General Assembly Stated Clerk the Rev. J. Herbert Nelson, II has issued a statement (based on a letter to a concerned Assembly-goer) addressing a nasty confrontation that occurred outside the Assembly Committee on the Middle East (Committee 12) meeting room Monday.

The full text of Nelson’s statement:

Regarding the conflict that occurred yesterday involving Messrs. Bassem Masri and Bassam Eid in the context of the work of our General Assembly on the conflict in Israel/Palestine, I want to say unequivocally that we regret the fact that this unpleasant and disruptive incident occurred.

We take seriously allegations of death threats made by Mr. Masri against Mr. Eid, although we are unable to substantiate these charges either through the review of the video made by Mr. Masri or by the testimony of Palestinian bystanders.

That said, the most important issue at the moment is the way in which this whole matter was handled by our General Assembly staff, which at least one person believes was not adequate to the situation.

Among our most basic principles as Presbyterians, enshrined in the Standing Rules of the General Assembly, is the openness of all of our meetings. Everyone is welcome and is free to observe, record, and photograph our proceedings, both in our committee deliberations and in our plenary meetings. We have people who attend out of curiosity and others who come at the invitation of our own staff and elected members. Many of these persons are invited to offer testimony to the assembly and to our committees on matters of critical importance to the church and to society.

Admittedly, Presbyterians tend to have strong feelings about public issues and, in the case of the search for peace in the Middle East, that exposes the General Assembly to strong, divergent opinions. Sometimes that exposes us to the existential passion of people embedded in the struggle, who have been invited to provide information and advice to the assembly committees. When that passion boils over, we have to deal with the results. This appeared to be the case as Mr. Masri, perceiving Mr. Eid (representing an advocacy group often seen as slow to criticize Israel) to be a Palestinian traitor to the Palestinian cause, became abusive and threatening.

In the effort to manage the crisis thus created, our staff, after broad consultation, took the strongest measures that seemed advisable, short of banning Mr. Masri from the committee or from the convention center.

While some may not deem the measures taken in this case adequate, please understand that they were taken in good faith in an effort to balance our church’s commitment to openness and transparency and yet to provide order sufficient for the work of the assembly to proceed without further disruption.

In this story, which was posted on Tuesday, June 19, there was one error:

  • Former General Assembly Moderator the Rev. Fahed Abu-Akel did not hear any threats spoken in Arabic by Mr. Masri.

The General Assembly News regrets these errors and any harm that was done to any individual or group by publishing them.