Church leaders urge members of Congress to reconsider US aid to Israel

ADL withdraws from interfaith dialogue, other Jewish groups issue bitter protests, in response to ‘outrageous’ letter asserting widespread Israeli human rights violations

View of the Dome of the Rock, as seen from a window of the Dominus Flevit church in the Old City of Jerusalem (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)
View of the Dome of the Rock, as seen from a window of the Dominus Flevit church in the Old City of Jerusalem (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Leaders of several major US Christian denominations — including Protestants, Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans and Methodists — have asked members of Congress to reconsider US aid to Israel in light of “widespread Israeli human rights violations.”

In a letter dated October 5, the signatories say “unconditional US military assistance” to Israel is a factor in “deteriorating conditions in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories” that threaten the “realization of a just peace.”

The letter was criticized by US Jewish groups and, in protest, the Anti-Defamation League pulled out of a scheduled interfaith conference set for later this month and urged other Jewish organizations to do likewise.

The Church leaders missive asks for “an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel of the US Foreign Assistance Act and the US Arms Export Control Act, which respectively prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of US weapons to ‘internal security’ or ‘legitimate self-defense.'”

The letter continues: “We urge Congress to undertake careful scrutiny to ensure that our aid is not supporting actions by the government of Israel that undermine prospects for peace. We urge Congress to hold hearings to examine Israel’s compliance, and we request regular reporting on compliance and the withholding of military aid for non-compliance.”

The three-page document, which includes examples of “specific, systematic human rights violations related to US military support,” was signed by high-ranking officials from 16 denominations.

“As Christian leaders in the United States,” they write, “it is our moral responsibility to question the continuation of unconditional US financial assistance to the government of Israel. Realizing a just and lasting peace will require this accountability, as continued US military assistance to Israel — offered without conditions or accountability — will only serve to sustain the status quo and Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories.”

The letter also decried what it called “a troubling and consistent pattern of disregard by the government of Israel” for US policies that support peace in the region, citing Israel’s failure to halt settlement activity, despite repeated US government requests.

“We write to you as Christian leaders representing US churches and religious organizations committed to seeking a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians,” the letter said, adding that the organizations have “worked alongside our Palestinian Christian sisters and brothers to help build a peaceful and resilient Palestinian civil society.”

In response to the letter, the Anti-Defamation League has withdrawn its participation in an upcoming Jewish-Christian national interfaith dialogue, scheduled for October 22.

The ADL said in a press release that the “outrageous and biased” letter was sent by scheduled participants in the dialogue, and that by not alerting Jewish dialogue participants to the letter ahead of time, which the ADL called a “serious breach of trust,” the church leaders “seriously damaged the foundation for mutual respect.”

ADL director Abraham Foxman wrote that “it is outrageous that mere days after the Iranian president repeated his call for Israel’s elimination, these American Protestant leaders would launch a biased attack against the Jewish state by calling on Congress to investigate Israel’s use of foreign aid. In its clear bias against Israel, it is striking that their letter fails to also call for an investigation of Palestinian use of US foreign aid, thus once again placing the blame entirely on Israel.”

Foxman added that in light of the incident, other Jewish organizations should consider a withdrawal from the interfaith event.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs rejected the call to reevaluate foreign aid to Israel. “US aid to Israel is not ‘unconditional,’ as the letter claims. It reflects the shared values of America and Israel and furthers our shared goals for peace and security and is vital to advance the security of both peoples,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow.

The Rabbinical Assembly, the international umbrella organization of Conservative rabbis, called for a reevaluation of the interfaith partnerships between the assembly and the denominations represented in the letter.

“The letter calling for hearings and reassessment was issued without outreach to longtime partners in public advocacy within the Jewish community. It was released on the eve of Shabbat, just before a long weekend of Jewish and American holidays. And it was distributed at a time when Congress is out of session, in the midst of the general election campaign,” the Rabbinical Assembly said in a statement.

“We find these tactics to be disrespectful of channels of communication that have been constructed over decades, and an essential declaration of separation from the endeavor of interfaith consultation on matters of deep concern to the Jewish community,” it added. “Indeed, we find this breach of trust to be so egregious that we wonder if it may not warrant an examination on the part of the Jewish community at large of these partnerships and relationships that we understood ourselves to be working diligently to preserve and protect.”

The American Jewish Committee said it was outraged by the Christian leaders’ call. “When the world currently is focused on the Iranian nuclear threat to the entire Middle East and the world, Christian leaders have chosen to mount another political attack on Israel,” said Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations. “When religious liberty and safety of Christians across the Middle East are threatened by the repercussions of the Arab Spring, these Christian leaders have chosen to initiate a polemic against Israel, a country that protects religious freedom and expression for Christians, Muslims and others.”

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