Posted by on October 26, 2012 in Blog

By Jennine Vari

2012 Fall Intern

Two weeks ago, a group of Christian leaders sent a letter to Congress calling for an investigation into whether U.S. aid to Israel is contributing to human rights abuses of Palestinians. The letter was signed by the leaders of the various Christian denominations: Presbyterian Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches USA, and the United Church of Christ. In the letter, they state that, “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.” By challenging the typically hagiographical representation of Israel in U.S. media, these Christian leaders were subject to backlash from American Jewish groups who accused them of being “anti-Zionist” and anti-Semitic. In response to the letter, Jewish leaders decided to boycott next week’s dialogue in favor of holding an “interfaith discussion” about the pain caused by the letter.

AAI President James Zogby’s most recent column, which appears in the Huffington Post, served as the inspiration for a HuffPost Live discussion between himself, writer David Kaufman, Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Peter Makari, and Ethan Felson of the Jewish Council of Public Affairs about the motives behind the letter. During the discussion, Jim upheld the view that Christian leadership has taken an important step in addressing the issue of unconditional aid to Israel, and that this will play a part in a constructive discussion and not enable bad behavior. An appropriate relationship, he argued, is a partnership in which neither party “is afraid of acting, or silenced from acting, or intimidated from acting.”

However, Jim was met with resistance from Cooper and Felson during his discussion. Felson insisted that it is not true that aid to Israel is unconditional, but is subjected to the same foreign aid restrictions as other countries. He argued that since the U.S. hasn’t put any restrictions on aid to Israel, this proves that it is not unconditional. However, Jim later pointed out, amid interruptions, that Israel is not subjected to the same scrutiny as other countries like Egypt. They don’t get their money through USAID or American NGOs, but instead receive it up-front and even collect interest on it.

Jim was quick to point out that emerging voices in the Jewish community, such as JStreet and Americans for Peace Now are also calling for this kind of discussion, and that he remains optimistic: “I’m hoping that we can emerge with a sense of maturity about this… I think it would be important for America, Important for the Middle East, and I think what the Christian leadership has done is a great service to this effort.”

Watch the segment here:

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