Evangelical Lutheran Church calls for US inquest into human rights violations in Israel, and some Jewish groups are outraged

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.

ELCA News Service:

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)

About Annie Robbins

Annie Robbins is Editor at Large for Mondoweiss, a mother, a human rights activist and a ceramic artist. She lives in the SF bay area. Follow her on Twitter @anniefofani
Posted in Israel/Palestine

{ 25 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Joe Catron says:

    “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.”

    Does anyone else sense these threatening tactics, similar to the ones the PC(USA)’s Rev. Donald Wagner recently called “interfaith bullying,” growing increasingly desperate and pathetic?

    link to abqjournal.com

    Of course, they might have to grow considerably more desperate and pathetic before some church so-called “leaders” stop groveling in response to them. Here’s looking at you, Katharine Jefferts Schori!

  2. Sin Nombre says:

    Just as a matter of cataloging the … taxonomy of reactions of folks like AJC, the JCPA, the Rabbinical Assembly, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Reform organizations and etc., it might be noted that while they get exercised over any moral criticism of Israel, *nothing* compares to the degree of their reaction to any calls to review the now obviously eternal showering of Israel with billions of American dollars.

    *Nothing.*

    No matter what Israel does, no matter how much it harms our interests, no matter how broke we are, no matter that it’s *our* money … goddamn it we just better keep those billions coming and keep our mouths about it.

  3. eljay says:

    “We may not be as good as the best but, hey, at least we’re not as bad as the worst!”™

    Words the supremacist “Jewish State” of Israel – and its Zio-supremacist supporters – live by.

    So inspirational. Reach for the bottom, boys!

  4. RoHa says:

    “reevaluation of the interfaith partnerships between the assembly and the denominations represented in the letter.”

    What, exactly, is the value of these “interfaith partnerships” to the various denominations?

    • American says:

      “reevaluation of the interfaith partnerships between the assembly and the denominations represented in the letter.”…..they say

      This is hysterically funny to me…..like a mouse threatening the cat with being disliked by the mouse. LOL

  5. RudyM says:

    This is good to see, but I wish the statement from the Evangelical Lutheran Church had mentioned Israel’s arsenal of nuclear weapons, and the fact that our military aid to Israel has been illegal under U.S. law for many years now. How many quasi-official confirmations of this “secret” nuclear arsenal does it take before it can be mentioned as a reality?

    Meanwhile the response of the Jewish organizations mentioned is laughable. “If you keep criticizing Israel, we are going to take our ecumenical dialogue marbles and go home.”

  6. What, exactly, is the value of these “interfaith partnerships”

    hellooo, you have to ask? the value darling….is the american people do not have to burden themselves with communicating directly with our congress wrt all things israel/palestine/iran ..or whatever. we have the luxury of going thru the our interfaith partners in crime.

    we’re so lucky.

  7. “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,” “these Christian leaders have chosen to initiate a polemic against Israel, a country that protects religious freedom and expression for Christians, Muslims and others.”

    As best I can tell there is no Iranian nuclear threat what so ever, to anybody. Given the enormous Israeli stockpile of weapons, and lack of international treaty’s, this is the rankest of double dealing.

    Israel compromises religious freedom in many ways, and at best comparable to Iran. Given that Iran’s jews haven’t fled, whereas, Christians are being driven out of Israel and occupied territories, de facto it is worse. The restrictions on marriage and prayer for jews in Israel are very hard for me to accept as good for religious freedom.

    I can only agree with Joe that the Interfaith is about control of others, not tolerance.

    • When the world currently is focused on the Iranian nuclear threat to the entire Middle East and the world

      they wish! the world is not very interested in this alleged “threat” which is used as a global diversion to turn our eyes off israel’s very real ethnic cleansing and constant expansion gobbling up what remains of palestine. so how dare anyone take their eyes off the magic ‘iran nuclear scare’ ball and peer behind the curtain to see what’s being protected back there, israel’s immunity from accountability that’s what. and the firewall of that protection is wrapped in a tidy package with the nice sounding name of “interfaith” which is carried out by a bunch of bullies, just like this: link to mondoweiss.net

      one drip at a time.

      Interfaith dialogue is no answer to Israel’s racist bullying.

  8. amigo says:

    So now an additional 4.2 million people can tell a friend who will tell a friend etc.

    The tide is changing and eventually the truth will out.

    Will Israel choose national suicide or will it come to terms with civilized behaviour.

  9. sandhillexit says:

    They visited Gaza and they were shocked. It takes a lot.

  10. “The letter calling for hearings and reassessment was issued without outreach to longtime partners in public advocacy within the Jewish community…”

    Bad Lutherans, bad!

    To repeat what you already know, nothing but NOTHING connected with the Israel/Palestinian conflict is for release until we’ve had a chance to eyeball it and approve it.

    Now go take a trip to the woodshed. You’re in a LOT of trouble!

  11. MHughes976 says:

    Here in the Church of England, Oxford Diocese, I’m trying to see what can be done to keep up with the Lutherans. I’m a very new, backbench member of our Synod (where Disraeli in 1864 coined the phrase ‘on the side of the angels’) so may not get very far, though the few things I’ve said to a few others so far have elicited a surprisingly friendly response.
    The CofE has said some useful things, though not enough. Christ Church Oxford, our Cathedral, is a stronghold of the Council of Christians and Jews, which did good work back in the 40s in promoting awareness of Jewish suffering but is firmly Zionist these days.

  12. MRW says:

    The interesting thing about this ELCA news release is that either it (in its entirety) or a précis will be included in all newsletters sent out by the churches to their flock, and included in the Sunday church news they hand out at the back after services.

    But, further, it is rare that you will see this statement identifying the national scope of support and invoking government action. It tells the flock that this is a big deal, a major, major deal: “…presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), and other U.S. Christian leaders are urging Congress…”

    • MRW says:

      Is this also the military effect? The majority of troops are Christian. From Mark Perry’s Foreign Policy article:

      The war talk in Jerusalem has already eroded the views of many senior U.S. military officers who were once strongly committed to Israel, but who now quietly resent Netanyahu’s attempt to pressure the United States into a war that it doesn’t want. “Our commitment to Israel has been as solid as with any ally we’ve ever had, and a lot of officers are proud of that,” Lt. General Robert Gard, a retired Army officer, said. “But we’ve done it so that they can defend themselves. Not so they can start World War III.”

  13. 1. I was baptized and confirmed into the Christian faith in the American Lutheran Church, which became the major component of the ELCA when Lutheran branches united in 1988. Although I’m no longer a Christian, reading the response by the JCPA and AJC disturbs me in a way that surprises me. It somehow feels personal, even though I’m no longer affiliated with the body being attacked.

    2. Checking for news articles on this on the web (by googling news for “ELCA military aid to Israel”), I’m surprised that an action taken last Friday by such a large Christian group hasn’t garnered more coverage.

    • MRW says:

      @Philip Munger,

      1. I’ll bet that you’re not alone in that reaction. Silent resentment can grow into a powerful enemy.

      2. A net effect of that lack of coverage will be a deeper grassroots reaction. Muttering around the kitchen table. Comments at church socials. Disgust at media dismissal.

      You’re in Alaska, aren’t you? Ask around.

  14. Taxi says:

    How many roles of duck-tape would the zios need to silence 4.2 million new American dissidents?

    But seriously folks, this is a top-dollar development.

    Jesus woulda done the same uhuh – walked bare-footed to the halls of congress and hand-delivered.

    It’s impossible to retract a statement of consciousness like this, and Rev. Mark S. Hanson’s name ain’t Goldstone.

    (Wow the word “urge” is so uncompromising).

    I hope All Palestinians of all religious persuasions get to hear about this fearless justice-seeking, timely letter.

  15. American says:

    ADL cuts Judaism’s throat…..throwing more fuel on the fire. Who do they think will be the loser in this divorce? It won’t be the mainline Christians.
    Foxman called on…..” other Jewish organizations to “understand the level of disrespect the American Jewish community is being shown here”.
    You would think the Church actions would have been a wake up call for zionism worship and political zionism within Judaism.
    They are digging themselves in the hole deeper and deeper, it’s amazing to watch the kind of hubris that makes them set themselves up in a contest against mainline religions in the US. But it’s good for the US and Palestine to have them reveal themselves this way.

    link to jta.org

    ADL quits interfaith dialogue following churches’ letter on Israel aid
    October 11, 2012

    (JTA) — The Anti-Defamation League withdrew from participating in a national Jewish-Christian interfaith dialogue after church leaders asked Congress to reevaluate U.S. military aid to Israel.

    The ADL in a statement called the request “a serious breach of trust by mainline Protestant Church leaders” participating in the annual interfaith meeting, which will be held on Oct. 22.

    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.

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

    “In light of the failure of any of the church leaders to reach out to us, we have decided not to attend this interfaith meeting,” said Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director. “The blatant lack of sensitivity by the Protestant dialogue partners we had been planning to meet with has seriously damaged the foundation for mutual respect, which is essential for meaningful interfaith dialogue.

    “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 U.S. foreign aid, thus once again placing the blame entirely on Israel.”

    Foxman called on other Jewish organizations to “understand the level of disrespect the American Jewish community is being shown here” and to also withdraw from the conference”

    • RudyM says:

      I don’t really understand why the ADL would be invited to an interfaith conference. I don’t think of it as a religious organization (say, an association of rabbis). But especially given its overwhelming emphasis on shilling for Israel.

      • American says:

        @ Rudy

        There’s almost no ‘daylight’ now between political zionism and Judaism….they have infiltrated it.

        • seanmcbride says:

          American,

          There’s almost no ‘daylight’ now between political zionism and Judaism….they have infiltrated it.

          This understates the current reality: there is NO daylight whatever between Zionism and Judaism in the year 2012 — they have completely merged. Name a single mainstream synagogue anywhere in the world that opposes Zionism or that doesn’t fully embrace it.

          The few ultra-Orthodox groups that do oppose Zionism are on the far fringe and are not part of the Jewish establishment — religious or secular.

        • American says:

          Sean

          maybe I am practicing some “denial” like some Jews do on US-Isr…..lol
          I don’t really want think Judaism, here or world wide, has been totally taken over by zionism, it gives me visions of a invasion by alien body snatchers.