Christian leaders ask US Congress to withdraw aid to Israel over human rights violations

A letter signed by 15 leaders of Christian churches that calls for the US Congress to reconsider giving aid to Israel because of accusations of human rights violations has outraged Jewish leaders and threatened to derail longstanding efforts to build interfaith relations.

The Christian leaders say their intention was to put the Palestinian plight and the stalled peace negotiations back in the spotlight at a time when all of the attention to Middle East policy seems to be focused on Syria, the Arab Spring and the Iranian nuclear threat.

”We asked Congress to treat Israel like it would any other country,” the top official of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Reverend Gradye Parsons, said. ”To make sure our military aid is … not being used to continually violate the human rights of other people.”

The Jewish leaders called the action a momentous betrayal and announced their withdrawal from a regularly scheduled Jewish-Christian meeting planned for today. The Jewish leaders called the letter by the Christian groups ”a step too far” and an indication of ”the vicious anti-Zionism that has gone virtually unchecked in several of these denominations”.

”Something is deeply broken, badly broken,” said Ethan Felson, the vice-president and general counsel of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which helped to convene the meeting. ”We’re certainly not getting anywhere now.”

The Jewish groups have called for the Christian churches to send their top officials to a ”summit” to discuss the situation, an invitation the Christian leaders say they are considering.

The Christian leaders involved are mostly from the historically mainline Protestant churches. Many of these churches have taken up contentious resolutions to divest their stock holdings from companies that sell military and security equipment to Israel. Meanwhile, successive Israeli governments have found stalwart support in conservative evangelical US churches.

The breach is all the more bitter because it involves Jewish groups known for cultivating strong interfaith relationships, including the Reform and Conservative movements, the American Jewish Committee and B’nai B’rith International.