Church Leaders Demand End to U.S. Military Aid for Israel
Rotund rabble-rouser John Hagee—the Texas-based evangelist—is among a number of Christian Zionist preachers who can’t contain their zeal for Israel. Yet, in a surprising turn, leaders of 15 U.S. churches and other faith-based organizations are asking Congress to reevaluate U.S. military aid to Israel.
On Oct. 8, these leaders sent a letter to Congress, calling for “an investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, which would make Israel ineligible for U.S. military aid,” as reported by JTA, a major Jewish news service.
“As Christian leaders in the United States, it is our moral responsibility to question the continuation of unconditional U.S. financial assistance to the government of Israel,” the letter stated. It added that “continuing U.S.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—signed by the leaders of the Presbyterian, Disciples of Christ, Lutheran,Methodist and United Church of Christ churches, and by National Council of Churches leaders—is premised on the widely accepted view that Israel is indeed occupying Palestinian land.
“We request, therefore, that Congress hold Israel accountable to these standards by making the disbursement of U.S. military assistance to Israel contingent on the Israeli government’s compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies,” the letter continued.
The church leaders wrote that they have “worked alongside our Palestinian Christian sisters and brothers to help build a peaceful and resilient Palestinian civil society.” They are gravely concerned “about the deteriorating conditions in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.”
The letter cited the “2011 State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices” covering Israel and the Occupied Territories. The leaders called on 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 American Jewish Committee expressed outrage and played the Iran card, even though Israel unofficially has hundreds of nuclear weapons and Iran officially has zero.
Church Leaders: Halt All Aid to Israel
• UCC sends letter to all congressmen urging investigation of Israeli crimes in Holy Land
By Dave Gahary
An Oct. 5 letter sent to every member of Congress from 15 religious leaders representing many major faith groups in the country, requesting U.S.military aid to Israel be contingent on U.S. laws and policies, has elicited a storm of protests from Jewish and other pro-Israel groups around the world.
The letter points out that “Israel is the single largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid since World War II,” and that “repeated demands by the U.S. government that Israel halt all settlement activity have been ignored,” and that since the 1993 Oslo Accords, “the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, has more than doubled.”
The United Church of Christ (UCC), a 1.2 million member Protestant denomination, spearheaded the 1,200-word letter, which was signed by leaders of the UCC, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, United Methodist Council of Bishops, National Council of Churches, American Friends Service Committee, American Baptist Churches, and several others. It drew scorn from the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Rabbinical Assembly and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, which all raised the usual condemnations when any level of criticism is leveled against Israel. Several of these groups even pulled out of this year’s Jewish-Christian dialogue, which was created by Jewish interests to stall Presbyterian Church USA’s divestment from Israel.
In order to gain a fuller understanding of this matter, AMERICAN FREE PRESS conducted an exclusive interview with Dr. Peter E. Makari, Ph.D., an executive with the Global Ministries of the UCC and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
Makari said he “participated in the drafting of the letter, but it was a collaborative effort.”
AFP asked Makari about UCC’s history and its involvement in the Middle East.
“The UCC has a history that predates that of the United States,” he said, “and the Christian Church Disciples of Christ also has a 200-year history that goes back into the early 1800s.” AFP asked what precipitated the letter.
“It comes as a result of our engagement with the people there,” he said. “Through our visits and through our listening to the conditions there, we’re very attuned to the ongoing impact of Israeli occupation of the West Bank and control of Gaza, the impact of continuing settler construction, the continuing impact of the separation barrier, the killings of civilians, the denial of access between one part of the West Bank and the other, and the denial of access to Jerusalem. So that plus the documentation in the State Department’s report as well as other kinds of documentation, led us to issue this letter and to raise this issue as a concern.”
[See www.americanfreepress.net for the full interview including the text of the letter.—Ed.]
Dave Gahary, a former submariner in the U.S. Navy, is the host of AFP’s “Underground
Interview” series. See www.americanfreepress.net for more.
Israel Lobby Threatens Church Groups With Congressional Investigation Over Call for Restricting U.S. Military Aid to Israel
A coalition of U.S. church groups recently made public a letter which called upon the U.S. government to condition future military aid to Israel on its fulfillment of obligations under U.S. law. The statement was intended to express criticism of Israel’s use of U.S. weapons like cluster bombs in violation of our law and noted that U.S. military assistance provided Israel a buffer against undertaking any actions to advance a just and lasting peace. For example, its settlement policy, refusal to return to 1967 borders, and refusal to share Jerusalem, all directly contradict international law and stated U.S. policy.
Though these church groups have been critical of Israeli policy in the past, threatening to lobby for withholding military aid would really cut the Israel lobby to the quick, as it’s a position held by a number of anti-Zionist groups that are much farther to the left. The fact that mainline Christian denominations, who generally support liberal Zionist positions, would be moving in a more critical direction has to be deeply concerning to the lobby.
Though they refuse to consider or acknowledge it, such a development indicates a growing alienation of American churches from Israel and the draconian positions advanced by its government. The churches are willing to lose their interfaith dialogue with the Jewish community over such an issue, which indicates how seriously they take their opposition to the Netanyahu regime.
First to lash out in anger was (typically) Abe Foxman followed by one of Israel’s leading hasbara outfits, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. It appears to be taking the lead in “handling” the BDS efforts of a number of the Christian denominations. As such, it’s a key player in Israel’s campaign against so-called “delegitimization.” Those guys at JCPA play hardball. Not content merely to criticize the churches, they lashed out at the “anti-Judaism” elements within their ranks. They used terms like “vicious anti-Zionism,” “relentless attacks on the Jewish state,” and “delegitimizers of Israel” to up the ante and level of vitriol. They also threatened to call out the Congressional dogs through mounting investigations of the groups themselves:
“JCPA is considering as a response asking Congress to investigate delegitimizers of Israel and to issue a resolution against their efforts.”
I’m not sure what this is supposed to gain the lobby. Do they think that parishioners will be mortified to find their particular denomination is called out by name in a Congressional resolution? Should these groups then call on their particular Congressional allies to respond tit for tat? Should we have a mini-religious war in the halls of Congress?
For anyone who still naively believes that J Street is a real force for progressive values regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, read M.J. Rosenberg’s devastating critique of their decision to join the Israel lobby coalition denouncing the churches. People like M.J. make the mistake (in my opinion) of calling J Street “Aipac lite.” I don’t think J Street’s allegiance is to Israel particularly. I think J Street is Obama’s Jewish wing. They are nothing more than a cover for him pursuing the Jewish vote. They never deviate from administration positions on any matter related to Israel. They attacked the Goldstone report, opposed Palestinian statehood at the UN, and now join with Israel lobby hysterics in railing against Christians for insisting that Israel obey U.S. law in its use of American weapons systems. In each of these positions they’ve betrayed progressive values, which is why they deserve support from no Jews who support a just resolution of the conflict.
Also, read Alex Kane’s excellent reporting here.
Church Leaders Asked Congress to Reconsider ‘Unconditional’ Aid
(…) The religious leaders from the Lutheran, Methodist and United Church of Christ churches, and the National Council of Churches sent a letter to Congress members on Oct. 8 calling for an investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act. The violations would make Israel ineligible for U.S. military aid.
Withdrawal announced in protest at letter sent by Christian leaders to Congress, urging a reevaluation of U.S. military aid to Israel.
Have you noticed that none of the mainstream Jewish organizations have expressed much anger about Pam Geller’s anti-Muslim hate signs going up on trains, buses and subway stations in the Bay Area, New York and now Washington. A couple have issued mild statements of tepid disapproval (most have said nothing) but without any of the vehemence they employ when say, a pro-Palestinian student group organizes at some college somewhere.
The organizations seem not to get that (1) these ugly placards insult Muslims and incite violence against them (after all, how else to respond to “savages”) and (2) these ugly placards endanger Jews who could be turned on by those set off by the signs. Personally, I think Pam Geller would like to see the shedding of blood by either side as a tool for her fundraising efforts and to help spread her message of hate.
But the Jewish organizations are quiet. My guess is that one reason why is that many of them share donors with Pam Geller (AIPAC, in particular) and never, ever want to anger a donor. Another reason is that these organizations never express concern about Muslims, other than to denigrate them. Every major Jewish organization supported the Gaza war, opposed the Goldstone report condemning it, and demanded that the U.S. veto Palestinian statehood at the United Nations (even though the resolution they forced us to oppose embodied U.S. policy). And, third, they are all busy demanding more sanctions on or war with Iran to be too concerned about hate here at home.
But then today the organizations demonstrated yet again where their hearts are.
They are responding with a mighty roar to word that fifteen church organizations are demanding that Congress evaluate the $3.5 billion U.S. aid package to Israel The churches ask that before aid is disbursed Congress should determine that the recipient is in compliance with U.S. law. In response, the Jewish organizations went ballistic, coming this close to calling the letter anti-Semitic (what a surprise!). Here is an excerpt from a letter sent by the church groups as reported by JTA.
As Christian leaders in the United States, it is our moral responsibility to question the continuation of unconditional U.S. financial assistance to the government of Israel. Realizing a just and lasting peace will require this accountability, as continued U.S. 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….We request, therefore, that Congress hold Israel accountable to these standards by making the disbursement of U.S. military assistance to Israel contingent on the Israeli government’s compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies.
Think about it. The church groups are asking only that the disbursement of U.S. aid be “contingent on the Israeli government’s compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies.”
Now, the organizations may not know this but the disbursement of all domestic assistance (Social Security, food stamps, subsidies to farmers and everyone else) is contingent on “compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies.” Moreover, the current economic situation has put all those programs under scrutiny, and most have sustained cuts which have cost many Americans (including cops and teachers) their jobs. The one program exempt from scrutiny and from cuts is the aid to Israel program. In fact, every budget slashing proposal passed or pending in Congress exempts Israel and only Israel (no, the U.S. military is not exempt while the Israeli military is).
And now AIPAC’s satellite organizations are screaming at church groups for simply asking that we subject Israel to the same process that we subject Americans too.
Take a look at the statement from the Jewish Council On Public Affairs. It is the policy arm of the Jewish federations, the largest Jewish domestic charity in the country. Once its focus was almost entirely on Jewish needs here. Now, like the others, it is just AIPAC lite, agitating over Israel, Palestine and Iran (Iran, Iran).
Here is what its head Rabbi Steve Gutow (former AIPAC official) and his nominal boss Larry Gold said about the church letter.
“We reject the call to reevaluate foreign aid to Israel – and we continue to support targeted aid to Palestinians. Foreign aid remains a vital instrument,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “U.S. 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.”
“The singling out of Israel by the signatories is disappointing but not surprising,” said JCPA Chair Larry Gold. “Although the letter acknowledges that Palestinians share some responsibility for the conflict, there is no call for investigation of Palestinian intransigence. It is telling that the call for action regarding human rights in other parts of the world is reduced to a mere footnote.
“The letter could also have highlighted the relentless attacks on Christians throughout the Middle East, including the brutal oppression of Coptic Christians or just as easily have called for a suspension of aid to Palestinians until the Palestinian Authority take steps such as returning to the negotiating table. That would have been equally unhelpful but might have mitigated the obvious conclusion that the signatories bear a deep and singular antipathy for Israel.”
“Most Americans, including most Christians support a strong U.S. Israel relationship and recognize that foreign aid is a wise American investment. This is also the view of the leaders of both parties in both houses of Congress and both candidates for president,” said Gutow. “Those signatories to this letter are out of sync with these mainstream values.”
“We eagerly await the day when these church leaders step away from their troubling fixation on hurting Israel and adopt an approach to peacemaking that fosters reconciliation rather than conflict,” said Gutow.
Crazy? My favorite part is where the letter specifically supports “targeted” aid to Palestinians (both measly and with so many conditions USAID barely knows how to legally deliver it) while demanding that the massive Israel program be unconditional. And naturally Gutow talks about how “most Americans” support unconditional aid while, of course, knowing that it is inconceivable that any American would accept that a foreign aid program be exempt from the requirements we put on domestic programs. And then it goes off about the Copts in Egypt!
What a ridiculous letter and, as JTA reports, this is the positions not just of JCPA but of the other organizations too.
The worst thing about Israel First organizations like JCPA and the others (see this typically stupid statement from the American Jewish Committee) is that although they intend to put Israel first, they really just support the deadly status quo that could ultimately destroy Israel. Putting conditions on aid, like demanding a settlement freeze or negotiations with the goal of peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians, is the best thing we could do for Israel. It needs peace. Time is not its friend.
But these organizations are, in fact, as indifferent to Israel’s real needs as they are to Pam Geller’s incitement. They exist to please donors and to pay their top executives those half million dollar salaries. I guess I shouldn’t call them Israel Firsters (although I always will). They are ME FIRSTERS and to hell with everyone else.
United Church of Christ Fires Shot Over Israel’s Bow
La lettre destinée aux membres du Congrès:
Dear Member of Congress,
We write to you as Christian leaders representing U.S. churches and religious organizations committed to seeking a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians. Our organizations have been deeply involved in this pursuit for decades, inspired by the call and promise of Jesus Christ who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
In response to our Christian call to be peacemakers, we have worked for decades to support both Israelis and Palestinians in their desire to live in peace and well-being. We have worked alongside our Palestinian Christian sisters and brothers to help build a peaceful and resilient Palestinian civil society by supporting hospitals, schools, clinics, and social service agencies. These ministries include cooperative efforts with Israelis and Palestinians as well as with Jews, Muslims, and other neighbors here in the United States. Through our presence in the region, and regular visits to our partners there, we see first-hand the impacts of the conflict on both Palestinians and Israelis and hear from them directly about the reality of their lives.
Through this direct experience we have witnessed the pain and suffering of Israelis as a result of Palestinian actions and of Palestinians as a result of Israeli actions. In addition to the horror and loss of life from rocket attacks from Gaza and past suicide bombings, we have witnessed the broad impact that a sense of insecurity and fear has had on Israeli society. We have also witnessed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinians, including killing of civilians, home demolitions and forced displacement, and restrictions on Palestinian movement, among others. We recognize that each party—Israeli and Palestinian—bears responsibilities for its actions and we therefore continue to stand against all violence regardless of its source. Our stand against violence is complemented by our commitment to the rights of all Israelis, as well as all Palestinians, to live in peace and security.
It is this experience and these commitments that lead us to write to you today to express our grave concern about the deteriorating conditions in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories which threaten to lead the region further away from the realization of a just peace.
Unfortunately, unconditional U.S. military assistance to Israel has contributed to this deterioration, sustaining the conflict and undermining the long-term security interests of both Israelis and Palestinians. This is made clear in the most recent 2011 State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices covering Israel and the Occupied Territories (1), which details widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons.
Accordingly, we urge an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. 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 U.S. weapons (2) to “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense.” (3) More broadly, 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.
Examples of specific, systematic human rights violations related to U.S. military support are included as an annex to this letter.
In addition to specific rights violations, we see a troubling and consistent pattern of disregard by the government of Israel for U.S. policies that support a just and lasting peace. Specifically, repeated demands by the U.S. government that Israel halt all settlement activity have been ignored. Since 1967, every U.S. administration has decried Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories as obstacles to peace. Despite this stance, Israel continues to expand its settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, claiming territory that under international law and U.S. policy should belong to a future Palestinian state. The Oslo peace process, which began in 1993, was publicly promoted as leading Israelis and Palestinians to a just peace based on a two-state solution. Instead, since 1993, the number of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, has more than doubled. Rights violations resulting from Israeli settlement activity include separate and unequal legal systems for Palestinians and settlers, confiscation of Palestinian land and natural resources for the benefit of settlers, and violence by settlers against Palestinians.
According to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, there has been a dramatic rise in settler attacks against Palestinians this year (4). They report that these attacks are often intended to drive Palestinians from areas the settlers wish to take over, and that Israeli authorities have failed to take significant action to stop the violence or hold the perpetrators accountable. We believe that these actions directly undermine peace efforts and threaten, rather than support, Israel’s long-term security interests.
We want to be clear that we recognize that Israel faces real security threats and that it has both a right and a duty to protect both the state and its citizens. However, the measures that it uses to protect itself and its citizens, as in the case with any other nation, must conform to international humanitarian and human rights law.
As Christian leaders in the United States, it is our moral responsibility to question the continuation of unconditional U.S. financial assistance to the government of Israel. Realizing a just and lasting peace will require this accountability, as continued U.S. 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.
We request, therefore, that Congress hold Israel accountable to these standards by making the disbursement of U.S. military assistance to Israel contingent on the Israeli government’s compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies. As Israel is the single largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid since World War II, it is especially critical for Israel to comply with the specific U.S. laws that regulate the use of U.S.-supplied weapons. We also encourage Congress to support inclusive, comprehensive, and robust regional diplomacy to secure a just and lasting peace that will benefit Israelis, Palestinians, and all the peoples of the region, and the world.
With respect and gratitude, we offer you our prayers.
Rev. Gradye Parsons
Stated Clerk of the General Assembly
Presbyterian Church (USA)
Mark S. Hanson
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
Bishop Rosemarie Wenner
President, Council of Bishops
United Methodist Church
Transitional General Secretary
National Council of Churches USA
American Friends Service Committee
J Ron Byler
Mennonite Central Committee U.S.
North American Secretary
Orthodox Peace Fellowship
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Dr. A. Roy Medley
American Baptist Churches, U.S.A.
Rev. Geoffrey A. Black
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ
Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Rev. Julia Brown Karimu
President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Division of Overseas Ministries
Co-Executive, Global Ministries (UCC and Disciples)
Rev. Dr. James A. Moos
Executive Minister, United Church of Christ, Wider Church Ministries
Co-Executive, Global Ministries (UCC and Disciples)
Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
Eli S. McCarthy, PhD
Justice and Peace Director
Conference of Major Superiors of Men (CMSM)
Examples of specific, systematic human rights violations related to U.S. military support
• Killings of civilians – At least 2,969 Palestinian civilians uninvolved in hostilities were killed by the Israeli military between December 29, 2000 and December 31, 2009. This includes at least 1,128 children under the age of 18.5 Many of these deaths are connected to weaponry the U.S. underwrites.
• Suppression of legitimate political expression and protest – U.S.-supplied tear gas has been used by Israel to systematically suppress political protests and dissent in the occupied Palestinian territories. This has led to the deaths of at least 5 Palestinians and the grave injury of many others, including two U.S. citizens.
• Home demolitions and forced displacement – According to the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, approximately 24,813 Palestinian homes in the occupied Palestinian territories have been destroyed since 1967. House demolitions in the West Bank in 2011 forcibly displaced nearly 1,100 Palestinians (over half of them children) from their homes, over 80% more than in 2010, according to the United Nations (UN) Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs6.
• Use of prohibited weaponry in densely populated civilian areas – Israel has used both white phosphorus and flechette shells in Gaza and Lebanon in violation of international humanitarian law. During operation cast lead white phosphorus shells were fired against civilian targets including a UN compound, two hospitals, and private residences causing civilian deaths and injuries. Flechette shells have also been used repeatedly in Gaza since 2001, causing significant civilian deaths and casualties. (7)
• Restricting Palestinian movement – Israeli-only roads and more than 500 roadblocks and checkpoints carve up the West Bank, making travel for Palestinians arduously slow or impossible (8). The Wall constructed by Israel in the West Bank deviates considerably from the 1967 lines, confiscating occupied Palestinian territory and water in the process, and severely restricting Palestinian movement. Since 2007 Israel has also maintained a comprehensive blockade on Gaza, restricting not only the movement of Palestinians into and out of Gaza, but also restricting the import and export of goods. The UN and International Committee of the Red Cross have both concluded that this blockade amounts to collective punishment (9), in contravention of the Fourth Geneva Convention.
2 Weapons in this instance include “crowd control” items such as tear gas. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2012 (P.L. 112-74) which is included in the US Foreign Military Financing regulations stipulates that “not later than 90 days after enactment of this act and 6 months thereafter, the Secretary of State shall submit a report to the Committees on Appropriations detailing any crowd control items, including tear gas, made available with appropriated funds or through export licenses to foreign security forces that the Secretary of State has credible information have repeatedly used excessive force to repress peaceful, lawful, and organized dissent.”
3 While this letter focuses on US-Israel relations and the Israel-Palestine conflict, these are laws that we believe should be enforced in all instances regardless of location. All allegations regarding the misuse of US supplied arms should be investigated.
4 http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/07/11/v-print/155813/report-violence-against-palestinians.html For more information see also: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/lambs-to-the-settlers-slaughter-screaming-and-unheard.premium-1.455937
5 Details available at http://www.weaponstoisrael.org/article.php?id=2940 and through original date from B’Tselem at www.btselem.org/statistics.
Jewish groups pressed satellite providers to ban Iranian channels (Toujours les mêmes)