Zionism Unsettled is no longer sold on the PCUSA Web store

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Last week I celebrated a small victory in what for me was a challenging fight over divestment at the 221st General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).   Since I first saw the publication of the “study guide” Zionism Unsettled, I have been disturbed by its one-sided nature, its inflammatory and demonization of Israel.   So I authored a Commissioner’s Resolution, seeking the General Assembly to declare that Zionism Unsettled did not represent the views of the PCUSA, and sought to have its distribution ended immediately.   I explained my reasoning for this in a tumblr post early last week. 

I succeeded in getting the resolution through the Middle East Committee (no small feat) but it was amended to allow its sale, but to require instead that a statement be attached – kind of like a Surgeon General’s Warning – that it did not represent the views of the Church.   At the time, I thought this was acceptable.   I knew with a vote of 55-8, it would make it to the consent agenda.   On Wednesday last week, it was summarily approved.  I wrote about this last week.

I was opposed to Zionism Unsettled because I saw it as terribly damaging to interfaith relations with our Jewish brothers and sisters, and I saw it as serving to delegitimize our peacemaking efforts as a denomination.   American Jews had criticized the document since it was first published, and I think fairly so.  

I debated removing the resolution, 04-10, from the consent agenda, to amend it back to its original wording, but decided to take that small victory. At the time I still thought the bigger issue of divestment would be defeated. But when divestment from three companies over their business with the Israeli Defense Forces and their product’s violent use in Palestine passed by a margin of 7 votes, a major uproar in the Jewish community ensued.

It soon became clear to me that the resolution we passed was not enough. The continued presence of Zionism Unsettled on the PCUSA website would continue to cause damage to interfaith relations.   I was not the only person to feel this way.  Our new moderator – the #ModeRada Heath Rada – was hit hard with the issue in a press interview on Sunday on CNN.   Zionism Unsettled has made international news.   

I reached out to the moderator, suggesting we needed to do more, and got a positive response — little knowing that the process was already in the works (I assume).  And today a press release was issued by the Church stating that “Effective Immediately, Zionism Unsettled is no longer sold on the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) website.”

The original intent of my resolution has been accomplished.   I am proud of my work, and thank Moderator Heath Rada, Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons, and Presbyterian Mission Agency Executive Director Linda Valentine, for making this happen.   

We still have much work to do to repair the damage to our relationships with our Jewish Brothers and Sisters.  I for one will be speaking with the congregation at the local synagogue later next Month.    But it is with a sense of appreciation that I know that this divisive document is no longer available from the Church.  

A Very Good Day at GA

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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.  

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