PCUSA and BDS: Noushin Framke

This entry is part 7 of 11 in the series Presbyterian Church 2014

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While it’s easy to trace BDS-related Presbyterian excesses to acronymed organizations: IPMN (the Israel Palestine Mission Network), the church’s MRTI (Mission Responsibility Through Investment) committee and, of course, the leadership of PCUSA, we need to keep in mind that these entities and groups are made up of people.  And as we saw with the American Studies Association (ASA) academic boycott, much of the misery the organization is going through can be traced back to responsible individuals such as their new President Lisa Duggan whose behavior continues to demonstrate a readiness to prioritize the BDS agenda over the needs of the organization she has been elected to lead.

You’ve already met the exemplar of PCUSA BDexceSS I’d like to focus on today: Noushin Framke, spokesperson and Steering Committee member of the Church’s Israel Palestine Mission Network.

Framke was implicated in many of the excesses noted earlier regarding the IPMN’s notorious (and now deleted) Facebook page, including Likes of that delightful Obama cartoon and a comment that claimed Hamas should continue holding Gilad Shalit as a hostage with “Right of Return” as the ransom.  And if you (like me) prefer to judge people by something other than their behavior in the quick-and-dirty world of social media, then her call for a One State Solution on IPMN’s Facebook site should be judged alongside this article she wrote on the subject in 2010.

Now I linked that Framke piece in my discussion of IPMN, as well as to this detailed rebuttal.  And I should pause to note that while Framke (unlike other One Staters) is open and enthusiastic about the fact that a “One State Solution” must inevitably lead to an end to the Jewish homeland, her goals (which are reflected in virtually everything IPMN does) directly contradicts the two-state policy of the PCUSA which IPMN has allegedly been chartered to serve.

Whenever they are confronted by this or that IPMN outrage, PCUSA leaders break out the “IPMN speaks to rather than for the church” distinction.  But in this case, the organization is not just telling the church to abandon the policy it claims to hold, but actively working to undermine that policy by (among other things) publicly releasing and distributing anti-Zionist propaganda designed to drive home the message that a Jewish state is the result of a debased and bigoted ideology, which makes the elimination of such a state a thing all good people should strive for.

So like other single-issue partisans within the Church, Fromke is a BDSer first and a Presbyterian second.  Which is why both she and the organization she represents have no problem trying to force the Church as a whole to bend to IPMN’s will, regardless of the fact that Church members (who allegedly set policy) have rejected divestment every time Fromke and her allies have forced it onto the organization’s agenda.

You can get a further sense of this single-issue mindset in this article she has written on why progressives do not instinctively agree with her on all matters related to the Middle East.  As another commenter pointed out, her argument that those who see themselves as politically liberal but who also support Israel (or at least don’t condemn it) are “Progressives Except for Palestine” or “PEPs,” implies that the only possible position for someone who holds to a liberal world view would mirror that of Fromke and her allies.  And if they don’t, the only possible explanation is that they secretly do loath the Jewish state as much as does Fromke and IPMN but will never admit that out of fear.

If this sounds a bit like the behavior pattern of Nixon’s “Silent Majority,” you can begin to how Fromke, like her BDS allies, lay claim not just to the Middle East policies of the Presbyterian Church (the opinion of everyone else in the church be damned), but also insist that they and they alone own one half of the political spectrum. And it is from this sense of entitlement that their thoughtless, reckless and endlessly divisive behavior flows.

One would think that an organization that spends so much time working against church policy would eventually find itself marginalized within the wider organization. But when it came time to debate divestment at the 2012 General Assembly, who was on stage invoking people like Peter Beinart to insist that hostility to BDS (which characterizes virtually the entire Jewish community) is just one Jewish opinion among many?  I’m guessing you know the answer to that question.

So why would a church that spends so much effort to ensure critics of divestment efforts (such as Will Spotts who had to personally mail his remarkable work Pride and Prejudice to PCUSA delegates in 2006) don’t get a hearing let Noushin Framke take center stage at a critical debate on the subject?  I suppose this might be the case of money talking. She is, after all, the wife of Greg Framke, a former exec at eTrade.  And whether or not some of that executive salary underwrites things like expensive Mission Trips to the Middle East, it is certainly subsidizing Noushin’s full-time activist lifestyle.

But I suspect the real driver of success for Fromke and other BDS fanatics is our old friend ruthlessness.  For in a world where others are struggling to find compromise and build understanding, the ruthless are free to drive their agenda unburdened by the need to take anyone else’s needs into account.  With a self-righteousness that justifies any sort of behavior, and a world view that allows for no legitimate disagreement, the ruthless are liberated from that which binds the rest of us: actual empathy for other human beings.

PCUSA and BDS: The Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN)

This entry is part 6 of 11 in the series Presbyterian Church 2014

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Whenever some story emerges having to do with PCUSA’s obsession with Israel, with the relentless drive to get divestment back on organization’s agenda (no matter how many times it’s rejected), with attempts to denigrate and even demonize the Jewish state, its inhabitants and supporters, all roads seem to lead to the Israel-Palestine Mission Network (IPMN).

We saw this most recently when the organization decided the most important way to promote their (real) agenda was to drop all pretenses of peace-making and instead invest their time and resources into creating “Zionism Unsettled,” a “study document” designed to educate the flock regarding Zionism as the font of all evil (making it clear that the sooner an entity built on such a hateful ideology ceases to be, the better).

In case you think I’m reading too much into this one document, read this article published by Noushin Framke, a major player in IPMN, in which she makes it clear that support for a two-state solution (the official policy of PCUSA, by the way) is not on the agenda of a church organ (the IPMN) allegedly created to support PCUSA’s peacemaking goals.  In it, she advocates for (you guessed it) a “One State Solution,” and unlike other One Staters who try to hide their ultimate goals, Framke seems to have no problem with the fact that such a “solution” will unquestionably mean the termination of a Jewish homeland (a point taken up in more detail here).

The excess of Zionism Unsettled should also not be seen as an aberration for IPMN, a group with a history and culture of excess that has driven them to embrace classical Jew hating motifs and contemporary Jew haters, and then strike a pose as victim when their outrageous behavior is made public.

This excess received public attention in 2012 when someone noticed this charming cartoon featured on the organization’s Facebook page:

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As most of you now, I’m not a big fan of guilt by association when it comes to what appears in social media.  But apparently, the reason this cartoon was posted and stayed on the IPMN page for such a long time is that it fit perfectly well with a host of anti-Semitic graffiti and links to articles by people even the BDS movement has deemed beyond the pale.  In fact, it was only when both Jewish and Presbyterian organizations went public with complaints about the kind of of sewerage IPMN traffics in that the group took action by (1) deleting its Facebook page entirely and (2) declaring that pointing out IPMN’s patience with Khazar and 9/11 Conspiracy Theorists was part of a wider conspiracy to silence them.

In other words, Zionism Unsettled is not an aberration, but rather represents the beliefs and goals of those relentlessly pushing divestment within the church.  For once you look past the language of “peace” and “justice” that serves as their gossamer apparel, the IPMN emperor is revealed in all its naked fanaticism, which explains why outcries from individual Jews and Jewish organizations, complaints about the damage the organization is causing to interfaith relations, and appeals to stop (best exemplified by five votes against divestment in ten years) all fall on deaf ears.  For gripped as they are in a fantasy ideology where they and they alone represent the true and the just, IPMN must treat everyone else (including the Presbyterian Church which has chartered them) as mere means to IPMN’s own ends.

Now it would be one thing if IPMN was some independent organization outside of PCUSA hoping to sway church policy (similar to the anti-divestment group Presbyterians for Middle East Peace).  But apparently their role as a “Mission Network” gives IPMN a special relationship in which donations to the group flows through the church, their material is distributed to churches across the nation, church leaders meet with them on a regular basis, and (as far as I can tell) the organization’s agenda sets the limits of what can and cannot be said within the wider PCUSA organization.

A story I keep coming back to occurred in 2008 when it briefly looked as through the church was ready to at least acknowledge it had a Jewish/Israel problem by publishing a  document entitled “Vigilance Against Anti-Jewish Ideas and Bias,” a remarkable confession that finally acknowledged the dark side of church policy vis-à-vis Israel and the Middle East.  But no sooner had that document been published (and praised by Jews and Presbyterians who had been urging such honesty for years) than it was quietly replaced with a “revised” version entitled “Vigilance against Anti-Jewish Bias in the Pursuit of Israeli-Palestinian Peace” that swapped earlier confessional language with the usual BDS boilerplate.

Since no one has ever fessed up to who was behind this switcheroo, I can only speculate on the role IPMN played in such debased behavior on the part of the church.  But given that this represented one more incident in which PCUSA had to humiliate itself to conform to BDS orthodoxy, is there any doubt that the BDS mindset that defines IPMN, a mindset that demands all branches of an infected organization bend to the BDSers will, was the driving force behind this incident?

Whenever it is confronted by the latest IPMN outrage (most recently “Zionism Unsettled”), PCUSA leaders describe the organization as “speaking to the church, rather than for it,” a strange characterization given that – with divestment back on the PCUSA agenda regardless of how many times members vote it down – IPMN seems to have far more sway over  church policy than do its nominal leaders and governing institutions.

Presbyterians Behaving Badly (Again)

As stories about the PennBDS conference fall off headlines in the U Penn student newspaper (to be replaced by tales of student chicken-wing-eating prowess), I suspect the time has come to move onto other BDS-related stories that may have been missed over the last month.

That said, I promise to return to this subject if the local BDSers strategy of desperately Twitterwhining about how no one is talking about the support they received from Desmond Tutu (Tutu’s support for any BDS program on earth being about as newsworthy as the story about a chicken laying eggs) returns them to public notice.

But in the meantime, there are other BDS victories to cover! Such as…, Well…, Hmmm…; OK, I can’t find any. But that doesn’t mean the dreaded Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions juggernaut has not been getting some notice.

Most significantly, this is an even-numbered year.  And as those who have been following BDS ups and downs (mostly downs) over the last 7-8 years know, even numbered years are when some of the Mainline Protestant churches (notably the Presbyterians and Methodists) gather for bi-annual conclaves to set church policy regarding a number of religious and (increasingly over recent decades) political

When the Presbyterian Church in the US (PCUSA) actually passed a divestment resolution in 2004, they may not have realized that they invited in what was to become a permanent houseguest. For even though the church reconsidered their hastily decided 2004 vote in 2006 (the year in which the membership rejected divestment by 95%-5%), this just doubled the BDSers commitment to reintroduce the issue in 2008. And when that failed, they tried again in 2010.  And when that (you guessed it) failed, the boycotters simply began planning to re-introduce it two years hence (and again and again after that – no doubt – until the church finally voted the “right” way).

The entire Presbyterian divestment tale is a long and interesting one (to me, anyway) and if you would like to get the full background you can read all about it at this sitethat I and a Presbyterian (actually former Presbyterian) friend created to address the 2010 vote.

The thing to keep an eye on this year is the configuration of forces that show up to fight it out yet again when PCUSA gathers in Pittsburgh this summer for their 2012 General Assembly (GA).

Traditionally, BDS forces begin planning for the next GA the minute they lose at the current one with voices supportive of Israel not getting their act together until a few months before the gathering.

But last time around, BDS opponents got the attention of important members of the church who had stayed on the sidelines during previous Middle East debates. Most notably, leaders at some of the larger urban Presbyteries were beginning to get sick and tired of hearing the same arguments by the same people year in and year out. And they were also getting annoyed that the only stories reaching the public about important church gatherings was how the Presbyterians were alienating Jewish interfaith friends and supports via what seemed like perpetual Israel bashing.

People more experienced with church internals have informed me that this re-alignment of forces may mitigate said bashing during the 2012 GA, but that is a story that has yet to play out.

In the meantime, anti-Israel activity continues to be concentrated in the church’s Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) committee, members of which have spearheaded most controversial divestment votes in the past.  In 2008, the church asked that a report be generated that would strike some balance in the church’s Middle East policy. But by then the group charged with creating such a report had become so infiltrated by IPMN BDS activists that the group was only able to create a document more laughably lopsidedthan anything the church had ever created before. In fact, it was the excesses of those involved with the creation of this report that doomed divestment at the 2010 event and galvanized the previously uncommitted church members noted above into action.

If the cartoon that appeared on the IPMN Facebook page (and the associated story behind this charming image which follows on that linked page) is any indication, IPMN has somehow discovered a way to become even more radical, more offensive, and more self-righteous in the last two years, best exemplified by the decidedly un-Christian responsethey provided to critics pointing out that images like the one linked above (as well as others that have routinely appeared on their sites) were as ugly and inappropriate as they look.

Time will tell if this time around the forces of BDS make progress with the Presbyterians, the Methodists or some other church in 2012.  Trends (including eight years of rejection and reversals) say otherwise,  but like a Fractured Fairy Tale version of the Pandora’s Box story, when all hope has fled they still have ruthlessness and hate to fall back on.

Relentlessness vs. Stalking

I’m frequently asked how BDS sustains itself after a defeat or series of defeats and, as with so many things, there is no simple (or single) answer to that question.

Historically, the BDS virus has actually gone into remission (as it did between 2006-2009) so the image of boycotters relentlessly moving forward is incorrect even if you judge them simply in terms of activity.

Recall that divestment advocates dwell in a world where simply dragging the Middle East conflict into an organization provides them sustenance (regardless of the damage it causes to others) which is why one of things that keeps their “movement” going is their complete unwillingness to take “No” for an answer. No doubt they see this as just one more example of their readiness to “speak truth to power,” (even as they tell lies while sucking up to the mighty). But here on earth such relentlessness begins to resemble nothing so much as stalking.

Take, for example, the Presbyterian Church in the US (PCUSA). Longer-term readers will recall a lot of coverage of the church’s 2010 General Assembly (GA) in June and July where divestment was (yet again) on the agenda, despite the fact that it was rejected by this same assembly when the Presbyterians met in 2006 and 2008. So why does divestment seem to be permanently on the Presbyterian docket? Well in 2004 partisans within the church managed to get PCUSA to pass a divestment measure (the one that was rejected 95% to 5% in ’06) and, as many who have had the misfortune of having their institution infected by the BDS virus will tell you, it can take a long, long time to fully clean this infection from your system.

Exhibit A (really Exhibit IV, the last column of a spreadsheet for your Excel users): the recent decision of the Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to formally join the BDS “movement.” Now keep in mind that IPMN is an entity of the Presbyterian Church, the very Presbyterian Church whose members voted (three times now) to reject divestment at the legislative assembly where church policy is set. And yet here you have a church entity that should at least take into account the fact that a majority of members (some quite vociferously) reject the notion of divestment flipping their fellow Presbyterians the bird as they sign at the bottom of the BDS contract.

Such behavior can only be explained if you understand that IPMN is not a Presbyterian Church organization flirting with BDS, but a BDS organization that happens to be made up of Presbyterians whose goal is to drag the church back into serving as an anchor client for the divestment “movement” by any means necessary. In which case, why is such a political group simultaneously being allowed to act as an arm of the church while defying the policies and members of that organization publically and on a daily basis?