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Middle East breakfast discussion focuses on MESC report

Speakers said they were disappointed with it

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Honoring the Presbyterian way of being open to divergent voices, Presbyterians for Middle East Peace sponsored a Sunday breakfast to share alternate views on the Middle East Study Committee (MESC) report.

“Seeking a Lasting Peace: Presbyterians for Middle East Peace” was the backdrop for the 219th General Assembly (2010) gathering. Assembly attendees heard from three speakers about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and how the denomination should respond.

Under consideration by the GA’s Middle East Peacemaking Issues Committee is the 172-page report of the MESC, “Breaking Down the Walls,” the result of action authorized by the 218th General Assembly (2008).

Making presentations were the Rev. Katharine Henderson, president of Auburn Theological Seminary; Rachel Lerner, vice president of J Street Education Fund, and the Rev. Byron E. Shafer, professor emeritus at Fordham University in New York City and a member of the MESC. Each opposes the MESC report.

“This report represents an old paradigm,” where one side is the victim and the other the oppressor, Henderson said. “To seek justice requires a commitment to fairness.”

What is needed is action that has “positive and measurable affects,” Henderson said. There are enormous possibilities, including political, economic and civil society action, she said.

Lerner, whose non-profit J Street represents Americans who support Israel and its desire for security as the Jewish homeland, as well as the right of the Palestinians to a sovereign state of their own, also expressed disappointment with the MESC report.

She said she was surprised, saddened and even angry. The tone of the report is “so one-sided,” she said.

Lerner particularly took issue with the committee’s mention of J Street in report; she said the committee didn’t consult her organization while gathering its research, but if it had, she said J Street would have shared that the conflict requires a nuanced approach. The organization would also have shared, among other things, that the Israeli occupation is wrong and that the blockade is flawed, but that Israel’s security concerns also must be taken into account.

 Shafer, the only member of the nine-member MESC who did not signed off on the report, echoed much of what Henderson and Lerner said.

“We must strive to be both pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel,” he said. “We must express and strive to express love for both of these communities.”