Attempt to silence Christian appeal for human rights
Dr. James Zogby
Posted Oct 22, 2012
Two weeks ago, 15 religious leaders representing major Protestant denominations dared to challenge one of Washington’s most powerful taboos. They wrote a letter urging Congress to investigate whether unconditional US military assistance to Israel is contributing to violations of Palestinian human rights.
Noting that US law specifically limits the use of US-supplied weapons to countries for “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense” and “prohibits assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations”, the signatories expressed the concern that Israel may be violating US law.
It was an impressive group that came together to sign the letter, including Evangelical, Lutheran, Baptist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Mennonite, and Methodist church leaders.
The letter, itself, was also quite impressive. It was temperate in tone and extraordinarily balanced in content. The Christian leaders expressed compassion for the “pain and suffering” of Israelis and Palestinians, “the insecurity and fear” that impacts the lives of many Israelis and their right to legitimate self-defense. But they went on to note how the daily lives of Palestinians are marked by the “killing of civilians, home demolitions…, forced displacement and restrictions of Palestinian movement”. After detailing these abuses, the leaders called on Congress to hold hearings to determine the degree to which US assistance is contributing to these Israeli behaviors. They concluded noting that if Israel were found to be in non-compliance with the US human rights provisions, then the law should be enforced and aid should be cut.
The reaction was both hysterical and predictable. Using excessive and abusive language, some major Jewish groups denounced the letter and the churches represented by the signatories, charging them with “participation… in yet another one-sided anti-Israel campaign” and “vicious anti-Zionism” and accusing them of “stony silence to the use of anti-Judaism and relentless attacks on the Jewish state”. They coupled this attack with an announcement that they would boycott a regularly scheduled “Jewish-Christian dialogue” session that was to have met next week. They countered with a call for an inter-faith summit to discuss the pain caused by the letter.
It was 34 years ago that we formed the Palestine Human Rights Committee (PHRC). The PHRC had as its principle objectives the defence of Palestinian human rights victims and the application of provisions of US law requiring that recipients of US assistance not use that aid to violate human rights. Bringing together Arab Americans, African American civil rights leaders, leaders of the peace movement and leaders from many of the same Christian churches who signed the recent letter to Congress, the PHRC achieved some success in raising human rights concerns, but incurred the wrath of some major Jewish organisations. We were subjected to exclusion and defamation. We were denounced as “pro-terrorist” and our efforts to join a major progressive peace coalition were blocked.
There have been many other examples of this behavior but it all boils down to the same modus operandi: The use of hysterical and exaggerated rhetoric in an effort to intimidate opponents.
The net results of these tactics are: A silencing of any discussion or examination of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians; aid to Israel continues without questions, oversight, or any conditions; the very meaning of anti-Semitism or, in this case, “anti-Judaism” is cheapened and equated not just with criticism of Israeli policy, but even with the mere call to examine that policy; Palestinians continue to suffer; Israelis who support peace and human rights find they have no allies in the US government; and US credibility in the Middle East continues to suffer.
It is, to be sure, bullying. It is counter-productive and damaging to discourse and respect among peoples. We’ll wait to see how the Christian groups respond, but I, for one, hope that the church leaders stand their ground. They do not owe anyone an apology for their letter. Instead they deserve to be commended by all Americans for their brave and balanced commitment to peace, justice, and human rights.