Jewish establishment pulls out of interfaith dialogue, threatens Congressional investigation of ‘delegitimizers’ over Christian letter

ActivismIsrael/PalestineUS Politics
on 37 Comments
awad
Palestinian Methodist Missionary and Pastor Alex Awad outside the Tampa convention center, where the Methodist divestment vote took place last Spring. (Photo: Anna Baltzer)

Mainstream Jewish establishment groups have upped the ante in a battle with Christian churches that was sparked by a mild letter calling on Congress to investigate whether military aid to Israel violates U.S. law.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) announced October 17 that their group and six other organizations were pulling out of a planned interfaith dialogue group scheduled for later this month. Instead, the Jewish groups are calling for a “summit” to take place in order to “communicate face-to-face at the highest levels and determine a more positive path forward for our communities.” In other words, the Jewish establishment wants to meet on its own terms, and not discuss the human rights violations of Israel.

“These churches have squandered our trust. They either refuse to pay attention to our plea for a fair appraisal of the situation or they simply do not care,” said JCPA president Steve Gutow, a former official with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

The statement from the JCPA also conflates “anti-Christian, anti-Muslim, and anti-Palestinian activities” with “anti-Zionist activities that have found comfortable homes in [Christian] denominations,” as JCPA official Larry Gold put it.

The interfaith roundtable that was scheduled to meet later this month was created in 2004 after proposals to divest from companies doing business with the Israeli military began to gather strength in Christian denominations.

The letter (pdf here) that sparked the fracas is relatively mild. Signed by 15 leaders of Christian groups, the letter acknowledges 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 language that sparked the controversy was the call for “an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act.”

These laws “respectively prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of U.S. weapons to ‘internal security’ or ‘legitimate self-defense.’…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 Christian letter reads. Included in the letter are examples of Israeli human rights violations being carried out with U.S. weapons, such as the killing of Palestinian civilians and home demolitions and forced displacement. The letter was sent to every member of Congress.

After the letter was publicized, Jewish establishment groups went ballistic. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was the first group to pull out the interfaith roundtable. “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,” ADL head Abraham Foxman said in a statement.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency adds to the story by reporting on an alarming threat from the JCPA. Ethan Felson, the vice president of the JCPA, told the news agency that “JCPA is considering as a response asking Congress to investigate delegitimizers of Israel and to issue a resolution against their efforts.” Felson also suggested that “American Jewish groups could retaliate by advocating against U.S. aid to the Palestinians.”

Still, Jewish Voice for Peace’s Rabbinical Council has come out in favor of the Christian letter. Other Christian groups that pushed for boycott and divestment at recent church meetings have also come out strongly in favor of the letter.

“Israel’s grave and systematic abuses of Palestinian human rights and violations of international law have been thoroughly documented for many years,” said Rev. Jeff DeYoe, the advocacy chair for the Israel/Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church, in a statement. “We’re pleased and encouraged that church leaders from a growing number of denominations are recognizing this and taking a stand in favor of justice and freedom for all the peoples of the Holy Land. We hope members of Congress will do the same.”

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is an assistant editor for Mondoweiss and the World editor for AlterNet. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

Other posts by .


Posted In:

37 Responses

  1. Joe Catron
    October 17, 2012, 6:45 pm

    Never has a punishment sounded so much like a reward.

    • Rusty Pipes
      October 17, 2012, 7:09 pm

      I’m trying to imagine Foxman saying “kumbaya” much less singing it:

      “We’re not going to sit around the table and say kumbaya,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, which pulled out of the program and urged other Jewish groups to follow suit. “This is the clearest message I know to say, ‘You don’t get it. Maybe think about what you don’t get and at a later date we’ll sit down and talk.’ ”

      Someone’s crying wolf, Lord, Kumbaya.

  2. Bumblebye
    October 17, 2012, 6:52 pm

    It’s even ‘Breaking news’ on the Guardian:
    link to guardian.co.uk

    • Les
      October 17, 2012, 8:16 pm

      “The U.S. Episcopal Church, also a member of the interreligious dialogue, didn’t endorse the Protestant statement to Congress. Alexander Baumgarten, the Episcopal public policy director, said the request for congressional hearings was not in line with Episcopal policy.”

      When Trinity Church isn’t busy pushing for police attacks on Occupy Wall Street, it works to sustain Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. White Power!

    • Philip Munger
      October 18, 2012, 2:50 am

      Actually, it is AP International, reprinted at The Guardian. The author is Rachel Zoll, “Religion Writer” for AP. Anyone know anything about her?

      I wrote about the collapse of next week’s forum on Monday at firedoglake, noting that it was interesting the JTA, which usually keeps up on all aspects of a developing story before publishing, neglected to write that the Rabbinical Council of JVP had issued a statement of support for the Christian clerics, at the JVP RC’s blog. It has been over 40 hours since the JTA story was published and they haven’t revised or updated it to include that important info.

      link to my.firedoglake.com

  3. talknic
    October 17, 2012, 6:53 pm

    “Jewish establishment groups” put Israel, the Jewish State, above the basic tenets of Judaism. Seems Israel is a poisoned well.

    • seafoid
      October 18, 2012, 8:55 am

      “Delegitimiser” is the low calorie version of “antisemite”.
      Israel and its supporters remind me of Lance Armstrong.

    • Woody Tanaka
      October 18, 2012, 9:14 am

      I agree. I wonder if, were the situation reversed and it was a defenseless Jewish population being occupied and oppressed by a non-Jewish state using US Aid money, with the excuse being “security,” whether these Jewish groups be okay with simply whitewashing the human rights violations. Something tells me that Abe “Because the Holocaust happened, it’s okay for Jews to act irrationally”* Foxman.

      * paraphrasing.

  4. Annie Robbins
    October 17, 2012, 7:25 pm

    from jta

    “The Jewish community understands that the overwhelming majority of Americans and American Christians understand that Israel must defend itself and that Israel is not an aggressor, that Israel is on the front lines of terrorism and has modeled how to create a balance between security and concern for the individual rights of all of the inhabitants.”

    oh please.

    alex,

    Instead, the Jewish groups are calling for a “summit” to take place in order to “communicate face-to-face at the highest levels and determine a more positive path forward for our communities.” In other words, the Jewish establishment wants to meet on its own terms, and not discuss the human rights violations of Israel.

    iow, the jewish groups are summoning the christian leaders to a lecture. otherwise what is the difference between an interfaith dialogue and an interfaith summit?

    “American Jewish groups could retaliate by advocating against U.S. aid to the Palestinians.”

    oh that makes perfect sense, punish the palestinians instead of the christian leaders. fine, quit giving aid to ‘both sides’, sounds like a deal to me.

  5. Les
    October 17, 2012, 7:57 pm

    “These churches have squandered our trust.” Which means there is no choice but to get Congress to do our bidding.

    • more progressive
      October 18, 2012, 10:41 pm

      seems as if every American has the right to enlist the support of their congressional representatives, even Jewish citizens.

  6. pabelmont
    October 17, 2012, 10:05 pm

    OK, friends, Israel has to protect itself — OK, OK, but ALSO Israel has to respect (comply with) international law and human rights agreements. These do NOT conflict. Anyone who shouts the first and ignores the second supports Israeli lawlessness and is himself/herself quite possibly an apartheid-style racist.

    The Christian Churches should say to the self-anointed and so-called Jewish “leaders”,

    we prize our community with Jews as comradery, NOT AS SURRENDER and especially not as surrender of our highest Christian ideals and duties. (We’ll be glad to explain those to you if you care to listen.)

  7. RudyM
    October 17, 2012, 10:47 pm

    Ethan Felson, the vice president of the JCPA, told the news agency that “JCPA is considering as a response asking Congress to investigate delegitimizers of Israel and to issue a resolution against their efforts.”

    I’m not even sure what to say about this. On the one hand we have a call to investigate, among other things, whether U.S. military aid/sales to Israel are in violation of U.S. law. On the other hand is this frivolous call for some hot air about delegitimizers of Israel.

    It almost makes me wish I were still a Christian, so I could tell these Jewish organizations where to go; but then that wouldn’t be the Christian thing to do, not the way I’d like to express it anyway.

    • MRW
      October 21, 2012, 6:44 pm

      Good luck with that, Felson. But go ahead, pour gasoline on it.

  8. American
    October 17, 2012, 10:59 pm

    ““JCPA is considering as a response asking Congress to investigate delegitimizers of Israel and to issue a resolution against their efforts”

    So let me get this straight…… this Jewish Council for “Public Affairs’, whatever that is, is ‘ threatening’ American Christians and Churches that it will sic the US congress on them for requesting the US government follow it ‘s own laws in regard to the foreign country of Israel and it’s human right violations?

    Well the Christian leaders ain’t gonna take back their letter, it’s already signed, sealed and delivered.
    But I am all for this Council asking congress to censure American Christian Churches, any way we can encourage them to really do it? LOL

  9. traintosiberia
    October 17, 2012, 11:03 pm

    Whistle blowers are not very safe.
    The very people who have asked the Congress to look into the current congressional practices are being threatened with dire consequences by the beneficiaries openly.Thye do it knowingly that the corruption is so deep that their way of doing business will never be examined .

  10. dbroncos
    October 17, 2012, 11:51 pm

    Looks like another legislative battle is brewing over what can and cannot be said about Israel. Good. Bring it on!

  11. seafoid
    October 18, 2012, 3:50 am

    “The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was the first group to pull out the interfaith roundtable”

    I had no idea the ADL was a faith group. I thought it was a paramilitary support and funding organisation.

  12. braciole
    October 18, 2012, 4:22 am

    with “anti-Zionist activities that have found comfortable homes in [Christian] denominations,” as JCPA official Larry Gold put it.

    What is wrong with anti-Zionist activities – given the racist nature of zionism as has been practiced pretty much since its creation, being pro-zionist should be grounds for condemnation.

  13. Steve Macklevore
    October 18, 2012, 6:47 am

    This is excellent news – the Zionist Israel First crowd are shaken by this development. Hold firm churches, stay loyal to your congregations and your hearts!

  14. sandhillexit
    October 18, 2012, 7:46 am

    It would be far better if Christian church leaders continued to talk to Congress without intermediation. Congressional representatives need to hear that they have understanding and support in their community for their efforts to do the right thing. They have been subjected to intimidation, both personal and professional, for a very long time over this issue. The “Summit” sounds like a diversion to palaver (def. a long parley usually between persons of different cultures or levels of sophistication).

  15. NickJOCW
    October 18, 2012, 7:57 am

    As the temperature rises they will be withdrawing from an increasing number of organisations. The professed ‘reasons’ scarcely matter although describing Truth as “repugnant, regrettable and morally misguided” will take some beating.

  16. MHughes976
    October 18, 2012, 9:21 am

    No members of my Anglican gang among the signatories, I think. Hanging back as usual.

  17. Betsy
    October 18, 2012, 11:03 am

    J Street seems quiet on this issue. Wonder why? I emailed J Street two days ago, to ask them if they have taken an official position on this letter & if the article by Rachel Lerner (the Vice President of the J Street Education Fund) link to thedailybeast.com represents their views.

    I have heard nothing back & can’t find anything on their website. If anyone else wants to contact them, here’s info:

    For General and Press Inquiries:

    By phone: (202) 596-5207
    Email: info [at] jstreet [dot] org
    By mail: PO Box 66073, Washington, DC 20035
    Press Line: (202) 670-5397
    On Twitter: @jstreetdotorg
    On Facebook: J Street on Facebook

  18. Betsy
    October 18, 2012, 11:35 am

    As a Presbyterian, I can say that I suspect many in my faith community will be perplexed by this reaction (not to mention deeply saddened & shocked). The Oct 5 letter was making arguments on *moral & theological* grounds & was signed not by organized faith or political bodies — but by major *spiritual leaders* in faith communities. In our understanding of what is an appropriate reaction in *interfaith* dialogue — an appropriate reaction would have been on moral & theological grounds — from faith leaders who would speak from their theology, scriptures & heart.

    Instead — much of the reaction has cited ‘realpolitik’ kinds of arguments re/ the survival of one particular nation-state — (these arguments are debatable in their own sphere — many would argue that it is more practical & realistic for Israel to not be behaving as it is right now). But, they are not relevant to the question of whether it is *moral* for US elected representatives to send military aid when human rights abuses are happening. Until there is a response based on moral & theological principles, coming from respected spiritual leaders — I think many like myself, will feel that there has been a serious refusal of dialogue among peers.

    Groups that are essentially lobbying & political groups — are not relevant to this interfaith conversation. And, I don’t understand how they can claim to represent Jewish faith communities — especially if they are not behaving according to basic standards of civility & engaging the urgent moral & spiritual questions at stake.

    This letter might seem “mild” — but it’s actually, in the Reformed Protestant tradition — a strong letter — in the sense that there’s no Plan B built into it. It’s saying that our most basic moral & theological beliefs are at stake. The Reformed tradition is bound to obey the laws of the nation, until that point such laws push us to disobey God’s law. The Protestants who are trying to stay in dialogue are trying to speak in mild ways — in order to calm the waters, to encourage engagement. It takes us a long time to reach the point where we have to speak up. But, once we reach that point, we are in that “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God” kind of place — I do hope that the actual faith communities (not these trumped up, inside-the-beltway, political insider groups) understand how serious this is.

    • Rusty Pipes
      October 18, 2012, 4:19 pm

      I think you’ve hit the crux of the matter for the average mainliner in the pew:

      Until there is a response based on moral & theological principles, coming from respected spiritual leaders — I think many like myself, will feel that there has been a serious refusal of dialogue among peers.

      Groups that are essentially lobbying & political groups — are not relevant to this interfaith conversation. And, I don’t understand how they can claim to represent Jewish faith communities — especially if they are not behaving according to basic standards of civility & engaging the urgent moral & spiritual questions at stake.

      This letter might seem “mild” — but it’s actually, in the Reformed Protestant tradition — a strong letter — in the sense that there’s no Plan B built into it. It’s saying that our most basic moral & theological beliefs are at stake. The Reformed tradition is bound to obey the laws of the nation, until that point such laws push us to disobey God’s law. The Protestants who are trying to stay in dialogue are trying to speak in mild ways — in order to calm the waters, to encourage engagement. It takes us a long time to reach the point where we have to speak up. But, once we reach that point, we are in that “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God” kind of place — I do hope that the actual faith communities (not these trumped up, inside-the-beltway, political insider groups) understand how serious this is.

    • MRW
      October 21, 2012, 6:34 pm

      @Betsy,

      Although I’m not a Christian, I grew as one and among them. Boy oh boy, did you hit it square on with this:

      It takes us a long time to reach the point where we have to speak up. But, once we reach that point, we are in that “Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God” kind of place — I do hope that the actual faith communities (not these trumped up, inside-the-beltway, political insider groups) understand how serious this is.

      They are now immoveable objects. Everyone misconstrues the initial silence of these people. (I’ve been warning of it here in the comments for two years. I’ve been watching it and hearing it. There’s a codex. I have an extremely fine-tuned ear for the harumphs and trailing half-phrases. Of course, I’ve been listening in every gin joint in the western USA.) You cross the Rubicon with these people? You’re done.

      Betsy, do you like me find it highly significant that this letter was sent to the governing body of the USA demanding political action, no less, with no warning or courtesy call to the Jewish leaders? I have a sense that might represent the Rubicon, but not sure yet.

    • MRW
      October 21, 2012, 6:39 pm

      Don’t forget half of Congress goes to these prayer breakfasts.

  19. mhuizenga
    October 18, 2012, 6:27 pm

    “JCPA is considering as a response asking Congress to investigate delegitimizers of Israel and to issue a resolution against their efforts.”

    Oh brother. I’m waiting for Congress to issue a resolution against themselves- you know, for not stopping the letter from being written in the first place.

    • Rusty Pipes
      October 19, 2012, 10:11 pm

      Well, if Netanyahu demands it in his next address to Congress, they can all give him a standing ovation. But if they don’t want to wait until then, all of the mainline Protestants in congress can follow the President’s lead and throw their pastors under the bus.

  20. Les
    October 18, 2012, 7:12 pm

    The ADL crowd is expected to ask the churches to do what American synagogues do, that is to put a flag of Israel on their altars. The Christians will get to demonstrate that they believe in equality with the Jews.

  21. thetumta
    October 18, 2012, 9:15 pm

    Western Christians are about to find out what Palestinian Christians and others have known for some time. With some people, you can’t afford to turn the other cheek, you’ll just get smacked again. Get over it or forget about it. Look away.
    Hej!

  22. Nevada Ned
    October 19, 2012, 12:07 am

    I don’t know if the ADL etc. really can intimidate Congress on this issue. Normally it’s the Israel Lobby vs the pro-Palestinian movement, which is no contest. Congressional reps think, “nobody really cares about this issue except a few fanatics, and there are far more fanatics (with more clout and money) on the side of the Israel lobby than on the opposite side”.
    But this will be a showdown that pits the Israel Lobby vs a LOT of Protestant churchgoers.

    Since the Israel Lobby has thrown down the gauntlet, maybe the Protestant churches could ask Congress to see if the Lobby ought to register as agents of a foreign power, under FARA (Foreign Agents Registration Act). John Kennedy was thinking about this topic towards the end of his life.

  23. RudyM
    October 21, 2012, 4:10 pm

    This appears to be the first time the NYT has picked up on the letter, and the article is framed around the objections of Jewish leadership, naturally:

    link to nytimes.com

    “What we’re seeing is people in the mainstream Jewish community, doves and hawks, who are really feeling at a point of exhaustion,” said Mr. Felson of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

    • Annie Robbins
      October 21, 2012, 4:35 pm

      thanks for linking rudy, i noticed that article yesterday and had exactly your reaction. both in the title, the first paragraph and the number of people quoted everything was framed around the reaction of the jewish community.and weeks late too, this was the first mention of the christian leader’s letter to congress. i guess it’s just not worthy of attention until there’s enough ‘balance‘ to make it into the times. sad and disappointing.

    • MRW
      October 21, 2012, 6:10 pm

      Two weeks late. I agree with annie. But there is something else that will result from this. The flock of the 15 churches are noticing the framing, and that is going to result in two things: resolve and rising resentment. I have a great bartender, funny, starting to be informed about stuff he watches regularly on Fox. He’s also the type (which few know) who goes to his pastor to discuss problems. [Who does that anymore?] His eyes now flash over the mention of Israel. A 1000% turnaround from even a year ago. He didn’t get his I/P or Israel info from me. He’s getting it from his church!

      About the only Jewish writer picking up on this is MJ Rosenberg.

      • RudyM
        October 22, 2012, 12:51 am

        Here’s Jim Wall’s take on the NYT article:

        link to alethonews.wordpress.com

        It’s a worthwhile read, though I find his attempt to tease apart the religious and moral from the political a little muddled.

Leave a Reply