?

we strive in this report to tell the truth as we see it and understand it.

Why the qualifier on truth?  Is this justification for the perspectives that are left out?

The time for action from all parties is now.

I'm leery of any and all calls to "action now!"  This is a problem centuries in the making and yet this committee suddenly has the perfect insight and wisdom to solve the problem?

Above all, we want you to share our alarm at the continuing decline of the Christian community in the region.

Concern about the decline of the Christian community in the middle east is important, but what about our region?  What about persecuted Christians in other parts of the world?

(and the use of the word “divestment”)

Why should this be parenthetical?  It's not the practice of divestment that bothers you so much, but the terminology?

We support Israel’s existence as granted by the U.N. General Assembly.

Accepting anything granted by the United Nations is rarely a good idea.  Wasn't the original partitioning of the land general thought to be a really bad and unworkable idea that was long on compromise but short on practicality?

Israel is the most powerful party to the conflict.

Are they?  Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Russia are collectively more powerful than Israel.  And even if we limit the debate on this point to just Israel and "the occupied territories," does being powerful automatically make them evil?  Does being the underdog make the Palestinians more moral?

We are aware that American Muslims have come under more scrutiny, pressure, and, indeed, racism since the tragedies of September 11th.

That seems to be more of a popular perception than a proven reality.  I would argue that the majority of Americans strive to not offend Muslims.

we are deeply aware of our own complicity

Positioning "our" actions as complicity implies that there was some sort of knowledge or plan to do evil.  I do not believe that.  We may have acted unwisely, to help an ally, or we may have acted rashly due to bad information or dangerous circumstances, but I do not believe that our actions have ever been intentionally evil.  And if they are, then who are we to criticize Israel?  Should we not fix our own issues first?

We cannot fully identify with the struggles of being a minority religious community.

Christianity is on the decline in the United States, and the percentage of people who identify themselves as having "no religion" has doubled in the past 20 years from 8% to 16%.  We may not identify with other people's faith struggles, but perhaps it would be wise to focus on our own struggles first.  How arrogant are we to advise others on being in the minority, when we cannot hold on to a majority.

We often fall into the temptation to be more in line with culture.

I find this very ironic.  The PC(USA) has wrestled with the question of ordaining homosexuals and the definition of marriage for many years, and the impetus for this conflict has been completely driven by popular culture.  The idea that we 'went to war for oil' or that we 'don't like Palestinians because they are brown people' has no basis in reality; they are marketed arguments to justify a political position and when you use them it shows an inclination to bow to culture and accept popular ideological arguments as truth.

We still see the occupation as the major obstacle to regional stability

The occupation is one issue; one that the Palestinians have used quite successfully in acquiring billions of dollars of international support, which somehow doesn't provide any humanitarian relief.  The major obstacle to regional stability is that most of the countries in the region would like to see one of the countries destroyed.  The major obstacle is ideological, not political.

We have had experiences and know of Palestinian Christians and Muslims living side-by-side in peaceful coexistence. Yet we are also alarmed by the increase of targeted violence against Palestinian Christian institutions,

Which group is targeting Christians with violence?  Is it peaceful co-existence, or is it intimidation, rigged elections and the deliberate diluting of the Christian presence in Palestinian areas to keep them under control?  For an alternative view, try this article or simply google 'violence against christians palestine.'  It is also helpful to note that the only country in which the Christian population has grown in the middle east in the last half century is Israel.  Why do you suppose that is?

just as we have spoken and acted against our own society’s vision of itself as a nation when it behaved as though it were “above the law,”

The United States is not perfect, but it is not evil.  How would you have a nation act?  Who judges nations?  Nations always act based upon a shared vision and the U.S. vision is probably one of the more honest and morally correct ones in history, thanks in large part, I believe, to its Christian heritage.

The Quran envisions a society based on the unity and equality of believers

Yes!  They envision a society of unified and equal (unless you are female) believers.  What does that mean for the non-believers?  It means you cannot belong and you are not equal.  It is ideology, not policy, that is the major obstacle in the region.

The Newer Testament

Although I understand the intent, this troubles me.  First, it seems to be bowing to the culture of political correctness and striving to not offend anyone of another faith.  Second, using the word "newer" implies that there is room for a "newest."  Is that the Quran?  Is that the Book of Mormon?  This just seems weak.

has resulted in a state of psycho-trauma ... their perceived vulnerability is heightened

Perceived vulnerability?  Psycho-trauma?  This is gobbledy-gook and psycho-babble.  The bombs and missiles and bullets are real.  They are vulnerable.

a plastic surgeon, reshaping faces and bodies deformed by the bombs and pollution of the war.

The bombs and pollution of war?  How about the human evil?

why were the Palestinians deemed to be an expendable people for the purpose of assuaging the guilt of Western Christianity?

Again, this seems more like a practical, political matter than a psychological one.  Who says we are acting out of guilt? And what, specifically, is Western Christianity feeling guilty about?  Christianity is responsible for all of this?

Christians in Jordan and Syria appear to experience the least difficulties in the Middle East ...

This is just wrong.  Christians in Israel experience the least difficulty.

That news [Iranian nukes] sent waves of fear through Israelis and fueled their sense of vulnerability and insecurity.

Again, this is not a "sense" of vulnerability ... it is an actual, tangible and highly likely to be exploited vulnerability.  The paper empathizes with the Palestinians for being in a religious minority, but cannot empathize with Israel for being continuously persecuted?

a nuclear-free Middle East in both Iran and Israel.

This is a fantasy.  The world will never be "nuclear-free" until an adequate defensive weapon or a superior offensive weapon is developed.

Inexcusable acts of violence have been committed by both the powerful occupying forces of the Israeli military and the Jewish settlers in the West Bank, as well as, the Palestinians, of whom a relatively small minority has resorted to violence as a means of resisting the occupation.

And what of the violence that is not part of resistance, but is instead used as a threat against their own people, or as a lever to keep the population under control, or as the means to gain political power?  Palestinian violence seems to be easily excused.  What is the excuse for this? A relatively small minority produces children's programming?

thus along the 1967 borders

What is magical about the 1967 borders?

If there were no occupation, there would be no Palestinian resistance.

This is simply not true.  The Palestinian resistance would continue to be fueled and financed externally.  You could do a complete reversal and confine all the Jews to Gaza and give the rest of the territory to the Palestinians and they would try to eliminate the Zionists in Gaza.

the occupation-related absence of economic opportunity

Hamas and Fatah are corrupt.  The Palestinian leadership creates as much or more economic hardship as the occupation with forced strikes, protection rackets and control of international aid resources.

misguided actions by our government

A specific list of these actions would be helpful, but again, the implication is that these misguided actions were intentionally evil.  If so, the report should name names.

The moral goal for nations to create a nuclear-free world

Again, this is fantasy not a moral goal.

withholding of U.S. government aid to the state of Israel

And the purpose of this would be?  To make Israel completely vulnerable?  To assure their destruction?

a shared status for Jerusalem

This, too, is unworkable and unrealistic.  Was Berlin better divided?  The report claims to want to 'break down walls' and yet, it is perfectly comfortable with setting up and arbitrary and likely continuously disputed division of Jerusalem?

... including: travel opportunities ... that will consist of the members of this study committee

This smacks of unnecessary junkets and philosophical inbreeding.  Why not send a group with an alternative view?  Does this committee have a vested interest in controlling the one-way dialogue they've set up for themselves?

Strongly denounces Caterpillar’s continued profit-making

Caterpillar, as a corporate entity only exists to make a profit.  Why condemn them?  At least they are producing something tangible and worthwhile.  Do we hold auto makers responsible when people commit vehicular homicide?  This is a ridiculous premise ... profit and tools, like bulldozers, are not inherently evil.

Endorses the Kairos Palestine document

This document declares that the occupation is a sin against God and humanity.  God believes this land "belongs" to the Palestinians?  The report later says that 'religious states' are antiquated, yet here it is endorsing God as landlord and the Palestinians as tenants.  If their claim is through God, how is that not religious?

Calls for Bethlehem to be a free and open city accessible to all people

And yet, Jerusalem need not be.  Where is the consistency?

Calls on the U.S. government to repent of its sinful behavior vis-a-vis the Middle East, including its ongoing war in Iraq, its selectively undermining or supporting the democratic process in such places as Iran and the Palestinian National Authority, its continuing support of non-democratic regimes for the sake of oil or leverage over oil, or its involvement with security services and contractors who engage in torture, surveillance, and other human rights violations.

Poppycock.  Despite how the political left in the United States wants to frame the question, there is no proof and more importantly there is no logical basis for attributing the war in Iraq with American greed for oil resources.  If the committee wants repentance for torture, surveillance and human rights violations perhaps they should look a little more closely at the Palestinian leadership, the mullahs in Iran, the corrupt governments of Syria and Jordan and the Islamic faith as practiced in Saudi Arabia.

In June 1967, Israel attacked Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.

This is the introductory sentence in the discussion of the 1967 Six Day War.  No mention of the run up to war where Muslim nations were promising to push Israel into the sea.  No mention of the tanks and planes, provided by Russia, being staged in the Sinai.  No mention that if Israel had waited, had opted for diplomacy, they would have lost the military advantage and would have likely been decimated.  This single sentence discredits the entire history presented in the 'historical overview' section and perhaps the premise of the entire document.  This was the pivotal event in the entire occupation narrative, and it is dismissed, prejudicially, by claiming "Israel attacked."  Shameful.

Presbyterians with different theological orientations and those linked with different political parties have very different opinions about permanent Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem.

Were these different opinions considered?

Trying to make the state a religious state, Jewish or Islamic, suffocates the state, confines it within narrow limits, and transforms it into a state that practices discrimination and exclusion, preferring one citizen over another. We appeal to both religious Jews and Muslims: let the state be a state for all its citizens, with a vision constructed on respect for religion but also equality, justice, liberty and respect for pluralism and not on domination by a religion or a numerical majority.

The entire point of Israel is to be a Jewish State.  Will Saudi Arabia and Iran become secular governments?  No, they will not.  I will not presume to demand other cultures conform to Western ideals of democracy and pluralism, but I can tell you this.  If I was forced to choose a Middle East country to live in, it would be Israel because I could be Christian there, instead of an infidel.

* an interesting take on the popular 'COEXIST' bumper stickers, which, I assume, are meant to display how open-minded and accepting you are.


  1. Hi DX I think you have some good thoughts and your intuitions are right. The idea that Israel should exist without being a Jewish State means no more Israel. And yes there is too much psycho-babble in the papers. I agree with almost everything you stated. Thanks for caring about Israel. Just one caution-It was a good thing that the United Nations granted land to Israel. That is the beginning of her becoming a nation. However she should not have to return back to those borders if they mean the borders before the 1948 war. That needs to be clarified by the committee.

  2. Thank you for the comment. I agree that the UN grant was a good thing ... I just don't like to assume that the UN got every detail right, and they should not be considered a final authority for any sovereign nation.