At the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) held from June 16 to 23 in St. Louis, gathered commissioners passed about a dozen resolutions reaffirming the denomination’s support of Palestine. The U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, an organization that has fiscal connections to the terrorist organization Hamas that controls the Gaza Strip, celebrated the resolutions passed by the General Assembly. In a statement they noted “In just a few years, we have gone from near parity to a church standing boldly and unequivocally for Palestinian rights.”
The anti-Israeli political activism was led by the church’s Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) and was able to rally supporters on the Committee on Middle East Issues to support the “Palestine solidarity movement.” The IPMN has long been a strong advocate for Palestine and has taken it as their mission to fight against Zionism and support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement that is aimed at cutting economic ties with Israel. Prior to the convention, they published a voter guide informing constituents of how to vote on key resolutions that related to Palestine, including approval of a letter that referred to Israel as an “apartheid” state. Then at the General Assembly, the IPMN distributed copies of their book “Why Palestine Matters: The Struggle to End Colonialism.”
The committee overwhelmingly voted in favor of Palestinian causes on a range of issues, while condemning the actions of Israel and the U.S. in the region. They called on the General Assembly to oppose the bipartisan “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” that is meant to protect American businesses from being forced to comply with the BDS movement. The proposed bill has wide bipartisan support in the Senate, including minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The BDS movement that the PCUSA has chosen to support claims that “Israel maintains a regime of settler colonialism, apartheid, and occupation over the Palestinian people.” In a subsequent resolution the assembly singled out RE/MAX, the real estate giant, for doing business in Israel and demanded that they stop building and selling homes in the region because it contributes to Israeli colonialism.
The church expanded on its opposition to Israeli statehood in the rationale for another resolution stating “Zionism is based on racism, is not equivalent to Judaism, and does not reflect basic Jewish values.” In the “Resolution on the Status of Jerusalem”, the committee unanimously affirmed a bill that slammed Israel for inhabiting its ancient capital city.
Presbyterians for Middle East Peace attempted to present a more moderate position by removing some of the most extreme language from resolutions and introducing bills that called on both Palestinians and Israelis to protect human rights. The committee overwhelmingly rejected their bill that would have ended the PCUSA’s support for referring to Israel as “a colonial project.”
The committee made it clear that they were singularly anti-Israel by rejecting another bill that called for the joint protection of Palestinian and Israeli children. The bill included “ceasing support for those entities that continue to put children in harm’s way” and recommended “supporting efforts to bridge divides through creation and implementation of coexistence and engagement programs that bring Israeli and Palestinian children to study and grow together.” This moderate proposal was rejected on a vote of 48 to 8 by the committee.
Mixed in with the bills claiming that Israel has no right to exist were resolutions criticizing the Trump administration. One bill condemned America’s withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council because of that body’s bias against Israel. Another resolution complained about the breakup of the Iran Nuclear deal and called for both parties to continue abiding by the agreements. There was also a bill calling for an end to the violence in Syria, but no mention was made of the persecution of Christians in the region endure under radical Islamist regimes or the abuses Palestinians endure at the hands of their own government. The primary focus of the Committee on Middle East Issues was on supporting Palestine causes, rather than any other Christian issue in the region.
The General Assembly was hostile to even moderate views on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In addition to the lopsided resolutions, the event hosted anti-Israel activists as experts and was inhospitable to a speaker who proposed that both sides might be at fault. Bassem Eid, the Palestinian human rights activist who has spoken out against abuses by both Palestine and Israel, advocated for the proposal that called on them both to accept responsibility. After his speech, he received death threats and was verbally harassed while leaving the convention center. The man who harassed him, Bassem Masri, is an extremist known for popularizing the chant “pigs in a blanket smell like bacon” from anti-police riots in 2014. Masri recorded himself pursuing Eid with taunts of “you’re a fucking collaborator and a piece of shit!” and posted the videos on Twitter. The General Assembly refused to do anything about the death threats or the videos because Masri was there at the invitation of the IPMN.
The General Assembly was another instance of the PCUSA affirming their support of radical leftist politics. Aside from the anti-Israel bias at the convention, the church teamed up with Black Lives Matter activists to host a rally to protest mass incarceration. Other activists were disappointed that the assembly chose not to divest from the fossil fuel industry and held a “die-in” that consisted of protestors lying on the ground to express their disapproval.
The PCUSA has continued its rapid political shift by supporting radical leftist policy and shunning any moderate voices of dissent. At the General Assembly, they reaffirmed their support of Palestine and opposition to the existence of Israel.