Got news? Got news! PCUSA and Israel

I was all set to make this a "Got news?" post. I had been reading rumblings about an upcoming Presbyterian Church (USA) report in the religious and conservative press, but nothing in the mainstream media. Here's a sample religious media report and here's a bit from the conservative Weekly Standard:

Six years ago, the nearly 3 million member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) became the first and only U.S. religious body to adopt a divestment policy against Israel. After a large uproar from Christians and Jews, including a personal appeal from Presbyterian former CIA Director James Woolsey at the church's General Assembly in 2006, the divestment stance was repealed.

Controversy over the church's stance towards Israel may now reignite. A special PCUSA study committee is proposing that the denomination's 2010 General Assembly take a strident anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian stance. The committee's report points to the Israeli presence on the West Bank as the great evil in the Middle East. It urges the United States to "employ the strategic use of influence and the withholding of financial and military aid to enforce Israel's compliance" with demands for withdrawal. The committee recommends no similar pressure against any other actors in the region.

It was five years ago that tmatt noted that the media didn't seem terribly interested in stories about mainline denominations and their relationship with or stance on Israel. And the trend toward divestment and other measures seemed possibly to be fading.

So I thought this report made a perfect Got news? feature. That's where we highlight stories that appear on opinion pages even though they're breaking news. And if you do a Google News search, it seems all the hits come from opinion sources or religious media.

But the reason why this doesn't make a great example of that is because there is a mainstream report that covers the issue. And it comes from the Louisville Courier-Journal's Peter Smith, who does excellent work covering the Presbyterian Church (USA), which is headquartered there.

His story is very balanced, very nuanced. He notes that the report has harsh words for Israel and that the denomination is trying to handle public relations a bit better this time by issuing letters to Jews, Christians and Muslims living in both the United States and Israel:

The report released Friday proclaims "in no uncertain terms: we support the existence of Israel as a sovereign nation within secure and recognized borders."

Yet it decries Israel's 43-year-old occupation of Palestinian lands, the building of a separation barrier around and through Palestinian territories and the increasing radicalization of Israeli settlers in the territories.

In a letter to Palestinians, the report uses the term "nakba," often translated as catastrophe, which Arabs have used to decry the creation of Israel and subsequent war. "From 1948, we have made our stance clear on the unjust situation of Palestinian refugees since the Nakba. Your experience is one of displacement; as a people of faith."

I have absolutely no doubt that Smith will continue to cover this story well, including whatever fallout comes from within the denomination and other communities. He also does a good job of providing background information at the paper's religion blog.

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