The October 4 ecumenical letter to the U.S. Congress from 15 mostly old-line Protestant bureaucrats warning against U.S. military aid for Israel absent “immediate investigation” of Israeli human rights abuses continues to stir controversy. The letter from United Methodist, Presbyterian Church (USA), Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and other clerics of course was uninterested in any potential human rights abuses by the Palestinian recipients of U.S. aid. Seven major U.S. Jewish groups cancelled an October scheduled interfaith dialogue with these denominations in protest. The Jimmy Carter Center has since endorsed the ecumenical anti-Israel appeal, naturally. And anti-Israel Episcopalians are imploring their denomination’s Presiding Bishop, who notably declined to sign the appeal, to reconsider.
Episcopalians for Mideast Peace has organized an online petition whose “target” is Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, who also publicly opposed anti-Israel divestment earlier this year before her General Convention was scheduled to debate it. Divestment was overwhelmingly rejected in July, and doubtless anti-Israel Episcopalians were further peeved when her name or any other senior Episcopal leader failed to appear on the letter against U.S. military aid for Israel. The online petition urges Jefferts Schori to “take a stand for justice for the Palestinians by adding her signature to the letter to Congress.”
Last month poor Bishop Jefferts Schori received another similar negative appeal from the Palestine Israel Network of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship. She had written both U.S. presidential candidates to commend “a just and peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.” In it she had cited the regional complexities against peace, including a “nuclear Iran; continued Israeli settlement building, particularly in and around Jerusalem, at a pace and pattern that complicates the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state; unacceptable levels of violence on all sides; and the humanitarian disaster of the Gaza Strip.” She urged that “American political leadership” work to “play a catalytic role in supporting the work of peacemakers.”
The curious Palestine Israel Network of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship asked Jefferts Schori why she had failed to sign the letter to Congress against military aid for Israel. This group reminded her that this year’s Episcopal General Convention had called for the U.S. to “hold in escrow aid to Israel by an amount equal to any expenditures by the Government of Israel to expand, develop or further establish Israeli settlements in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, and only release the aid from escrow if proof is given that settlements are not being established.”
So naturally the anti-Israel Episcopalians were “perplexed” about Bishop Jefferts Schori’s failure to sign the letter to Congress. “We could not have a clearer policy base for you to join in this important initiative,” they told her. “We hope to see your name added in the coming days.” These irritated Episcopalians were further miffed that her letter had implied that there are “two equal parties to the conflict” and never mentioned their favorite word: “occupation.” They complained that readers of her letter to the presidential candidates would not understand from her omissions that Israel has been “oppressing the Palestinians living in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza since 1967.”
The anti-Israel Episcopalians even announced to their Presiding Bishop: “We believe our Church should review its policy of support for a two-state solution in light of Israel’s continuing expansionist policies that seriously draw into question its commitment to this goal.” So evidently they prefer to dissolve Jewish Israel in favor of a new “Palestine” where Jews are at least momentarily a tolerated minority. The querulous Episcopalians told Jefferts Schori that they seek a “common witness from our Church on behalf of justice for oppressed Palestinians and liberation from the role of oppressor by Israel so that our common vision of peace and security can be realized for all Israeli Jews and Palestinians.” How evenhanded.
In a similar spirit of piling on Israel, The Carter Center released a news release commending the October 5 ecumenical appeal for Congress to reconsider U.S. military aid for Israel. “Like these church leaders, The Carter Center has long been concerned about Israel’s disregard for stated U.S. policy,” it explained. “This is demonstrated by an unprecedented massive increase in encroachment on occupied Palestinian territory, with illegal settlement expansion during recent years.” The former president himself was even quoted: “This is precluding the possibility of a two-state solution and endangers a peaceful future for both Israelis and Palestinians.”
Meanwhile, pro-Israel Presbyterians reacted to their denomination’s Stated Clerk having endorsed the October 5 ecumenical appeal against Israel. “Israel should be judged alongside the human rights records of the Palestinian group Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Authority (PA), which governs the West Bank,” suggested Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, which noted that U.S. funds the PA directly and Hamas indirectly through the UN. “We think all of the Jewish groups offended by the letter to Congress, and a great many Christians, ourselves included, would more than welcome such a side-by-side comparison.” No doubt.
These pro-Israel Presbyterians also observed: “Given the outspoken commitment of the leaders of Iran, in alliance with Hamas and Hezbollah, to ‘annihilate’ Israel, loss of security assistance and military aid would threaten Israel’s very existence and the lives of its people.” It’s an obvious point, and not one that evidently concerns the ecumenical, mostly Mainline Protestant letter signers the least bit.
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