Several Jewish groups have strongly condemned a letter sent by about a dozen Christian leaders to Congress asking for an investigation into all foreign aid to Israel in light of what they refer to as Israel’s human rights and weapons’ violations.
The letter was signed by leaders of such mainstream religious groups as the Presbyterian Church U.S.A., Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, United Methodist Council of Bishops, National Council of Churches, American Friends Service Committee, Mennonite Central Committee U.S.A., Orthodox Peace Fellowship, American Baptist Churches and the United Church of Christ.
The letter was sent Friday, Oct. 5, right before Shabbat and two days before the start of two Jewish holidays.
In the two-page letter, the religious leaders wrote, “We urge an immediate investigation into the possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act which respectively prohibits assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limits the use of U.S. weapons to ‘internal security’ or ‘legitimate self-defense.’ “
Noting that they write as “Christian leaders representing U.S. churches and religious organizations committed to seeking a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians,” the signatories state they “have witnessed the pain and suffering” of both Israelis and Palestinians.
However, the letter is harsher on Israel, noting, “We have also witnessed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinians, including killing of civilians, home demolitions and forced displacement, and restrictions on Palestinian movement.” The signatories criticize Israel’s use of tear gas for crowd control and its refusal to halt settlement activity.
The Christian leaders also noted in their letter that “unconditional U.S. military assistance to Israel has contributed to this deterioration” and undermines long-term security interests. They wrote that they believe military assistance to Israel is “offered without conditions or accountability.”
Josh Block, CEO of The Israel Project, emphatically defended the money America sends to Israel, noting, “Aid to Israel is the best investment in our values - of democracy, tolerance, human rights, freedom of speech and religion - and America’s national security, that we can make.”
“Fringe elements in the Christian world are trying to pursue on the Hill what they’ve repeatedly failed to convince their own congregations to accept, which is to deprive our allies in Israel of the resources they need to defend their people, our shared values and be a beacon of freedom in a sea of instability and intolerance. This summer saw anti-Israel boycott and divestment resolutions fail in Presbyterian, Methodist, and Episcopal forums. The people behind those efforts - and this one - won’t have any more success in Congress. Instead of focusing their energy on this misguided effort, these people should be protesting the dangerous and murderous regimes in Syria and Iran, who are oppressing their people and threatening global peace and stability,” he wrote in an email to WJW.
A statement from Jewish Council for Public Affairs called the letter a “new escalation in anti-Israel activity.” It further stated that the letter “reveals their core antipathy to Israel and a cynical manipulation of facts to question American support for Israel including foreign aid.”
JCPA chair Larry Gold objected to “the singling out of Israel by the signatories,” calling that “disappointing but not surprising.”
“Although the letter acknowledges that Palestinians share some responsibility for the conflict, there is no call for investigation of Palestinian intransigence. It is telling that the call for action regarding human rights in other parts of the world is reduced to a mere footnote,” he wrote in a statement.
The Rabbinical Assembly, the international umbrella organization of Conservative rabbis, issued a six-paragraph statement on the letter which began, “The Rabbinical Assembly unequivocally rejects the call of Protestant Christian leaders for reevaluation of foreign aid to Israel, and recommends that Members of Congress do so as well.”
Rabbi Jack Moline of Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria and a director of public policy of the Rabbinical Assembly, was quoted in the statement as saying, “We fail to understand how, under the cloak of concern for human rights, the churches involved have elected to communicate such an unbalanced portrayal of the complex situation which Israel encounters daily, including a constant need to defend itself from attacks on its own people. It would seem to belie an antagonism that stands in sharp contrast with the theological professions of their outreach to the Jewish community.”
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt of Congregation B’nai Tzedek in Potomac and RA’s director of Israel advocacy, noted in that same statement that “Israel’s readiness to pursue peace is not matched by the Palestinians, yet the document seeks to assign blame only to the Jewish state for the inability to progress in the quest for peace.”
In a news release from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop, stated, “When as Lutherans we say that all the baptized will strive for justice and peace in all the earth, it means that we will be immersed in complex issues.”
He explained that the letter to Congress was written to counter Palestinian Lutherans’ discouragement about the lack of progress with the peace process. The letter is to show “that we are clear in our resolve to continue to work for a just and lasting solution for Israelis and Palestinians.”
Israel receives about $3.1 billion in annual foreign assistance from the United States.