Presbyterians Approve Softer Middle East Report, Reject Divestment


The Presbyterian Church (USA) severely modified a report by its Middle East Study Committee widely seen as anti-Israel, rejected calls for divestment from Israel and gave a conditional okay to Israel’s Gaza blockade.

But the report approved by a 558-119 vote at the Church’s General Assembly in Minneapolis also called for linking U.S. aid to Israel to an end of settlement expansion.

“The report was significantly revised to address many of the concerns expressed by friends of Israel and by the American Jewish community,” said Ethan Felson, assistant executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), who has coordinated the Jewish community’s response to the report. “Concerns remain, but much has been addressed; church leaders did tremendous work in listening to all sides, and they added extra time on the docket to hear from groups had had felt excluded.”

A separate committee of the assembly made the revisions submitted to and approved by delegates to the convention on Friday.

That committee added a strong affirmation of Israel’s right to exist – “the strongest we’ve seen in the Church,” Felson said – and eliminated historical narratives that Jewish groups argued considered only the Palestinian point of view. Instead, the Church will now seek 8 separate narratives, four Israeli and four Palestinian.

While calling for an end to the blockade of consumer goods into Gaza, the final report endorsed a continuing blockade of military goods.

“The Church is, we hope, charting a course in which it recognizes Israel’s legitimate security rights and needs even as it remains faithful to its Palestinian Christian partners,” said Felson, who testified before the committee considering the initial report.