Israel lobby wants Congressional Investigation of Churches calling for restricting U.S. military aid
by Sheila Musaji
On TAM, we reported on a letter by Christian Religious leaders asking Congress to condition Israel military aid on human rights compliance. The full text of the letter is in that article. It seemed like a very reasonable request. In fact, I would like to see a consistent policy that would be consistently applied to military aid to any country in the world.
However, this letter met with a strong response from some groups in the American Jewish community. Rachel Zoll of the S.F. Chronicle reported that US Jews cancel talks with Protestants over Israel “Major American Jewish organizations said Wednesday they have cancelled talks with liberal Protestant leaders after the churches sought an investigation of U.S. military aid to Israel. The American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and Conservative and Reform Jewish movements are among those withdrawing from the national Christian-Jewish Roundtable. The dialogue group was founded in 2004 to ease tensions over escalating church protests against Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories.”
The letter has stirred up a great deal of discussion, and there are hundreds of articles discussing this issue. Israel National News reports that there are now 7 Jewish groups that have pulled out of the dialogue: The American Jewish Committee (AJC), B’nai B’rith International (BBI), Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA), Rabbinical Assembly (RA), Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism (USCJ) all joined the ADL, which had been the first Jewish group to withdraw from the dialogue.
To see just how polarized opinions are, here is an article in Commentary calling the Christian letter “nothing less than a declaration of war on the Jewish state”. And, here is an article from the Palestine Chronicle which takes an opposite position.
Here are a couple of articles that give a good background on this issue, and show how polarized the views on this controversy are, and how difficult it is to keep dialogue open.
A coalition of U.S. church groups recently made public a letter which called upon the U.S. government to condition future military aid to Israel on its fulfillment of obligations under U.S. law. The statement was intended to express criticism of Israel’s use of U.S. weapons like cluster bombs in violation of our law and noted that U.S. military assistance provided Israel a buffer against undertaking any actions to advance a just and lasting peace. For example, its settlement policy, refusal to return to 1967 borders, and refusal to share Jerusalem, all directly contradict international law and stated U.S. policy.
Though these church groups have been critical of Israeli policy in the past, threatening to lobby for withholding military aid would really cut the Israel lobby to the quick, as it’s a position held by a number of anti-Zionist groups that are much farther to the left. The fact that mainline Christian denominations, who generally support liberal Zionist positions, would be moving in a more critical direction has to be deeply concerning to the lobby.
Though they refuse to consider or acknowledge it, such a development indicates a growing alienation of American churches from Israel and the draconian positions advanced by its government. The churches are willing to lose their interfaith dialogue with the Jewish community over such an issue, which indicates how seriously they take their opposition to the Netanyahu regime.
First to lash out in anger was (typically) Abe Foxman followed by one of Israel’s leading hasbara outfits, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. It appears to be taking the lead in “handling” the BDS efforts of a number of the Christian denominations. As such, it’s a key player in Israel’s campaign against so-called “delegitimization.” Those guys at JCPA play hardball. Not content merely to criticize the churches, they lashed out at the “anti-Judaism” elements within their ranks. They used terms like “vicious anti-Zionism,” “relentless attacks on the Jewish state,” and “delegitimizers of Israel” to up the ante and level of vitriol. They also threatened to call out the Congressional dogs through mounting investigations of the groups themselves:
“JCPA is considering as a response asking Congress to investigate delegitimizers of Israel and to issue a resolution against their efforts.”
I’m not sure what this is supposed to gain the lobby. Do they think that parishioners will be mortified to find their particular denomination is called out by name in a Congressional resolution? Should these groups then call on their particular Congressional allies to respond tit for tat? Should we have a mini-religious war in the halls of Congress?
For anyone who still naively believes that J Street is a real force for progressive values regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, read M.J. Rosenberg’s devastating critique of their decision to join the Israel lobby coalition denouncing the churches. People like M.J. make the mistake (in my opinion) of calling J Street “Aipac lite.” I don’t think J Street’s allegiance is to Israel particularly. I think J Street is Obama’s Jewish wing. They are nothing more than a cover for him pursuing the Jewish vote. They never deviate from administration positions on any matter related to Israel. They attacked the Goldstone report, opposed Palestinian statehood at the UN, and now join with Israel lobby hysterics in railing against Christians for insisting that Israel obey U.S. law in its use of American weapons systems. In each of these positions they’ve betrayed progressive values, which is why they deserve support from no Jews who support a just resolution of the conflict.
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.”
[url=http://palestiniantalmud.com/2012/10/15/rabbinical-support-for-the-end-of-unconditional-military-aid-to-israel/]Rabbinical Support for the End of Unconditional Military Aid to Israel
The undersigned members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council stand with our American Christian colleagues in their recent call to “make U.S. military aid to Israel contingent upon its government’s “compliance with applicable US laws and policies.”
We are as troubled as our Christian colleagues by the human rights violations Israel commits against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of US – supplied weapons. It is altogether appropriate – and in fact essential – for Congress to ensure that Israel is not in violation of any US laws or policies that regulate the use of US supplied weapons.
The US Foreign Assistance Act and the US Arms Export Control Act specifically prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of US weapons to “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense.” The Christian leaders’ letter points out, in fact, that the most recent 2011 State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices covering Israel and the Occupied Territories detailed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of US – supplied weapons such as tear gas.
It is certainly not unreasonable to insist that foreign assistance be contingent on compliance with US laws and policies. Mideast analyst MJ Rosenberg has rightly pointed out that during this current economic downturn, Congress has been scrutinizing all domestic assistance programs - including Social Security and food stamps - to ensure that they are being carried out legally in compliance with stated US policy. Why should US military aid to Israel be exempt from the same kind of scrutiny?
While some might feel that requiring assistance to be contingent with compliance would compromise Israels security, we believe the exactly the opposite is true. As Israels primary ally, the US alone is in a place to create the kind of leverage that might challenge Israel to turn away from policies that impede the cause of a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians – and true security for all who live in the region.
As Jews we acknowledge that the signers of the letter, and the churches they represent, have ancient and continuing ties to the land of Israel just as we do, and that their concerns for the safety and dignity of Christians in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories is as compelling as our concern for the safety and dignity of Jews there.
We are troubled that several Jewish organizations have cynically attacked this faithful and sensitive call – and we are deeply dismayed that the Anti-Defamation League has gone so far as to pull out of a scheduled Jewish-Christian dialogue in protest. We believe that actions such as these run directly counter to the spirit and mission of interfaith dialogue. True dialogue occurs not simply on the areas where both parties find agreement, but in precisely those places where there is disagreement and divergence of opinion. We call on all of our Jewish colleagues to remain at the table and engage our Christian colleagues on this painful issue that is of such deep concern to both our communities.
We express our full support for the spirit and content of this statement and likewise call upon US citizens to urge their representatives to end unconditional military aid to Israel.
Signed (list in formation): Rabbi Brant Rosen, Rabbi Margaret Holub, Rabbi Alissa Wise, Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton, Rabbi Lynn Gottleib, Rabbi Brian Walt, Rabbi Julie Greenberg, Rabbi David Mivasair, Rabbi Joseph Berman, Cantor Michael Davis, Rabbi Shai Gluskin, Jessica Rosenberg, Rabbinical Student, Ari Lev Fornari, Rabbinical Student
Unconditional US military aid fuels Israeli-Palestinian violence, By Kate Gould, Friends Committee on National Legislation http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/260813-unconditional-us-military-aid-fuels-israeli-palestinian-violence