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Mainline Churches vs. Israel
Churches hostile to Christianity’s one friend in the Middle East are losing members.


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Elliott Abrams

Their letter to Congress contains a brief appendix elucidating why they think conditions are deteriorating. There we learn of restrictions on movement in the West Bank, though not of the many ways in which the Netanyahu government in recent years has loosened those restrictions. There is no mention, for example, of the recent steps by the government of Israel to assist the Palestinian Authority as it faces a financial crisis. We learn of Israel’s “comprehensive blockade” on Gaza but not that Gaza has a border with Egypt — or that it is still not fully open. We are told that Israel killed thousands of unarmed Palestinian civilians but not that the churches rely for this information on data provided by anti-Israel NGOs or left-wing Israeli groups.

Those statistics show that a suspicious preponderance of the casualties are young males, hardly a cross-section of the unarmed Palestinian population. This too is an old story: NGOs claim a high number of civilian casualties, while the government of Israel claims that a high percentage of those wounded or killed were combatants. In one famous example, Hamas after the 2008–9 Gaza conflict admitted to numbers far closer to Israel’s official figures than to those of the NGOs. Of this issue the churches’ letter says nothing, simply accepting the numbers that critics of Israel supply.

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It is unlikely that the churches’ letter will affect the level of aid to Israel. As the Gallup organization stated this year after doing additional polling, “Americans continue to show decidedly positive views toward that nation. As nations throughout the Middle East undergo tumultuous change, perhaps making the region more politically unstable, Americans still appear to see Israel as important, with large majorities viewing it favorably and many more giving their sympathies to the Israelis than to the Palestinians.” Congress votes aid to Israel primarily because Americans support Israel. Christians United for Israel, an organization founded only in 2006, now has one million members (ten times the membership of AIPAC).

But the letter will affect cooperation between the signatory organizations and the Jewish community, as the reactions of major American Jewish organizations already demonstrate. And it will affect the willingness of the United States to come to the defense of beleaguered Christian communities in the Middle East, for some of the Christian groups that might be expressing concern and solidarity and demanding action are instead spending their time denouncing Israel.

It is a sad story, the latest chapter in the unending hostility to Israel that has marked several of the mainline Protestant denominations and that seems of greater importance to their leaders than does the fate of their fellow Christians in the Middle East.

— Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, was an assistant secretary of state in the Reagan administration and deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration.



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