Religious Leaders Call on U.S. Congress to Rethink Military Aid to Israel

In letter to Congress, Christian leaders say it is their 'moral responsibility' to question continuing U.S. assistance to Israel; Jewish groups criticize the move.

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Fifteen leaders of U.S. churches and other faith-based organizations have asked Congress to reevaluate U.S. military aid to Israel.

The religious leaders sent a letter to Congress members on Monday, calling for an investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act, which would make Israel ineligible for U.S. military aid.

"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. 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 letter, signed by leaders of the Lutheran, Methodist, UCC churches, and the National Council of Churches, said.

"We request, therefore, that Congress hold Israel accountable to these standards by making the disbursement of U.S. military assistance to Israel contingent on the Israeli government’s compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies."

"We write to you as Christian leaders representing U.S. churches and religious organizations committed to seeking a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians," the letter said, adding that the organizations have "worked alongside our Palestinian Christian sisters and brothers to help build a peaceful and resilient Palestinian civil society." The signatories said they were writing to Congress "to express our grave concern about the deteriorating conditions in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories."

"Unfortunately, unconditional U.S. military assistance to Israel has contributed to this deterioration, sustaining the conflict and undermining the long-term security interests of both Israelis and Palestinians," the letter said, citing the 2011 State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices covering Israel and the Occupied Territories.

The letter called on 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 letter also decried what it called "a troubling and consistent pattern of disregard by the government of Israel for U.S. policies that support a just and lasting peace," citing Israel's failure to halt settlement activity despite repeated U.S. government requests.

The letter was criticized by Jewish groups.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs rejected the call to reevaluate foreign aid to Israel. “U.S. aid to Israel is not ‘unconditional,’ as the letter claims. It reflects the shared values of America and Israel and furthers our shared goals for peace and security and is vital to advance the security of both peoples,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow.

The Rabbinical Assembly, the international umbrella organization of Conservative rabbis, called for a reevaluation of the interfaith partnerships between the assembly and the denominations represented in the letter.

"The letter calling for hearings and reassessment was issued without outreach to longtime partners in public advocacy within the Jewish community. It was released on the eve of Shabbat, just before a long weekend of Jewish and American holidays. And it was distributed at a time when Congress is out of session, in the midst of the general election campaign," the Rabbinical Assembly said in a statement. "We find these tactics to be disrespectful of channels of communication that have been constructed over decades, and an essential declaration of separation from the endeavor of interfaith consultation on matters of deep concern to the Jewish community. Indeed, we find this breach of trust to be so egregious that we wonder if it may not warrant an examination on the part of the Jewish community at large of these partnerships and relationships that we understood ourselves to be working diligently to preserve and protect."

The American Jewish Committee said it was outraged by the Christian leaders' call. “When the world currently is focused on the Iranian nuclear threat to the entire Middle East and the world, Christian leaders have chosen to mount another political attack on Israel,” said Rabbi Noam Marans, AJC director of Interreligious and Intergroup Relations. “When religious liberty and safety of Christians across the Middle East are threatened by the repercussions of the Arab Spring, these Christian leaders have chosen to initiate a polemic against Israel, a country that protects religious freedom and expression for Christians, Muslims and others.”

A joint session of Congress.Credit: Wikipedia Commons

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