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Jewish and Christian groups at impasse over U.S. aid to Israel

October 19, 2012

WASHINGTON

An established interfaith group is in danger of disintegrating as major American Jewish groups and prominent mainline Protestant churches differ over U.S. aid for Israel — a long-standing argument that the group was established, in part, to diffuse.

Leaders of Reform and Conservative Judaism, the American Jewish Committee, and other Jewish groups sent a letter Oct. 17 to their Christian counterparts on the Christian-Jewish Roundtable saying they would not be attending a long-planned Oct. 22-23 meeting.

At issue is an Oct. 8 letter that many Christian leaders — from the National Council of Churches, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and other denominations — sent to Congress, asking that U.S. aid to Israel be re-evaluated in light of the Jewish state’s alleged human rights violations.

Israel has long been the largest cumulative recipient of U.S. foreign assistance, almost all of which is military aid and contracts, according to the Congressional Research Service.

“As Christian leaders in the United States, it is our moral responsibility to question the continuation of unconditional U.S. financial assistance to the government of Israel,” the letter from the Christian leaders read, criticizing Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

“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.”

The Jewish groups withdrew from the planned October meeting and are now asking the Christian members of the roundtable for a different meeting: to discuss the letter and “reset the framework for ongoing dialogue.”

“There is no question in our minds that this is an unbalanced demonization of Israel completely lacking in context,” said Rabbi Noam Marans, the interfaith director at the American Jewish Committee.

“It pretends that Palestinian human rights violations do not exist, but above all, our concern is that when the world currently is focused on the Iranian nuclear threat, Christian leaders have chosen to mount another political attack on Israel,” Marans said.

Marans said he isn’t sure whether the eight-year-old roundtable will survive the congressional letter flap. “The current conversation with some Christian leaders is unacceptable and needs to change,” he said.

Representatives from the NCC, Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Methodist Church did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

  1. The Iron Dome system which your church leaders would have denied Israel has delayed, at least, a ground attack on Gaza in which many arab civilians would have died. How foolish these churchmen must feel today.

    by Shelton Ehrlich

    November 20, 2012

  2. Shocked to read in NYT that you on behalf of all of us issued such a letter to congress before a meeting with Jewish peers. No hurry as congress was not in session. Comes across as arrogant and I would say more but others have said it better. Where have our leaders been in asking congress not to fund countries who torment women and girls, who kill and persecute Christians, Jews, Hindus, minority Muslim sects, Buddhists etc. And yet you go after Israel. Certainly not a perfect country as none are. But we fund countries with terrible human rights violations. Priorites are very skewed. Very sad and disappointed. See no bravery or wisdom in this.

    by carol caruthers

    October 23, 2012

  3. Mainline Protestant denominations are in a membership death spiral. And 15 of their leaders are busy telling Congress both Israel and Arab states are guilty of human rights violations, so Congress should investigate Israel. Coincidence ? Probably not. Because it's more fun playing left wing political activist on clerical salary in the national media spotlight than tending to broken organizations. Especially when you don't have the professional skill set to turn around the decline in those organizations.

    by Tome Walters

    October 22, 2012

  4. I am proud of the prophetic leadership of the fifteen church leaders that signed the letter. As some one who has been going to Israel and the Occupied Territories since 1974 (and in 2011 spent a total of 5 weeks there), I can testify to the deteriorating human rights situation. This is not simply a Palestinian view, many Israelis are deeply concerned about the policies of the Netanyahu government. A leading Israeli human rights lawyer and expert on settlements, predicts that at the current rate of settlement expansion a "two state" solution will be impossible in the near future. Most Americans have no idea of the extent of the suffering and continued harassment of Palestinians. Justice for Palestinians is not anti-Israel. In fact it is very much in Israel's long term interest to end the occupation and to move quickly to a two state solution with a shared Jerusalem and East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.

    by John Lindner

    October 22, 2012

  5. I am very proud of our leader Rev. Gradye Parsons for taking this courageous stand on one of the most important moral issues of our time. I believe that this will actually attract young people to the PC(USA). The opinion among young people (Jewish and non-Jewish) is turning against the "Israel-is-always-right" view of the past -- to a more nuanced view that believes that *all* nations should be accountable under international law (this is the core argument in the letter signed by Rev Gradye Parsons). The letter asked our elected leaders to investigate whether there have been violations of international law & human rights in the territories Israel has occupied. (for more, see the website of the group that was established by the 2004 GA http://www.theipmn.org/) Our spiritual leaders have the obligation to ask such questions of secular authorities. The main Jewish organization which has so petulantly & insultingly pulled out of dialogue with mainline churches is a *secular* lobbying group, not a spiritual authority for our Jewish brothers & sisters in their real-life faith communities. For more on that, see http://alethonews.wordpress.com/2012/10/21/new-york-times-flacks-for-jewish-groups-against-15-major-christian-leaders/

    by BetsyTaylor

    October 22, 2012

  6. The PCUSA is doing a fantastic job of driving away more membership by their foray into what's good and bad for Israel. One would think they might be concerned about shrinking membership rather than becoming one of the unheard voices on the political scene. With all Israel's neighbors clamoring for their eradication from earth makes one ponder who we are in 2012 and will we exist as a church in the near future. Count me as one who has begun the search for another denomination. I'm embarrassed to tell my Jewish friends that I belong to what has become a fringe group.

    by Robert Spencer

    October 21, 2012

  7. I hope that the Jewish groups that are so frustrated with mainline Protestanism realize that this is an opportunity to reach out and associate insteadwith Evangelical Protestants, who actually understand the situation in the Middle East and haven't completely lost their minds and their theological moorings.

    by Joe Duffus

    October 19, 2012

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