Wow, this is an exciting press release from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, with 4.2 million members in 10,000 congregations across the 50 states and in the Caribbean region.
CHICAGO (ELCA) – Concerned about the deteriorating conditions in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories and the commitment for a just peace, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and other U.S. Christian leaders are urging Congress to conduct an investigation into possible human rights and weapon violations by the government of Israel.
In an Oct. 5 letter to Congress, the religious leaders cited possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, which respectively excludes assistance to any country that engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limits the use of U.S. weapons to “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense.”
The leaders also urged 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.”
U.S. churches and religious organizations have been deeply involved in the pursuit of peace for both Israelis and Palestinians. The religious leaders shared in their letter that they have witnessed the pain and suffering of Israelis as a result of Palestinian actions and of Palestinians as a result of Israeli actions.
“When as Lutherans we say that all the baptized will strive for justice and peace in all the earth, it means that we will be immersed in complex issues. While we do not all agree on the best way to establish justice and bring peace, we will be involved in lively, respectful, passionate conversations,” said Hanson.
In their letter, the U.S. Christian leaders were clear in their recognition that Israel faces real security threats and that it has both “a right and a duty to protect both the state and its citizens,” but 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.”
The leaders further said it is unfortunate that “unconditional U.S. military assistance to Israel has contributed to (the) 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, which details widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons.”
Examples of human rights violence related to U.S. military support were included as an annex to the letter and, in addition to specific rights violations, the Christian leaders expressed their concern that 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.”
“From Palestinian Lutherans, I hear discouragement about the lack of progress and questions about where the voice is of American Christians,” said Hanson. “Our letter seeks to be a partial answer to such questions, that we are clear in our resolve to continue to work for a just and lasting solution for Israelis and Palestinians.”
The U.S. Christian leaders wrote that 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.”
They requested 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.”
Some Jewish groups are ticked. The American Jewish Committee said it was “outraged”; the Jewish Council for Public Affairs has “rejected the call” for a reevaluation of the aid and the Rabbinical Assembly found the “tactics” to be “disrespectful.” JTA:
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs rejected the call to reevaluate foreign aid to Israel. “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,” 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. 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.”
(Hat tip MW commenter Taxi)