Church denominations stand strong in the face of Jewish establishment uproar over letter to Congress

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Jewish & Christian advocates for peace and divestment from the Israeli occupation at the Methodist General Conference, April 24, 2012 (Photo: Jewish Voice for Peace)

When 15 leaders of Christian denominations sent a letter (pdf) to Congress earlier this month asking for an investigation into whether military aid to Israel complies with U.S. law, the Jewish organizational world reacted with fury.

Jewish establishment groups pulled out of a planned interfaith dialogue scheduled for late October, pressured church leaders to attend a “summit” in lieu of the interfaith dialogue and flung around accusations of anti-Semitism. The vice-president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Ethan Felson, threatened to ask Congress to investigate “delegitimizers” of Israel.

But the pressure hasn’t worked. Interviews with people involved with Palestine solidarity work inside church denominations and other advocates reveal that the Christian denominations have no intention of backing down from their stance. No response has yet been forthcoming to the invitation for a high-level official “summit,” and a collective response to the invitation and the charges from the Jewish establishment is being drafted.  The fact that the pressure hasn’t worked could be significant to the prospects of Christian denominations having a strong voice on Israel/Palestine in the years to come as the situation on the ground continues to deteriorate.

“The significance of these courageous 15 church leaders calling on Congress to hold Israel accountable for its misuse of U.S. weapons to commit human rights abuses of Palestinians cannot be overstated. Until now, this demand was largely constricted to the margins of the political debate, but now it is moving to the mainstream,” wrote Josh Ruebner, National Advocacy Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, in an e-mail. “The taboo now has been broken and the Israel lobby, as evidenced by its hysterical reaction to the letter, is quite evidently concerned that U.S. aid to Israel will now become a debatable topic on Capitol Hill.”

The Christian denominations who signed the letter also received a boost from the Carter Center, who “commended” the letter that “urged Congress to investigate human rights violations by Israelis against Palestinians that are obviously in violation of U.S. law.”

The letter that sparked the fracas is relatively mild. Sent to every member of Congress, it called for “an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act.” Church leaders noted that those 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.’” The letter goes on to “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.”

Included among the signers were Rev. Gradye Parsons of the Presbyterian Church; Mark Hanson of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Geoffrey Black of the United Church of Christ; and more. The issue of military aid to Israel and its compliance with U.S. law has been a priority for church denominations for over a year at least.

“The letter is just as big as, or even bigger, than divestment, just because of the number of institutions that are involved and the basic argument is just investigate human rights violations, and that’s very simple,” said a source involved in drafting the letter to Congress. “And why not? It’s very hard to argue against that. We basically told the truth, and that’s why there’s a reaction.”

The strong stance in the face of the uproar from mainstream Jewish groups is all the more significant when you look at past interfaith flare-ups. As Presbyterian advocates tried to get their church to divest from companies doing business with the Israeli military in 2004, Jewish establishment groups reacted with outrage. One outcome of that outrage was a group of church leaders agreeing to hold an interfaith dialogue with members of the Jewish establishment. Now, groups like the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Anti-Defamation League are boycotting the interfaith dialogue because of the letter to Congress.

But the interfaith dialogue was already on rocky ground. Some Christian members who participated in the dialogue found it to be frustrating. Rather than a forum to discuss common ground as well as the Israel/Palestine issue, it turned into one where Jewish leaders brought up alleged anti-Semitism within churches.

“Interfaith dialogue has always been nothing more than a device used by American Jewish groups to intimidate the American churches into keeping the ecumenical deal,” wrote James Wall, an ordained United Methodist clergy person and an editor at The Christian Century magazine, a left-leaning Protestant publication, in a recent blog post.

Another reason why the church leaders have no intention of backing down is due to the stated policy positions of these denominations on Israel/Palestine. While always acknowledging Israel’s right to exist in security, church denominations have voted on resolutions that make it church policy to call on the U.S. to look into whether military aid helps the situation on the ground or violates the law.

For instance, after the letter was published, a group called Presbyterians for Middle East Peace told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that “we know there’s a very small, very vocal group in the Presbyterian Church that wants to see Israel punished…We think we represent the 70 percent of Presbyterians polled in 2009 who said that maintaining a strong diplomatic and military relationship with Israel should be a U.S. priority.” But that ignores the fact, as the Presbyterian Church’s Parsons noted in a statement, that in 2010 a resolution with similar intent to the letter to Congress was passed at the Presbyterian general assembly. That 2010 resolution calls for “the allocation of U.S. military aid funds to be contingent on compliance” with laws like the U.S. Arms Export Control Act of 1976. That policy was reaffirmed at the 2012 general assembly.

One source involved with the letter told Mondoweiss that in 2004, as the Presbyterians voted to institute a process of divestment from corporations doing business with Israel, there were “some who were isolated and picked off. Presbyterians were made the poster child of what not to do and so all the other denominations were afraid because of the backlash they faced.”

Now, the source said, “everyone is committed to what the letter states.” While it is a different issue this time around–military aid and compliance with U.S. law rather than the more controversial divestment issue–the stance could mean more action from churches on the Israel/Palestine front in the years to come.

About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist and graduate student at New York University's Near East Studies and Journalism programs. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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40 Responses

  1. HeresJohnny
    November 1, 2012, 10:25 pm

    If South Africa had the same control that Israel has on the US government and the media, it would still be an apartheid state.

  2. W.Jones
    November 1, 2012, 11:43 pm

    Alex,

    You quoted:
    “Interfaith dialogue has always been nothing more than a device used by American Jewish groups to intimidate the American churches into keeping the ecumenical deal”.

    The deal isn’t actually “ecumenical”, since they see themselves as two different religions. Rather, it would be an “interfaith” deal.

    In any case, what would be the topics for the dialogue?
    Whether anti-semitism is bad? I assume they would agree on that.
    The I/P conflict?

    • Pamela Olson
      November 2, 2012, 7:32 am

      I believe the “ecumenical deal” refers to something generally agreed upon (tacitly or otherwise) among Christian denominations for a long time, so I think this wording is accurate.

    • Boston
      November 2, 2012, 8:01 am

      I would assume there was only one topic of discussion in the “dialogue”. And that is how anti-semitic the Christians have been historically, how they are responsible for the Holocaust, and how they will be responsible for another Holocaust if they do not support without question any actions by Israel and the Jewish establishment groups

      • W.Jones
        November 7, 2012, 12:55 am

        Boston,

        According to Wikipedia’s article on “Christian-Jewish reconciliation”, you have mentioned major themes. The Wikipedia article mentions other themes as:
        (1)From the Christian side: whether Christians can include Jews amongst those whom they can try to persuade about Christian beliefs. (“groups such as the Anti-Defamation League have stated that attempts to convert Jews are anti-semitic and have directly compared those efforts to the holocaust.”) Actually, if someone think that his/her religious beliefs strongly help people and decides to cut off an ethnicity from those beliefs, it would seem discriminatory to me. I heard the British actually avoided evangelizing the starving Irish to Protestantism because then they would have to take care of them.
        (2)From the Jewish side: whether Jesus only wanted to convert gentiles to the Noachide laws while just continuing to have Jews follow the Torah.

    • Annie Robbins
      November 2, 2012, 9:46 am

      w.jones, if you open the ‘james wall’ link alex has provided in the text there are a few paragraphs referencing the ‘deal’, summed up here:

      The kicker in the Marc Ellis description of the “ecumenical deal” was the understanding that Israel always would be off limits to religious criticism by the churches. Essentially, the deal was this: We work together, but you leave Israel alone.

      it’s also instructive wrt the meaning of ‘interfaith':

      The Times failed to explain that the “Jewish groups” that are attacking the 15 Christian leaders, are being directed by a secular organization, the Jewish Council of Public Affairs (JCPA). The Times does not distinguish between religious Jews and political Zionist Jews, a fatal flaw in its coverage. How secular is the JCPA? You be the judge.

      ………

      “To dedicate ourselves to the safety and security of the state of Israel” is not biblical, my friends, it is political. The Times should say so. Instead it puts the JCPA, a secular public affairs organization, under the same umbrella as the rabbis and the 15 Christian church leaders.

      The planned Monday interfaith dialogue meeting was canceled by the JCPA, a secular organization.

      • Mooser
        November 2, 2012, 12:08 pm

        Good explanation of the “deal” Annie, thanks.

  3. FreddyV
    November 2, 2012, 5:50 am

    Irrespective of denomination, it’s almost impossible to honestly square the occupation with Christianity’s teachings.

    Of those denominations that do, you generally find a patterns. Selective reading, transposition of ancient scriptures to modern day events and ‘fortune cookie’ Bible study. ‘I asked God to show me an answer, so I randomly opened my Bible and came to…’. This one is particularly interesting in light of the I/P conflict as pretty much all of the Christian Bible is filled with verses relating to Israel.

    I think these denominations are showing conscience, honesty, and more importantly, maturity to stand up for what they know is right and correct according to their beliefs, irrespective of the names being thrown at them.

    • piotr
      November 2, 2012, 10:57 pm

      The same people include congresscritters attending workshop on “Biblically correct tax policy”, though shall not tax capital gains etc. And of course the right to carry concealed weapons. What heat would Jesus pack? People square whatever religion they ostensibly treat seriously with whatever preconceived notions they have.

      And this “tea party religion” is on the prowl to hate someone. Minority of color are not an acceptable target anymore, and gays are few, and also, increasingly accepted. “War of Judeo-Christian civilization with Islamic fascism” is feeling an important need. But Venezuela can do it in a pinch. Or France.

      Actually, Hollande makes me reconsider the issue of “freedom fries”. Perhaps not such a bad idea…

  4. Pamela Olson
    November 2, 2012, 6:54 am

    The bullying just isn’t working like it used to. Welcome to a brave new world! (In a good sense.)

  5. Erasmus
    November 2, 2012, 7:37 am

    Chapeau to these 15 Church Leaders and their congregations

    These Church leaders deserve praise and support for their stance – without qualification.
    I do find it particularly noteworthy and shameful that the Roman Catholic cardinals + bishops are nopart in it – theirs seems to be to remain conspicuously silent!!
    What Gospel do they have ?

    • Ellen
      November 2, 2012, 7:34 pm

      Erasmus, maybe they are afraid and besides, it could only hurt the message. The Roman Catholic church institution remains an easy target of scorn and ridicule for much of the American public. They will be damned if the do and damned if they don’t.

      I am only guessing, but the Church dominations may not have sought, nor desired a sign on by Bishops or Cardinals of the Church so as not to give opportunity to deflect their important message.

      • Rusty Pipes
        November 3, 2012, 2:44 pm

        There are two separate issues here: why did some leaders join in this letter and why did some others, especially those with affiliated churches in the Holy Land, not sign on? The Roman Catholic hierarchy is in the second category. A couple of leaders of RC orders are in the first category.

        An obvious reason that some leaders are in the first category is that they have been working together on I/P issues (and many other justice issues) for decades and have a fair sense of where they are all on the same page. Many of them are part of the National Council of Churches (Eastern Orthodox and Protestant Churches are part of the NCC, the Roman Catholic Church is not). Many of these Protestant Churches have worked together, joined by several RC orders, on pushing shareholder resolutions related to various justice issues, including I/P. Several of these denominations are also part of the Interfaith “dialogue” group that was organized after the PC(USA)’s actions related to selective engagement/divestment. They could sign on to a statement that opened:

        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.

        But there are other American churches that have connections to the Holy Land, in fact represent the majority of Palestinian Christians, whose hierarchy did not sign on to this letter (in spite of the participation of RC orders and the Orthodox Peace Fellowship): Anglican, Armenian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Melkite Greek Catholic, Roman Catholic. Their priests are regularly spat upon in Jerusalem. Their functioning churches and monasteries are vandalized. Their abandoned churches in Israel ’48 villages are inaccessible to Palestinian Christians in Israel and are prevented from being repaired. Their clergy, both Palestinian and international, have been harassed by Israel, prevented from entering or threatened with deportation. Their property, especially in East Jerusalem, has been confiscated by Israel. No church hierarchy is perfect and each of these denominations has a complicated history. Still, it is puzzling that so little organized protest has come from the hierarchy or sister churches of these historic Churches (especially in the case of the Episcopalians, where the church body voted for a measure like the one advocated by the leaders’ letter, but the Bishop not only neglected to sign on to it, but wrote a contradictory letter). The American leadership of several of these Churches have not been shy about making statements about other social and political issues over the decades — so their silence here is deafening.

      • NickJOCW
        November 3, 2012, 4:12 pm

        Ellen, Cardinals and Bishops are certainly not afraid. Like Erasmus above, you misunderstand Roman Catholicism. Firstly, it is a vertical structure; there is God and then the Pope, his appointed representative on Earth, followed by layers of administrative authority all the way down to the parish priest and congregations numbering over six thousand million. The Cardinals and Bishops have vowed subservience to Papal authority. It is therefore only the Pope who determines what position the Church takes on any issue. This is unsympathetic to Americans who prefer more horizontal arrangements wherein everyone has a say. I make no value judgement in explaining this; the Roman Catholic religion offers a spiritual journey though the vicissitudes of this life; those who are happy to take it, take it, those who are not are under no compulsion to do so, but they should perhaps desist from criticising what they do not understand. Aside from decrying the soul destroying inhumanities perpetrated in Palestine, which the Roman Catholic Church does, she has no more responsibility towards it than the New York Transit Authority. Individual Catholics may help individual Palestinians just as many individual Europeans, both Catholic and Protestant, helped Jewish victims in WWII, but that is for each his or her own decision.

      • Rusty Pipes
        November 4, 2012, 7:39 pm

        Whether the US Catholic Bishops send letters to Congress or sign on to ecumenical letters, they frequently make statements about national and international issues. Between 2000 and 2003, they issued several statements about the Middle East, a few of them related to Israel and Palestine or Lebanon. They have been much less vocal on this subject in recent years. Obviously, they have been bogged down by internal challenges within the US Church — but is this the only reason that they have given less attention to the Middle East lately?

    • NickJOCW
      November 3, 2012, 7:55 am

      Erasmus, The letter to Congress was a Presbyterian initiative. The Roman Catholic Church condemns all injustice and inhumanity but it is not her function to involve herself in local secular political matters such letters to the US Congress, however worthy.

  6. pabelmont
    November 2, 2012, 7:40 am

    The church leaders while “always acknowledging Israel’s right to exist in security” have (presumably) been silent as to what territory they believe Israel has a right to be “secure” within.

    Israel, by the evidence of its land-confiscation, settlement-making, and claimed “annexations”, does not regard the borders of 1966 as its own permanent borders or as likely borders to be negotiated with the Palestinians (and Lebanon and Syria).

    The churches should make clear and explicit what territory they believe Israel has a right to (and a right to be secure within) unless they wish to support an expansive Israel. If they believe that Israel can be secure within a territory smaller than that of 1966, they should say so, loud and clear.

    And if they believe that the Zionist terrorism (1945 — 5/1948) which expelled Britain and many Palestinians, and the Zionist state-terrorism and warfare (5/1948 — present) which completed the expelling and (as it turned out) established the permanent exile of 85% of the Palestinians living in the territory which Israel seized by threat and use of terrorism and war (contrary to the UN Charter, which Israel had not yet signed), then perhaps the churches should TALK ABOUT THAT HISTORY and revisit their seemingly unthinking assurance of Israel’s right to be secure. At a minimum, it might make a few people think about an issue that’s been swept under the rug for far too long.

    And since they are asserting Israel’s right to be secure, they should talk about whatever rights they believe the Palestinian people to have, rights to territory and rights to security. The Palestinians are not the people “of a lesser God”.

    • Betsy
      November 2, 2012, 10:07 am

      Of course, there’s a recognition of Palestinian rights to territory, security & a deep respect for Palestinian people’s relationships to God! That has been said again & again by the PC(USA) over the decades. Here’s a study guide which the Presbyterian Middle East Monitoring Group put together for congregations to study the issue link to pcusa.org

      Other key Presbyterian Church (USA) positions can be found here link to presbyterianmission.org

      Basically, the churches position is that — on the secular level — UN resolutions & international law should be followed. On the spiritual level, God’s call is to respect the dignity of each person as created in God’s image & for peace & justice — no exceptions.

  7. ckg
    November 2, 2012, 8:02 am

    The Jewish Council for Public Affairs and the Anti-Defamation League can take some comfort in knowing that there are many Christians who believe that Sandy was divine punishment for the U.S. applying pressure on Israel. Maybe the JCPA and ADL can help settle the debate raging among their favored wing of Christianity as to whether Sandy was punishment for criticizing Israel or for LGBTQ-tolerance.

    • braciole
      November 2, 2012, 9:47 am

      Why is there nobody claiming that Sandy was divine punishment for the United States for supporting Israel? It seems to me that the United States spends far more time, money, and effort supporting Israel than it does applying pressure to Israel. There must be some Neturei Karta rabbis who would offer quotes on this. At the very least, it would piss off Abe Foxman.

  8. Nevada Ned
    November 2, 2012, 8:42 am

    The 15 Christian leaders ought to proclaim that they’re having an “interfaith dialog” with the Jewish Voice for Peace and similar groups, since the big hawkish Jewish groups are not interested. And JVP (etc.) ought to conduct a membership drive to get more members.

    Writers at Mondoweiss are always saying that AIPAC, ADL, JINSA etc do not represent all of American Jews. Now’s the time to see whether or not American Jews, disillusioned with the hawks, are willing to join JVP.

    A pessimist would say that many American Jews aren’t going to join any group having to do with the I/P issue.

    • Betsy
      November 2, 2012, 10:11 am

      Here’s the official response to Jewish Voice for Peace from Presbyterian Church
      link to pcusa.org

      “The National Committee of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship has voted unanimously to give its Peaceseeker Award for 2013 to Jewish Voice for Peace and the Israel/Palestine Mission Network.

      The joint interfaith award recognizes Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and the Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for their courageous work for justice and peace in Palestine and Israel and for their prophetic witness to the Presbyterian denomination at the 220th General Assembly in Pittsburgh last summer.

      The Peaceseeker Award has traditionally recognized Presbyterians on the front lines of reducing war and violence, beginning with the first award to General Assembly Stated Clerk William P. Thompson in 1970. The 2013 award will be formally presented at the Peace Breakfast sponsored by the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship in June 2014, during the 221st General Assembly in Detroit.

      “In making this award to a Jewish organization,” said PPF Co-Moderator the Rev. Libby Shannon, “the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship recognizes all those in the Jewish community who see the injustice of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and who have the courage to stand up against powerful forces of prejudice and violence. Jewish Voice for Peace carries forth the faithful witness of the biblical prophets. The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship celebrates their work of nonviolence in the face of violence.”

      Jewish Voice for Peace is a national U.S.-based organization of Jews dedicated to ending the occupation of Palestine. They provide leadership across the country, showing great courage and commitment in their bold effort to hold the State of Israel, Jewish and Christian communities, and the U.S. government accountable to the fundamental justice values of those faiths and nations. For more information, see http://www.jvp.org

      The award co-recipient, the Israel Palestine Mission Network, has grown quickly to become one of the most important witnesses for peace and justice in the PC(USA). “The Israel/Palestine Mission Network,” says Peace Fellowship Executive Director Rick Ufford-Chase, “has worked without ceasing for more than seven years, showing energy, intelligence, imagination, and love as they have listened to the voices of Christians, Muslims and Jews in Palestine and Israel, who cry out for an end to the occupation and the establishment of the things that make for peace. We are grateful to consider them our partners, our teachers and our leaders.”

      The IPMN is one of several dozen denominational networks that bring together local Presbyterian church members across the U.S. who share mission concerns in a common region of the world.

      The IPMN members study and visit the region and have led efforts in the PC(U.S.A.) to boycott products produced by Israeli companies in the illegally occupied settlements in Palestine, as well to call the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to refrain from profiting from investments in corporations that help the Israeli government enforce the now four-decade old occupation. For more information, see http://www.theipmn.org

      In July 2012, the 220th General Assembly of the PC(U.S.A.) voted to call Presbyterians to boycott Israeli products produced in the illegally occupied territories. The action to divest from three U.S. corporations profiting from the occupation failed narrowly. The work of Jewish Voice for Peace and the Israel/Palestine Mission Network will continue in this historic effort to end the occupation and to find a fair and peaceful resolution to the conflict.

      Also supporting that goal, the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship is a national community of Presbyterians founded in 1944 to act on the gospel of the nonviolence by working to reduce war and violence in the world. For more information, see http://www.presbypeacefellowship.org

  9. just
    November 2, 2012, 9:01 am

    Stand strong, and thank you.

  10. Betsy
    November 2, 2012, 9:09 am

    @Alex — very problematic to cite the so-called “Presbyterians for Middle East Peace”! they do NOT actually represent 70% of the Presbyterian Church (USA)! You might should rewrite that part — it misrepresents the facts.

    The official work of the church re/ Israel / Palestine can be found here under the Office for the Middle East: link to presbyterianmission.org — this is by far the best place to go to get official views & news re/ PC(USA) on Israel/Palestine.

    And there is a very important & influential educational & action network which was established by the governing body of the church– the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the PC(USA)! link to theipmn.org

    If you compare the websites — the difference will jump out at you. The so-called “Presbyterians for Middle East Peace” link to pfmep.org has no official mandate from the national democratic governance structures of the church — and you will hear all sorts of hasbara echoes throughout it. It’s made up of people who work closely with pro-Israel Jewish establishment & seem (as far as I can tell) to have little to do with Palestinians. The Israel Palestine Mission Network’s site is more data rich, and draws its reports & content from numerous study groups & projects — and some of the most distinguished people in the church (in terms of education, experience, standing on Middle East issues).

    Here’s the mission statement of the Israel Palestine Mission Network link to theipmn.org

    “In joyful obedience to the call of Christ, and in solidarity with churches and our other partners in the Middle East, this network covenants to engage, consolidate, nourish, and channel the energy in the Presbyterian Church (USA) toward the goal of a just peace in Israel /Palestine by facilitating education, promoting partnerships, and coordinating advocacy. Our network speaks TO the Church not FOR the Church.

    Established by action of the 2004 General Assembly, the Israel/Palestine Mission Network encourages congregations and presbytery mission committees, task groups and other entities, toward specific mission goals that will create currents of wider and deeper involvement with Israel/Palestine. Though our mandate establishes a Palestine Mission Network to advocate for Palestinian rights, we believe our efforts are in the interests of both Israelis and Palestinians and for this reason, have included both peoples in the name of our network. Additionally, Israel (under 1967 borders) is home to over a million Palestinians who we also advocate for.

    As our mandate calls for, we seek to demonstrate solidarity, educate about the facts on the ground, and change the conditions that erode the humanity of both Israelis and Palestinians, especially those who are living under occupation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.

    We work in close cooperation with ecumenical partners and with the Office for the Middle East, the Presbyterian Peacemaking Program, the Presbyterian Washington Office, the Presbyterian UN Office and with other appropriate entities of the General Assembly and General Assembly Mission Council.

    The Israel/Palestine Mission Network is an opportunity for Presbyterians throughout the country and at all levels of the church to coordinate ongoing efforts and discover new ones. Ultimately, we aim to support our church partners in Palestine to:

    Strengthen Christian social institutions

    Create jobs and promote economic development

    Maintain schools and hospitals

    Enable affordable and safe housing for Palestine

    We unite our efforts through this Network, praying for the Holy Spirit’s bold guidance in our work for peace and justice. Please continue to view our web site, learn more about our activities, and how you might get involved.”

    I KNOW THIS IS ALL CONFUSING FOR NON-PRESBYTERIANS — BUT WE ARE A DEMOCRATICALLY STRUCTURED COMMUNITY — SO LOTS OF ORGANIZATIONAL LAYERS…

    • Annie Robbins
      November 2, 2012, 10:25 am

      hi betsy, thanks for the link to Israel Palestine Mission Network of the PC(USA). . i went to their home page and poked around a little bit and found this reference to the letter. link to pcusa.org

      since one of the signatories of the letter (the very first actually) is the Stated Clerk of the General Assembly Presbyterian Church (USA) and neither links indicate any distancing by PC(USA) from letter, it’s safe to assume it’s fairly representative of the majority. here is yet another link from PC(USA)’s general assembly communications coordinator

      link to pcusa.org

      On October 5, 2012, leaders of 15 Christian churches and organizations – including Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly Stated Clerk, the Reverend Gradye Parsons – joined together to sign and send a letter to Congress calling for a reconsideration of unconditional military aid to Israel. The Presbyterian News Service story, containing the complete text of the letter, is found here.

      An official response by Rev. Parsons to those who have communicated with him about the letter is found below. The Stated Clerk’s statement outlines the explicit actions from the past two General Assemblies that directed him to send such a letter to Congress.

      i do not think it is unusual for a fringe group to claim they represent the majority (it’s a tactic actually), and alex wrote But that ignores the fact that the resolution was passed by the general assembly. it sounds a bit to me like the JTA was seeking out a fringe group using inflammatory rhetoric to buttress their claim.

      • Rusty Pipes
        November 2, 2012, 12:11 pm

        Just to clarify, the only official response of the PC(USA) comes either from the General Assembly or from the Stated Clerk, Gradye Parsons. It’s the Stated Clerk’s job to interpret the Church’s laws and General Assembly actions. IPMN and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship are activist groups that support the work of our Middle East mission workers and the previous actions of the GA. PFMEP is an activist group that opposes the actions of the GA and seeks to undermine the voices of our mission workers about the facts on the ground. PFMEP (whose words are more about Middle East Pacification or Platitudes than Peace) is the latest incarnation of a network of Presbyterian soft Christian Zionists. “Hard” Christian Zionism, the Rushdoonie kind that dreams of Apocalyptic ends through the ingathering of Jews in Israel, was declared a heresy (very un-Calvinist) for Presbyterians by the General Assembly in 2004. But the PC(USA) has many of what Stephen Zunes and Rosemary Ruether have described as Soft Christian Zionists — soft in its basis in sentimentality for Sunday school images of the Holy Land and in its shallow depth of support for Israel. PFMEP tailors its message for low-information Soft Christian Zionists in the pew and works to prevent their childhood image of the Holy Land being disrupted by reality-based information about modern Israel.

      • Betsy
        November 2, 2012, 2:35 pm

        @Rusty Pipes — thanks. This is very helpful.

      • Betsy
        November 2, 2012, 2:02 pm

        @Annie — exactly right.

  11. braciole
    November 2, 2012, 9:40 am

    The Zionists are losing supporters across the board – British Zionist, Denis Macshane MP, known for defining expressing opposition to Israel’s policies as anti-Semitism, has been forced to resign following corruption charges.
    link to guardian.co.uk

  12. Betsy
    November 2, 2012, 9:48 am

    For instance, after the letter was published, a group called Presbyterians for Middle East Peace told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that “we know there’s a very small, very vocal group in the Presbyterian Church that wants to see Israel punished…We think we represent the 70 percent of Presbyterians polled in 2009 who said that maintaining a strong diplomatic and military relationship with Israel should be a U.S. priority.”

    @Alex — this sentence is deeply misleading because the so-called “Presbyterians for Middle East” set up a false dichotomy. They claim to represent 70% of Presbyterians who were polled as wanting a strong diplomatic & military US / Israel relationship — but the church has consistently supported a strong relationship w/ Israel & emphasized Israel’s right to security & peace. So, this is a meaningless statement. 70% of Presbyterians do not participate in, or speak thro PME. On the other side of their false dichotomy — is a completely fictive faction who are described as “wanting to punish Israel”. I do not know what this means. I’ve never heard a Presbyterian say anything like this. Do they mean the call for Israel to follow international law? Do they mean the subtle & gentle call in the 2004 “Tearing down the Walls” document that called for repentence on all sides (including US citizens), but noted concerns about human rights abuses, displacements & hardships caused by Israel in the Occupation? At best, their characterization of a small minority wanting to “punish Israel” is crude caricature. At worst, it is simply made up.

    Finally, the church is pretty consistently against military solutions to anything — feeling that to be incompatible with Jesus’ teachings — so, the ‘strong military’ part of their statement sounds against the church’s core teachings & statements.

    @Alex — thanks for your usual terrific journalism — but I think this one paragraph is not up to your usual standards of accuracy & you might consider revising it to more accurately lead people to the official & majority activities & positions of PC(USA) democratic governance.

  13. Dan Crowther
    November 2, 2012, 9:54 am

    “we can’t pray for peace, and invest in violence”

    Ummm, are you not U.S. taxpayers?

    • CloakAndDagger
      November 2, 2012, 7:10 pm

      Churches are tax-exempt. :-)

    • Rusty Pipes
      November 3, 2012, 4:42 pm

      Re: “we can’t pray for peace, and invest in violence”

      While not an historic Peace Church (like the Quakers, Mennonites and Brethren), the PC(USA) did adopt an initiative over 30 years ago regarding peacemaking that includes divesting from weapons manufacturers. In fact it is the structure that the Presbyterians put in place around 30 years ago to create a process of determining whether our investments complied with our policies about weapons and how to take steps with those companies, that put Presbyterians in a good position to target a few companies in which we hold stock that are complicit in the occupation.

      Re: “Ummm, are you not U.S. taxpayers?”

      Church members pay taxes as much as any other citizen and also have concerns about how those taxes are spent.

  14. atime forpeace
    November 2, 2012, 10:06 am

    Gentle as doves, wise as serpents.

    Congratulations to the churches that stand strong.

  15. seafoid
    November 2, 2012, 10:26 am

    link to haaretz.com

    Life isn’t simple for Scottish Zionists, either. “We were always very strong Zionist left-wingers here,” says Mervyn Lovat, a lecturer at Glasgow Business School, “but it’s getting more and more difficult to be supportive of Israel, especially since two of my sons moved there. I just can’t understand why they [Israel] do those things.”

    Says Nick Black, a member of the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council: “You have to support Israel, whatever it does, because if you criticize here in Scotland, there will be those who exploit what you say.”

  16. Les
    November 2, 2012, 11:22 am

    Better late than never, but still “Christians” are very very late in coming to the defense of their Palestinian brethren.

    • Rusty Pipes
      November 3, 2012, 6:26 pm

      Mainline Protestant mission workers have been reporting the facts on the ground back to American Churches since the 40’s. Most mainline Protestant churches have made many statements over the decades supporting UN actions and peace between Israelis and Palestinians. These have been ignored within American society for the most part.

      In 2004, when the PC(USA) took its first action related to divestment, the Church supported four mission workers in Israel/Palestine. Since that time, Israel has made it next to impossible for the PC(USA) to get its mission workers (especially experienced ones) stationed in Palestine — our last one had to shift his operations to Jordan. Other mainliners have also had problems with keeping their mission workers in Palestine in the past decade. Israel doesn’t want experienced mission workers reporting back to mainline denominations what they are seeing.

  17. lysias
    November 2, 2012, 11:46 am

    But that ignores the fact, as the Presbyterian Church’s Parsons noted in a statement, that in 2010 a resolution with similar intent to the letter to Congress was passed at the Presbyterian general assembly. That 2010 resolution calls for “the allocation of U.S. military aid funds to be contingent on compliance” with laws like the U.S. Arms Export Control Act of 1976. That policy was reaffirmed at the 2012 general assembly.

    I take it that is a reference to the Symington Amendment of 1976, which is codified as part of the Arms Export Control Act:

    The Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 was amended by the Symington Amendment (Section 669 of the FAA) in 1976. It banned U.S. economic, and military assistance, and export credits to countries that deliver or receive, acquire or transfer nuclear enrichment technology when they do not comply with IAEA regulations and inspections. This provision, as amended, is now contained in Section 101 of the Arms Export Control Act (AECA).

  18. mig
    November 2, 2012, 7:29 pm

    @Les

    Maybe they are past /tired of this anti-semite BS finally.

  19. douglasreed
    November 2, 2012, 7:50 pm

    What these leaders of the various Christian churches in the US have omitted to say is that Israel by its policy of illegal settlement in the occupied territories, that is funded and supported by America, is leading the free world into a horrific nuclear war that will escalate from the Middle East into Europe. Unfortunately, the US now appears to have lost any control over the Israeli state which is estimated to possess up to 400 nuclear warheads and other WMD.

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