Three Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Middle East advocacy groups have called for a halt to what they say is “the misuse of the grand jury process” by the U.S. Department of  Justice (DOJ) and the FBI after nine federal grand jury subpeonas were served to Chicago-area Palestinian solidarity activists in December.

According to the Israel Palestine Mission Network (IPMN)  — which was created by the 2004 General Assembly to do advocacy and education and support PC(USA) mission personnel in the region as well as denominational partners —  the National Middle East Presbyterian Caucus (NMEPC) and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, the Chicago subpoenas bring to 23 the number of summons given to pro-Palestinian peace activists by the DOJ in recent months.

“The IPMN, NMEPC [and PPF] call upon its own denominational leadership, as well as Churches for Middle East Peace, the National Council of Churches of Christ and all concerned Christian denominations to join them in denouncing the DOJ's bold attempts to suppress peaceful dissent on the part of those working for an end to the illegal Israeli occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” the groups said in a Jan. 18 press release distributed by Religion News Service.

Jeff Story, a Chicago attorney and IPMN member is quoted in the release saying: “The time for all Americans to speak up about these encroachments on our constitutional right to dissent is now.  We must not wait until Presbyterians who are Palestinian solidarity peacemakers receive the 'knock on the door.’”

Story, who is also a member of the National Lawyers Guild Free Palestine Subcommittee, adds that Christians “to our discredit, did not adequately raise the alarm when the DOJ politically prosecuted Muslim charities and mosques in the recent past" and that "our present response is long overdue.”

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling last June on “material support” for terrorism has enabled the DOJ to conduct these raids, the groups allege, “armed with an extremely broad definition of what constitutes ‘material support.’”

In their release the three groups charge that the DOJ subpoenas from Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald “are an infringement on the First Amendment, which upholds the right of free speech, protest and free assembly — one of our most basic rights as Americans.”

The 2010 General Assembly in Minneapolis last July called upon the United States government, “to exercise strategically its international influence, including making U.S. aid to Israel contingent upon Israel’s compliance with international law and peacemaking efforts.”  

The Rev. Jeffrey DeYoe, advocacy chairperson for the IPMN, adds:  “As the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and other denominations begin to take courageous stands against U.S. military support of violations of human rights in the [occupied Palestinian territories], all Christians should be concerned about judicial efforts to silence fellow citizens opposing unjust policy.”  

Of special concern, DeYoe says, are DOJ demands that activists in the U.S. be forced to reveal names of those who seek peaceful change in Palestine — a process advocacy groups describe as a “fishing expedition” in which the DOJ looks for ways to prosecute activists without legal grounds.

“The IPMN, NMEPC [and PPF] are deeply concerned that solidarity activists, through this misuse of the grand jury process, may soon be facing imprisonment for refusing to allow themselves to be compelled to name names of fellow activists here at home, and in the occupied territories,” the press release states. 

“If this process is carried forward and church workers are similarly subpoenaed,” it concludes,  “this could threaten partnerships between American churches and Palestinian Christians striving for justice.”

Information for this story furnished by the Rev. Jeff DeYoe, a member of IPMN.