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B'nai B'rith International Urges Fair Presbyterian Approach to Middle East


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B’nai B’rith International Urges Fair Presbyterian Approach to Middle East

Yossi Beilin, Former Deputy Foreign Minister, Issues Letter to Church Delegates

(Washington, D.C., June 24, 2010)—B’nai B’rith International is urging delegates to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) to oppose the adoption of reports and resolutions that demonize Israel and target it with such measures as a proposed suspension of American military aid. The mainline Protestant denomination’s biannual convention gets underway July 3 in Minneapolis.

Among the materials slated for consideration by the assembly is a Middle East Study Committee report whose content dramatically emphasizes perceived Israeli wrongdoing and Palestinian suffering, while belittling Arab obligations, historical Jewish roots in the land, and the Jewish state’s efforts for peace in the face of terrorism. The report also fails to recognize that Israel is the Middle East’s only free, pluralistic society and the only country in the region whose Christian population has grown in actual numbers.

The 172-page report positively cites “Kairos,” itself a highly inflammatory Palestinian Christian document, and endorses the recommendation of the church’s Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee to denounce one company for its lawful sale of products to the Israel Defense Forces. Individual presbytery overtures go even further, calling for outright divestment from the company and explicitly endorsing “Kairos,” which refers to terrorism as “resistance,” embraces outdated supersessionist ideas, calls for boycotts against the Jewish state, and labels Israeli policies a “sin against God.”

B’nai B’rith is circulating a letter from former Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Yossi Beilin urging church delegates against unbalanced or counterproductive steps on the Middle East.

In his letter (text below), Beilin, notes economic sanctions directed at a democracy like Israel only weaken peacemakers.

The letter text:

With greetings from Israel, I write to you as someone whose career as a cabinet member, a member of Parliament and peace activist has been defined by vigorous engagement in the pursuit of reconciliation and coexistence in the Middle East. I was an initiator of the historic Oslo peace process between Palestinians and Israelis, and successfully sponsored legislation to guarantee equal representation for the Arab minority in my country itself.

Having been blessed with so many friends of all stripes across the United States, I recognize the importance of the Presbyterian Church (USA) as a faith community and a part of American society. I can imagine how weighty are the responsibilities of your service at the 219th General Assembly of the PC (USA).

It is in this vein, and in a spirit of friendship and genuine respect, that I write to you. It goes without saying that I would not normally comment on policy deliberations such as those at the General Assembly, but I am confident that you would appreciate direct and honest perspectives from someone impacted by particular such deliberations.

I know that, over recent years, your partners from the spectrum of the mainstream American Jewish community have shared their hope that prospective PC (USA) actions on the Arab-Israeli conflict would reflect a sensitive, nuanced and balanced approach, and avoid importing the tensions of the Middle East beyond the region.

I, too, would urge that you decline adopting materials and proposals that place inordinate blame on Israel for the conflict, without due appreciation for the extent of the physical threats – both rhetoric and deeds – that its people face. As much so, the singling out for censure or punitive measures of businesses engaged with one side to one complex conflict is highly counterproductive. Among the overtures before you is a call for divestment from such a company. The Middle East Study Committee report would also both call into question vital American aid to Israel while viewing positively, without stated qualification, the polemical “Kairos Palestine” document – which promotes a blanket “system of economic sanctions and boycott to be applied against Israel” alone. I do believe in economic sanctions, but when they are directed against democracies they are counter-productive.

For all its shortcomings, Israel is a democracy, and one well-known for extraordinarily robust political debate. However, narratives and activism that appear to target Israelis or exclude recognition of any of Israel’s positive contributions to peace only make the people of my country, including the most progressive and moderate of us, feel isolated, insecure and less capable of encouraging the kinds of concessions and risks for peace that I have long strongly advocated.

I urge you to act for peace in a way that strengthens Israeli and Palestinian peacemakers alike.

B’nai B’rith International, the Global Voice of the Jewish Community, is the oldest and most widely known Jewish humanitarian, human rights, and advocacy organization. For 166 years, BBI has worked for Jewish unity, security, continuity, and tolerance. Visit