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The PC(USA)’s advocacy director is among faith leaders attending a White House meeting on seeking peace in Gaza

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins and his ecumenical counterparts spend an hour with presidential advisors

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, the PC(USA)’s advocacy director, is pictured on the South Lawn of the White House in a file photo. (Photo courtesy of the Rev. Jimmie Hawkins)

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Jimmie Hawkins, advocacy director for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), was among a handful of faith leaders who met in the White House Wednesday with the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and other administration staff.

One staffer asked those in attendance not to attribute statements to anyone in the meeting. What follows is based on Hawkins’ notes from the hour-long meeting, with attribution only to the points he made.

Both Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Vice President Kamala Harris have made recent statements calling for civilian protection in Gaza. This week, a group of progressive senators pressed President Biden and his administration to step up oversight of the use of U.S. military weapons by the Israeli military in Gaza to reduce the civilian death toll.

Hawkins said he “shared the concern of Presbyterians over the deaths of innocent children and the fact that diplomacy is needed.” He also distributed Action Alerts issued by the PC(USA)’s Office of Public Witness as well as the link to the Israel-Palestine resource page. “Presbyterians have a history of advocacy on behalf of the Palestinian people,” Hawkins said during the meeting, as well as the security of innocent civilians wherever they may live, “and are despairing over the death and destruction this war is inflicting.”

Another pointed out the difference between antisemitism and constructive criticism of the actions taken against Palestinians.

Hawkins said that “almost every denomination represented in the room had, in our advocacy for the human rights of Palestinians, been charged with being antisemitic.” At the time of committee deliberations during the 225th General Assembly held in 2022 Louisville, Kentucky, during which commissioners approved an overture recognizing that Israel’s laws, policies and practices constitute apartheid against the Palestinian people, “we had a hot-air balloon in front of our headquarters saying that we were antisemitic,” Hawkins told those in attendance. “The administration needs to be more vocal in clarifying the distance between these two issues and can provide needed leadership.”

Hawkins told those at the meeting he wants Wednesday’s gathering to be the first in a series of conversations so that those faith leaders gathered “can be of support of a permanent ceasefire.”

“It was agreed to,” Hawkins said, “and we were asked to help in difficult conversations where different sides were having difficulty coming to consensus, especially with people of faith.”

White House staffers told the faith leaders that Wednesday’s session had been “a valuable conversation,” Hawkins said.

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