PCUSA renews campaign against Israel aid

Israel“Urge your member of Congress to investigate whether U.S. military aid to Israel is undermining prospects for peace in the region.” This was the bold-print headline of an “action alert” sent out Feb. 20 by the Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC. The alert did not criticize U.S. military aid to any other Middle Eastern nation – the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, for example, continues to receive $1.3 billion annually in U.S. military aid, including new shipments of 20 F-16 Falcon warplanes and 200 M1A1 Abrams battle tanks due this year. Nor did the PCUSA alert blame any party besides Israel for “undermining prospects for peace.”

The Feb. 20 action alert marked a renewal of the denomination’s anti-Israel lobbying campaign that drew controversy last fall with a letter to Congress co-signed by Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons. In the Oct. 5 letter, Parsons and other top oldline Protestant officials challenged “the continuation of unconditional U.S. financial assistance to the government of Israel.” Major Jewish organizations were outraged at the letter and denounced “the antipathy to Israel it represents, and the lack of communication to Jewish partners in advance of the release.” In protest, the Jewish groups cancelled their participation in a previously scheduled Christian-Jewish roundtable.

That brouhaha has not seemed to deter the PCUSA. The denomination’s latest action alert reaffirms and quotes repeatedly from the Oct. 5 letter. In that letter, Parsons and his colleagues demanded that Congress undertake “an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act which respectively prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations.” The church leaders alleged “widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons.” They did not complain of human rights violations by any other U.S.-backed government in the region.

The action alert notes that the requested “review of U.S. military assistance” has not “taken place” so far. Nor does it appear likely that Congress would move against U.S. aid to Israel anytime soon. Neither Democrats nor Republicans have any appetite for confrontation with the Jewish state – or any other player in the Middle East.

In this context, the PCUSA’s renewed lobbying push seems all the more puzzling. A check of the websites of other oldline bodies involved in the Oct. 5 letter – the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Church of Christ, the American Baptist Churches, and the National Council of Churches – revealed no other recent action alerts targeting U.S. aid to Israel. Once again, the main effect of PCUSA Middle East advocacy may be to alienate the Jewish community still more – without bringing any substantive help to the Palestinians in whose name the advocacy is made.