Today was the fourth day of the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). It was the day we finished our work in committees, in preparation for the return to plenary session on Wednesday afternoon. It was also the day I knew I would present my overture on Zionism Unsettled before the Committee on Middle East Issues.
I had prepared what I thought was a 3 minute presentation, but before heading over to the COBO Center I tested it out. I was 40 seconds too long. I spent the next 30 minutes cutting it down, and getting it to a 2:52 second talk. After testing it multiple times, I decided it was good.
Committees met, and we heard recommendations from the Biennial Assembly Committee Recommendations. Oh, how very presbyterian. This was ok, though because we were led by Carol McDonald and she helped guide us through the issues. I was pleased that a fellow commissioner moved, at 11:30am for us to vote on the entire package of 16 recommendations as an omnibus package, and just pull out the items we wanted to discuss separately. This saved a huge amount of time.
After lunch, things started to bog down, as multiple people began proposing amendments, and amendments to amendments. It tested my patience, and the skills of the moderator. I found a solution. Voting down the original amendment, I then called for us to suspend the rules, and work as a committee of the whole, for 3 or 4 minutes, to talk out what amendments we wanted to make, and then make ONE motion. That seemed to work. Roberts Rules can be messy, but if you work it, it can be efficient too.
About that time, I got a text from a colleague on the Middle East Committee saying “Come now!” I grabbed my iPad, and headed to the other end of COBO. Alas, it was clear that they had more business to do. I came back, grabbed my bag, and laptop, and headed back to ME Issues to wait. I knew I could do the presentation, I watched the tenor of the committee — it was not as contentious as I expected, but they were worn down. There were about 250 people in the room. 65 commissioners, and 200 observers. Around 4:10 it was my time.
I gave my talk, and it seemed to be well received. Given the time constraints I could not engage my audience, but merely stuck to my script. I knew they would cut me off if I went over. So, I made sure I told a story, explaining why I was opposing Zionism Unsettled; and felt like it was effective. There were no questions, so I sat back and waited to watch the debate. To my surprise there was much support. My statement that as a political scientist, I understood the use of political propaganda, seemed to resonate with one commissioner. Others did feel that calling for its removal from the web store was censoring it (which wasn’t really my intent), and a motion was made to strike everything involving ceasing distribution of the document. In that case, it would have read:
The 221st General Assembly (2014) declares that Zionism Unsettled does not represent the views of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)
I was actually ok with that. But committee members thought it didn’t go far enough, and the end result was to further amend it to say
The 221st General Assembly (2014) declares that Zionism Unsettled does not represent the views of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A. and directs all Presbyterian Church (USA) entities to express this statement in all future catalogs, print or online resources.
The resolution then passed by a vote of 54-8. I was ecstatic. Hell, I was doing a happy dance. In many ways I was shocked. This was as good as I could have hoped. The Middle East Committee was willing to overwhelmingly support a resolution that I considered a long-shot. Commissioner’s Resolutions in general are considered last.
Technically, a vote of 54-8 qualifies for the consent agenda, with 88% of the committee approving it, but as of now, no Middle East issues resolutions appear on the consent agenda, so I am unsure if it will have to get full approval on the floor. We’ll see tomorrow.
In the end, I felt that I had accomplished what I had come to do at General Assembly. I was really bothered when I saw this document, and felt like it was not just offensive to my Jewish Friends, but really hurtful. I experienced that an hour later, when I encountered a Jewish Friend who is here working on other Middle East Issues with my friends from Presbyterians for Middle East Peace. He was disappointed we did not fully succeed in removing the document. And I truly saw pain in his eyes, when he talked about the sense of being under attack he felt by the Pro BDS / Pro Palestinian proponents. We are not done with these issues, not by a long shot, but I knew, with the Zionism Unsettled resolution, I had done the right thing.
I’ll end this by including the comments I gave before the committee today.
Overture Advocacy – CR 04-10
Mr. Moderator. My name is Michael Gizzi, I am a ruling elder from the Presbytery of Great Rivers. I am the advocate for CR04-10, on declaring that Zionism Unsettled does not represent the view of the PCUSA, and seeking it to be removed from the church web store. Let me explain why I bring this. For the last two years I coordinated adult christian education at First Church, in Normal, Illinois. In my daily life, I am a university professor. In that latter role, I also serve as the advisor to Hillel, the Jewish Student Union. I work hard to develop relationships with my Jewish neighbors. I have had a rabbi teach a class at First Pres on “a taste of judaism.”
Zionism Unsettled is marketed as a congregational study guide on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict issued by the IPMN. A study guide should examine multiple sides of issues; provide a fair and balanced approach, asking people to think, discern, and pray about issues in a meaningful way. After reading Zionism Unsettled, it became very clear that it is not a study guide, but rather a one-sided piece of political propaganda — a polemic – that demonizes Israel, describes it as being “towards a single Jewish, apartheid state.” It presents a one-sided view of the conflict, distorts issues rather than educates. I was horrified by what I read in its tone and content.
To the outside world, to the press, to anyone who reads this, Zionism Unsettled appears to speak for the Presbyterian Church (USA). It does not matter if there is a FAQ on the website, saying it does not speak for the Church; Symbolism is compelling. And this document is more than symbolic. It is being sold and distributed by the church. And to our Jewish neighbors, across America, it is an attack on not only the political state of Israel, but an attack on them which threatens to polarize our community, betray our relationships, and undermines our role as peace-makers.
As a political scientist, I understand political propaganda. I understand why it is used. As a Christian Educator, I know that a study guide should provide participants the opportunity to consider multiple viewpoints. Zionism Unsettled does not do that. As Christians we are to seek justice. My heart breaks over the suffering of our Palestinian brothers and sisters, but this document is destructive, and not only goes against stated General Assembly policy for a two state solution, but damages legitimate efforts at peacemaking.
CR 04-10 calls for the GA to declare that Zionism Unsettled does not speak for the PCUSA and to cease distribution of it. This action would go a long way to avoid creating further animus with our Jewish friends. The Israel Palestine Mission Network is just that, a mission network, an advocacy group. It does not speak for the GA, it does not speak for the church as a whole. Zionism Unsettled has done damage to us already. We can and must do the right thing to say this piece of propaganda does NOT speak for us.
Thank you for your time.
This was a good day.