Last week, the Presbyterian Church USA, a liberal Protestant denomination with approximately 1.5 million members, held its General Assembly in Portland, Oregon. The assembly, which takes place every even-numbered year, is a regular scene of controversy over the church’s stance on the Arab-Israeli conflict. The fighting began in 2004 when the GA voted to divest from companies that did business with Israel’s defense establishment. In 2006, opponents of divestment were able to convince the GA to reverse its decision to single Israel out for divestment, but the anti-Zionists kept at it until 2014, when the GA voted to divest from three companies that do business with the Israeli government: Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola. This year, there was yet another round of proposals targeting Israel for condemnation.

Israel-Palestine Mission Network (IPMN)

On the anti-Israel side of the controversy is the Israel-Palestine Mission Network (IPMN), a church-sponsored group with a long history of broadcasting anti-Zionist and in some instances antisemitic propaganda. For example, the group’s leader, PCUSA “peace” activist Noushin Framke, has declared that Israeli soldiers “are not human beings.”

In one Facebook Post, IPMN leader Noushin Framke stated Israeli soldiers are "not human beings."

In one Facebook Post, IPMN leader Noushin Framke stated Israeli soldiers are “not human beings.”

This is the type of propaganda that used to appear on the Facebook page of the Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church USA. This organization, which has a long history of using ugly polemics to demonize Israel is one of the main players in promoting the anti-Israel agenda at the Presbyterian Church USA's General assemblies.

[This is the type of propaganda previously seen on the Facebook page of the Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church USA.]

Presbyterians for Middle East Peace (PFMEP)

Pro-Israel activists operate under the rubric of Presbyterians for Middle East Peace (PFMEP) a much more moderate organization which acknowledges that bad acts are committed by combatants on both sides of the conflict but argues that the PCUSA must promote peace and not demonize either side of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

It is also much more irenic and self-critical in its dealings with their ideological opponents than the IPMN. For example, in a statement released before the 2016 General Assembly, PFMEP issued a statement declaring, “Both sides in this debate are motivated by their faith.” The group also confessed “that our organization has not always been explicit enough about the reasons our faith moves us to challenge boycotts, divestment and sanctions.” Such affirmations of the good faith and intentions of the other side are simply absent in IPMN material, which over the year’s has been amazingly harsh.

At each General Assembly, these two groups and their allies support or oppose overtures that call on the church to take a particular stand on Israeli policies. In 2014, for example, IPMN carried the day with the passage of a divestment resolution that called on PCUSA churches and institutions to sell their stock in three companies that do business with Israel’s defense establishment – Motorola, Hewlett-Packard and Caterpillar. In 2015, the United Church of Christ’s General Synod followed suit with the passage of a similar resolution.

Split Decision

This year’s GA offered something of a split decision between the IPMN and the PFMEP.

The IPMN was able to get GA approval for a hostile report that placed most of the blame for the conflict on Israel. Nevertheless, PFMEP activists were able to soften the tone of this report before it was approved by the plenary or full-voting body of the General Assembly. In particular, the amended report emphasized in the first paragraph that the PCUSA’s preferred resolution to the conflict was a “two-state solution.” Prior to the amendment, this preference was only mentioned in a footnote. (Such is the minutiae that the pro- and anti-Israel activists wrangle over at the PCUSA’s General Assembly.)

No Condemnation of Muslims Who Slaughter Christians In Middle East

Focusing too much on the split decision between IPMN and PFMEP, however, risks obscuring an important and appalling fact about the Presbyterian Church USA’s 2016 General Assembly — it said nothing about jihadists in the Middle East (and Africa) who have murdered Christians and other religious minorities, kidnapped girls and women and sold them as sex slaves over the past few years. The assembly said nothing official about jihadists who have executed people in unspeakably gruesome ways and posted their crimes on the Internet. These are not propagandistic “atrocity stories” but well-documented acts publicized by their perpetrators that the PCUSA’s deliberative body could not bring itself to condemn.

Roz Rothstein, CEO of StandWithUs, an organization which attended the GA, stated “the atrocities being committed against Christians across the region by groups like ISIS were barely mentioned” at the General Assembly.

The 2016 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA could not offer a word of condemnation for the murders of Christians in Libya, Iraq or Syria by ISIS. The GA did however, condemn Israel multiple times.

The 2016 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA could not offer a word of condemnation for the murders of Christians in Libya, Iraq or Syria by ISIS. Not one overture passed, or even discussed by the PCUSA's deliberative body mentioned these crimes against humanity.

This is not merely a failure of the people who attended the General Assembly, but a failure of the entire denomination. To understand why this is so, a brief summary of the GA process is necessary.

The primary task of the General Assembly is to set the policy for PCUSA staffers who work at the denomination’s headquarters in Louisville. The will of the GA is communicated by the passage of of resolutions, which the denomination calls “overtures.” Some overtures deal with the business of the denomination itself, (such as its budget). Others deal with the church’s stance on the political issues of the day. As can be expected, notions of “social justice” play an outsized role in determining which issues are discussed and how they are framed.

Most of the social witness overtures are submitted to the General Assembly by groups of local churches (called presbyteries, or groups of local presbyteries, which are called synods). Other times these overtures are submitted by parts of the denomination’s permanent bureaucracy and every once in a while, commissioners (or delegates) will present an overture of their own.

These overtures are then sent to a committee that meets at the beginning of the General Assembly to vet and amend the text and make a recommendation to the entire voting body (or plenary) on what should be done with the resolution.

The Israeli-Arab conflict has become such a regular part of the debate at the General Assembly that the GA has established a “Middle East Committee” to deal with Israel-related resolutions. The committee’s name is a misnomer because the resolutions dealt with by this committee almost invariably relate to Israel and no other country.

This year was no exception.

Obsession with Israel

Of the half dozen overtures dealt with by this committee every one of them was related to Israel, and of these six, five were critical of the Jewish state.

As stated above, none of the resolutions before the committee said anything at all about jihadist violence against Muslims and non-Muslims throughout the world. Apparently, not one of the 172 presbyteries within the denomination saw fit to submit a resolution drawing attention to the ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Bashar Al Assad regime in Syria or to the well-documented atrocities committed by ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

In fact, ISIS is not even mentioned in any of the overtures submitted to the PCUSA’s 2016 General Assembly. The only time the letters “ISIS” appears anywhere in GA business is in an overture about problems in Puerto Rico’s economy. (They appear in the word “crisis.”)

Did no one in the PCUSA who had the ability to get something on the GA’s agenda not think that it might be a good idea to submit a resolution condemning ISIS for its barbarous behavior, Bashar Al Assad for his use of chemical weapons against his own people? Apparently so, for the proof is in the pudding. The GA said nothing.

The PCUSA’s singular focus on Israel and complete indifference to violence elsewhere in the Middle East was not lost on Luke Moon, a researcher and Deputy Director of the Philos Project, a New-York based organization that has worked to promote awareness about the genocide of Christians and other ethnic minorities in the region. During the GA, Moon issued the following Tweet which was largely ignored by the commissioners at the Assembly:

To be fair, the GA did pass an overture calling for the PCUSA to advocate for dwindling Christian populations in the Middle East, but this overture said nothing as to why these people are leaving the region or even name who was responsible for driving these people out. The only time a perpetrator is mentioned unequivocally in a PCUSA overture about suffering in the Middle East, it is when this alleged perpetrator is Israel, the Jewish state. Sometimes the GA will offer a passing mention of Hamas, but only to inoculate the denomination against the charge of being one-sided it its treatment of the conflict.

For example, the GA passed an overture calling for the protection of children affected by the conflict. It called on Israel to improve its treatment of children in its military detention system without acknowledging that many of these children are teenagers who have been detained for perpetrating fire-bombings and stone-throwing attacks that have left Israeli children dead or maimed.

Nor did the overture detail Hamas’ many crimes against children, such as its well-documented use of schools as places to store its weapon or its tolerance for the use of children in digging of smuggling tunnels into Egypt. And it goes without saying the overture did not mention Hamas’ indiscriminate use of rockets which endangers children on both sides of the boundary between Israel and the Gaza Strip because sometimes these rockets fall short, killing Palestinian children.

Before approval, the Middle East Committee did amend the resolution, which was submitted by the Synod of the Covenant, which serves churches in Michigan and Ohio, to include a call for both Israel and Hamas “to denounce and cease the incitement of violence against children or at the hands of children” suggesting a false equivalence in the actions of the two combatants — as if the Israeli government, like Hamas and PA leaders — encourages its Israeli children to hate, stab and murder Palestinians.

No Mercy for Israel

As far as showing any mercy to Israel, not a chance.

The GA shot down a proposal for the denomination to follow the lead of the United Methodist Church that recently severed its ties with the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, an anti-Zionist group that regularly demonizes Israel. Reports indicate that there was a fair degree of contempt expressed toward Israel and Jews during the deliberations of the Middle East Committee which vetted these issues. Rothstein from StandWithUs stated, “At one point, a voting delegate exclaimed that just because Jews are ‘the chosen people,’ that doesn’t mean they should be able to ‘do whatever they want.'”

Luke Moon from the Philos Project reports his dismay with the denomination’s irresponsible approach to peace and human rights in the Middle East. “The Presbyterian Church (USA) sunk to a new low last week,” he said. The GA’s noisy obsession with attacking Israel was only matched by their deafening silence towards the plight of thousands of Christians suffering under Islamic totalitarian regimes. The PCUSA’s General Assembly chose to ignore so many human rights abuses happening in the rest of the Middle East and yet claimed to stand as social witness to the world.”

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Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), which promotes fair and accurate coverage of the Middle East, with an emphasis on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Van Zile has documented how churches and para-church organizations have demonized Israel while failing to speak up about the mistreatment of religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East.