Are the Presbyterians Really Peacemakers?

During this summer’s Gaza conflict, two organizations that made news earlier in the year when they passed boycott or divestment resolutions – the American Studies Association (ASA) and Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) – issued statements on the conflict.

Of the two, ASA’s call to immediately terminate all aid to Israel (taken this time without any pesky interference from the rank and file) simply demonstrated the organization’s true nature: as a membership group made up of scholars largely indifferent to ASA’s political posturing led by a cadre that is nevertheless happy to make politically charged statements in the name of those they purport to represent.

The inability of ASA leaders to argue their positions or explain their behavior outside of like-minded audiences has exposed them as charlatans and cowards long ago, which may explain why their summer Gaza statement made no news beyond the usual BDS fever swamps.  But PCUSA’s public rhetoric that claims their various statements and motions (up to and including a decade of divestment votes) represent a desperate craving for peace makes their behavior regarding the Gaza war more worthy of scrutiny.

As I noted previously, a statement made early in the conflict by PCUSA’s Stated Clerk followed a familiar pattern of making Palestinian victims concrete and visceral while retreating to the passive voice when it came time to “condemn” violence directed towards Israelis.  And while there is no question who PCUSA considers to be the victimizer when it comes to Palestinian casualties, it’s not at all clear that they are ready to place responsibility for missile fire and tunnel terrorism (successful and thwarted) where it belongs.

But another statement, made in late July (in the name of the entire church membership), one which calls on President Obama to “press for an immediate ceasefire,” is far more telling when looked at in the context of the many ceasefires declared and then broken between July and the final cessation of hostilities in August.

If you recall, this round fighting in Gaza was marked by countless calls for a ceasefire (made by, among others, the US President to whom the Presbyterians appealed).  But, each and every time, those truces ended when Hamas finished using them as occasions to reload and redeploy, allowing them to start firing once again.

The second to last ceasefire (in August) was the most bizarre since everyone (including Israel) thought the fighting was over, only to see it start again when Hamas decided that rocket fire would continue until their demands were met.

During each of these ceasefires (especially the last one), the leadership of PCUSA never managed to deliver some of the “tough love” they routinely deliver to their Jewish “friends” to the Palestinians they have spent the last several decades cultivating by embracing their narrative and joining in their divestment calls.  In fact, the relationship they have built (at the cost of their relationship to the Jewish community) placed them in the ideal position to have their voices heard.  Yet, as far as I know, no such “tough love” emanated from Louisville explaining that PCUSA’s continued support was contingent on Palestinians doing what everyone else was begging them to do: stop firing rockets and thus restarting the war.

Remember that PCUSA could have made such a call without compromising its all-but-official positions on who is right and who is wrong in the Arab-Israeli conflict in any way.  For placing blame on Hamas for causing this particular war to continue when it could have stopped much earlier in the summer does not necessarily require condemning Hamas for the many other things you or I could list (diverting development supplies into tunnel and weapons manufacture, hiding and firing among civilians, etc.).  It just requires you to ask the party that seems to be doing things that are prolonging the war PCUSA claims to desperately want to end to stop doing those things.

Just imagine the headlines you would have seen if the church had put its divestment position on hold unless and until Hamas agreed to the same truce everyone else had.  And think about the impact such a bold move would have had in demonstrating to the world (including the Palestinians) that PCUSA’s commitment to peace took precedent over their seeming pro-Palestinian or anti-Israel partisanship.

No doubt there are hundreds of bureaucratic reasons that might make it difficult for the organization to move in such a direction (although such bureaucracy never seems to keep PCUSA from taking all kinds of actions directed at Israel, up to and including Zionism Unsettled).  But one would think that an organization that is truly dedicated to peace, one which really wanted a particular conflict (the Gaza war) to stop, would do anything in its power to turn that desire into reality – even if it meant temporarily condemning someone other than their usual target of criticism.

Given that the church remained silent when their voice might have helped, it seems that there is something more important than peace on PCUSA’s agenda.  Which means we should take their demands that we treat them as peacemakers with the same grain of salt we treat their claims of love and friendship.

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