Who drew these Christians in?

Click photo to download. Caption: Dexter Van Zile.
Click photo to download. Caption: Dexter Van Zile.

The mainline Protestant leaders who signed onto the Oct. 5, 2012 letter to Congress that called on lawmakers to investigate Israel’s use of American aid money must be feeling pretty isolated these days. Every Jewish group that mainline churches invoke to establish their credentials as good interfaith partners walked away from a Christian-Jewish meeting that was scheduled to take place on Oct. 22, 2012.

In a joint statement issued a few days before the scheduled meeting, six groups pulled the plug on the meeting stating the letter, which singled Israel out for scrutiny while ignoring human rights abuses in the area controlled by the Palestinian Authority (and elsewhere in the Middle East), represented “an escalation in activity” that precluded “a business-as-usual approach.”

“It is the right of these Christian leaders to say what they want to Congress or anyone else,” said Larry Gold, chair of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.  “And it is our right to say ‘enough is enough.’”

Even The New York Times picked up the one-sided nature of the letter, reporting, “The Christian leaders’ letter acknowledged that both Israelis and Palestinians had suffered, and that both sides bore responsibility. But it called for an investigation into only Israel’s activities.” Ouch! In the pages of the Times no less!

In an apparent attempt to demonstrate his ability to be evenhanded, one leader who signed the letter, Gradye Parsons, the stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (USA), issued another letter—this one to the Palestinian Authority and to Hamas—asking that the two groups reconcile with each other so that the Israelis will have a partner in peace negotiations.

Parsons could not bring himself to ask Hamas to bring an end to the escalating rocket attacks that have been emanating from the Gaza Strip. It’s a glaring, but predictable omission from the leader of a church whose most prominent “peace” activist, Noushin Framke, has publicly expressed support for a one-state solution and has declared the Jewish state an “anachronism.” That’s not all. Framke, a lay leader who attends a PC(USA) church in Millburn, New Jersey once encouraged Hamas to hold onto Corporal Gilad Shalit as a bargaining chip in its fight with Israel.

One signature absent from the Oct. 5 letter to Congress is that of Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori,Presiding Bishopof theEpiscopal Church. For one reason or another, the Episcopal Church took a pass on this letter when it was shopped around to Christian leaders in the U.S.

This brings us to some interesting questions about the letter. Who drew the Christian leaders into the big muddy that this letter has become? Whose idea was it? Who wrote it? Who shopped it around for others to sign? The letter came from somewhere. Where?

The organization will likely deny it, but the most likely source for the letter is Churches for Middle East Peace, a Christian pressure group headquartered in Washington, D.C. supported by approximately two dozen churches and para-church organizations in the U.S.

The letter has all the markings of the CMEP—an organization that interprets its mandate to promote peace as a call to assail Israel with one-sided criticism and treat Palestinian leaders as children who cannot really be held accountable for their actions. Writing letters like the one sent to Congress on Oct. 5, 2012 is what CMEP does—and has done, for decades.

The letter likely started off as a CMEP document, but failed to get the blessing of a number of the institutions – such as the Episcopal Church—that support the organization. Instead of abandoning the letter altogether, the organization probably handed the letter off to those Christian leaders who did support it—the usual culprits in the American mainline, officials from the American Friends Service Committee, the Mennonite Central Committee and two Catholic organizations.

Of course, this is all supposition. But if the folks who wrote and shopped the letter around want to come forward and tell us how they drew their fellow Christians into the big muddy—without CMEP’s help—we’re all ears.

Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

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