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How accurate is the information provided by the PCUSA on the divestment issue?
The PCUSA has responded to the widespread criticism of the General Assembly's divestment vote by posting a section on its website called Israel and Jewish Relations. The page is a highly misleading mix of half truths and articles apparently selected to give misimpressions about both the nature of the dispute and the nature and extent of criticism that the church has received.
The general effect of the material posted—and not posted—on the PCUSA web page is to minimize the scale of the public relations disaster that this has been for the PCUSA. A Presbyterian relying on this official PCUSA page for information on divestment would certainly underestimate the extent of the outrage that the divestment resolution has brought down on the Church. The overall impression given by the articles is that the debate over divestment is an argument between the Presbyterian Church and the Jews. The page completely omits the serious and widespread opposition to the divestment resolution from other churches, from the secular world, and, most tellingly, from within the Presbyterian Church, USA, opposition that has been covered by serious journalists but ignored by the Presbyterian News Service.
Omitted from this page is the highly inflammatory press release issued by the PCUSA New Service immediately after the General Assembly voted to divest. This press release, the first news the world had of the divestment vote, read as follows:
The 216th General Assembly approved several measures opposing the Israeli occupation of Palestine Friday, including a call for the corporate witness office of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to begin gathering data to support a selective divestment of holdings in multinational corporations doing business in Israel/Palestine. Divestment is one of the strategies that U.S. churches used in the 1970s and '80s in a successful campaign to end apartheid in South Africa... In other actions related to Israel, the Assembly voted by large margins to condemn Israel's construction of a "security wall" across the West Bank; disavow Christian Zionism as a legitimate theological stance and direct the denomination's Middle East and Interfaith Relations offices to develop resources on differences between fundamental Zionism and Reformed theology; and study the feasibility of sponsoring economic-development projects in Palestine and putting an action plan in place by 2005.
This announcement, with its explicit equating of Israel to apartheid South Africa, with its flat statement that the PCUSA had voted to " support a selective divestment of holdings in multinational corporations doing business in Israel/Palestine," and with its strident anti-Israel tone was in keeping with the tenor of PCUSA pronouncements on the Middle East in recent years.
The page also misleads by using several articles so inaccurate as to bring into question the professional competence of the journalists who wrote them, and the judgment or motives of the church officials who posted them.
Most of the articles come from the Presbyterian News Service. According to its own statement, "PNS is a news agency, not a public relations or promotional entity." "Under editorial guidelines adopted by the General Assembly Council, PNS fulfills its mission and purpose by:
Reporting the facts accurately, clearly, fairly, impartially and promptly.
Integrity depends upon a high degree of professionalism among the news staff and those who oversee it. While the primary sources of the news service are the church's national level ministries, its primary constituents are members of the church. Operating with integrity creates trust, which cannot be conferred but must be earned.
Jewish peace group challenges Caterpillar's Israel business
Placing this article at the top of the list gives the impression that there are Jewish groups that support divestment. In fact, the only "Jewish" organizations that support divestment are small organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace, deliberately formed by radical, left-wing, anti-Israel activists for the sole purpose of exploiting the propaganda value of claiming to be a "Jewish" organization while taking an overtly anti-Israel position. JVP is not regarded by the Jewish community as a legitimately "Jewish" organization.
The article promotes divestment from Caterpillar on the grounds that the bulldozers are used for "home demolitions." An impartial article would specify that the homes slated for demolition are those that conceal arms-smuggling tunnels, those that are used by snipers to pick off Israeli civilians and security personnel, those used by terrorists as explosive and rocket-manufacturing facilities, and the homes of suicide bombers. Some policy analysts have suggested that the families of suicide bombers that applaud the action of their relatives ought to be deported. Home demolitions are used as a milder alternative. The families of suicide bombers are compensated by terrorist organizations that continue to pay rewards of thousands of dollars to the families of "successful" suicide bombers.
Stated Clerk issues statement on Egypt bombings: Kirkpatrick calls incidents "horrific acts"
This praiseworthy statement is highly unusual. It is one of only two that we could locate in which Rev. Kirkpatrick focuses his attention on condemning deliberate terror attacks civilians. This contrasts sadly with numerous statements issued by Kirkpatrick during his tenure as Stated Clerk condemning Israel and focusing on Palestinian grievances. Kirkpatrick has not been evenhanded in his statements on the Middle East. He has been consistent in his condemnation of Israel and in his sympathy for the Palestinians.
By posting only one Kirkpatrick letter, a rare example of a Kirkpatrick letter condemning terrorism, the page gives a false impression of the Stated Clerk's formal statements on the Middle East.
In March of 2002, for example, at a time when Israelis were being murdered and wounded almost daily in a horrific barrage of terror attacks, Rev. Kirkpatrick responded by sending a letter to Prime Minister Sharon condemning not the terrorists but Israel for its "merciless attacks." This letter was sent before Sharon authorized the armed incursions into terrorist-held neighborhoods that succeeded in reducing the rate of successful terror attacks. Kirkpatrick issued no simultaneous condemnation of the Palestinian Authority for its direct support of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Nor did his letter express a word of sympathy to the Prime Minister of a nation whose citizens were being murdered almost daily at synagogues, supermarkets, and shopping malls. Not a single word of Christian sympathy or compassion to a nation mourning its innocent dead.
Talk of the town: PC(USA) divestment decision sparks huge interest in Bethlehem
This article is a fairly typical example of the inaccurate, biased, and unprofessional reporting done by Rev. Alexa Smith of the Presbyterian News Service. Her description of Rachel's Tomb as "formerly a mosque" is pure fiction.
Rachel's tomb is and has always been a tomb; it has never been a mosque. Until 1841 the tomb consisted of a stone sarcophagus sheltered under a dome supported by four corner columns with broad, open arches instead of walls. (See pictures.) Revered as the burial place of Rachel, it drew Jews, Muslims, and Christians not to formal services of worship but to say prayers at a holy site. The enclosed building was erected by Sir Moses Montefiore in 1841. The granting of permission for this building by the Muslim authorities was significant of Ottoman Muslim recognition that the site, although visited by Muslims, was a Jewish site. The designation of Rachel's Tomb as a "mosque" by the Palestinian Authority was done in the 1990's for political and propaganda purposes. (Ref)
Smith writes that the anti-terrorism barrier "separate(s) a heavily populated Christian section of the city from the nearby Jewish settlement of Gilo." She fails to mention that at the time this section of the barrier was erected, Gilo was being subjected to daily sniper and mortar attacks launched from buildings in that Christian neighborhood.
Smith writes that when the divestment story broke Palestinians "began questioning why the Islamic nations hadn't undertaken a similar strategy." Actually, the Arab League declared a boycott of Israel on Dec. 2, 1945, and has attempted to enforce it over the objections of western governments that view anti-Israel boycotts as anti-Semitic and unethical.
Divesting could harden Israel on Palestinian issue, groups warn
This fair and balanced story comes from the Religion News Service, not from the Presbyterian News Service.
Episcopalians likely to consider Israeli divestment
The October, 2004, story remains on the site, giving the false impression that the Episcopal Church is moving towards divestment when, in fact, the Episcopal Church has backed off from consideration of divestment, at least for the time being.
High-level Presbyterians and Jews discuss Israel divestment
This is a revealing article, demonstrating Rev. Kirkpatrick's one-sided concern with the Palestinian people: "The core issue for us is the desperate situation of the Palestinian people."
General Assembly Council Executive Director, Presbyterian Elder John Detterick, takes a similar position. Detterick once insisted that an Israeli tourism department interviewer record the purpose of his trip as "To better understand the Palestinian situation." When the tourism official suggested that he meant to say, the "political situation," Detterick insisted that he meant what he had said. He is interested in the situation of the Palestinians, not in understanding the situation of Israelis. During his two-week trip, the only Israelis Detterick met were from the extreme left. Detterick drove through the Hezbollah-controlled Bekaa Valley in Lebanon but did not meet with politically mainstream Israelis. When confronted with the overt anti-Semitism of Arab interlocutors insisting that "Israel is pulling the strings and manipulating the USA for its own benefit," Detterick responded with introspection and understanding: "Their perceptions of the USA are to them just as genuine as mine are to me. These sisters and brothers in Christ were speaking the truth in love to me. Their worldview is the Arab worldview. Their worldview is shaped by being at a very different point of the geographic, economic and social spectrum than we in the USA are. Even so, they spoke in love."
Left unexplained is how this Presbyterian Elder can possibly regard the anti-Semitic accusation that Israel controls the American government as "speaking the truth in love."
This article is also yet another example of Rev. Alexa Smith's biased and unprofessional reporting, mentioning only those groups that agree with the position she espouses. Smith writes that "Other religious groups have pushed Caterpillar for years to stop those sales," while making no mention of the many, large Protestant Churches that adamantly oppose divestment.
Christian peace activists attacked in West Bank city of Hebron
This article, the only article in the section about violence targeting civilians, is an odd selection for this page, putting an unwarranted emphasis on an unusual and isolated incident.
The judgment of the PCUSA in posting a story about an assault by unidentified, masked thugs that contains an allegation that the assailants where "Jewish settlers," for which their is no verification, is also questionable.
Israeli and Palestinian issue warning on Israel's security barrier
This article misleads the reader into believing that significant Israeli opposition to the anti-terrorism barrier exists. It does not. The barrier, which was first proposed by Israeli peace activists, is a non-violent answer to stopping deadly terror attacks. It is endorsed by an overwhelming majority of the Israeli public. The debates that continue in Israel are about the precise route of the barrier, not about the justice of answering terrorism with something as non-violent as a fence.
GAC authorizes pastoral letter on Assembly's divestment action: Officials plan talks with Jewish leaders Sept. 28
Here we have the spectacle of Rev. Alexa Smith—who wrote the press release that informed the Jewish and secular press of the divestment, a press release that used the word "divestment" three times without a modifier, and one time with the modifier "selective,"—complaining that the "Jewish and secular press" was writing of this as "a blanket divestment."
Nothing could more clearly demonstrate the importance of having a Presbyterian News Service staff capable of living up to its self-proclaimed standards of "accuracy" and "clarity."
Omitted is the fact that the Muslim and radical leftist press had trumpeted the word divestment with no modifier with great enthusiasm. Alexa Smith thus sinks to one-sided criticism of the "Jewish" press while ignoring the fact that news organizations throughout the Muslim world hailed the Presbyterian divestment without mention that it was to be gradual or partial.
There is also the casuistry of asserting that divestment is not divestment because "if a corporation changes, the church doesn't divest."
Fourteen Congressional reps push PC(USA) to rescind divestment decision
This article is a good demonstration of the quagmire into which the divestment resolution has gotten the church.
Rev. Kirkpatrick complains that "non-Presbyterians keep pressuring the clerk to alter a decision that is out of his hands."
It must, indeed, have been a shock for a Church that has been passing increasingly virulent anti-Israel resolutions for several years to have the world suddenly take notice.
Rev. Kirkpatrick goes on to admonish the Presbyterian Congressmen who signed the statement to "use church channels, by having sessions propose overtures to presbyteries, and then, onto the General Assembly for consideration and debate."
This is sheer hypocrisy. The General Assembly delegates who voted for divestment did not use the political channels open to them as citizens to express their views on the Middle East. They chose to turn the PCUSA into a weapon in a political controversy. The only way to induce congressmen, commentators, and everyone else to stop "pressuring the clerk" is to withdraw, rescind, or otherwise void the divestment resolution.
Accompaniers to speak about nonviolent presence in Palestine and Israel
This article has no apparent relevance to the topic.
Four important types of articles are missing form this page:
Mention of PCUSA organizations opposing divestment:
The Presbyterian Lay Committee has opposed divestment and has an archive on its site (scroll down to News Archives: PCUSA and Israel) that, unlike the PCUSA archive, includes coverage of Presbyterian groups that oppose divestment.
Over 1,000 Presbyterians have signed a "Call for a Special Session of the 216th General Assembly" to reconsider the divestment vote. (See Ref)
A group of prominent Presbyterians, Presbyterians Concerned for Jewish and Christian Relations responded to the divestment vote by forming an organization to rethink the Church's approach to the Middle East.
Presbyterians for Renewal called the decision "dunderheaded" in an opinion piece opposed to divestment and explaining the current options.
The Presbyterians for Renewal staff have also written and posted a summary article on the divestment issue that is far more informative, balanced, and thoughtful than the material posted by the PCUSA staff. (See Divestment That Isn't: A Leader's Resource for Interpreting the Israel Divestment Issue, Ref.)
Presbyweb has a comprehensive index on the divestment issue. It includes copious, important material on Presbyterian reactions not featured on the PCUSA page.
Articles in praise of the Presbyterian divestment from those who oppose the existence of Israel and from supporters of terrorism (see Ref).
Articles that would give some indication of the breadth and depth of outrage that this resolution has evoked from American Jews (see Ref).