In Massive Shift, Lutherans Vote To Halt US Aid To Israel

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Above Photo: Lutheran church wants US to halt aid to Israel until settlement construction and human rights abuses end. Ryan Rodrick Beiler

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has become the latest US denomination to take economic action against the Israeli occupation.

At its triennial assembly last week in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the four million-member church, one of the largest in the US, voted on two separate resolutions targeting Israel’s occupation and human rights abuses, passing each by a landslide.

The first resolution calls for the end of US aid to Israel until it ceases violations of international human rights norms, specifically the ongoing construction of settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

It passed by a 751-162 vote, or 82 percent, on 12 August.

The US gives Israel more than $3 billion every year, despite laws that prohibit aid to countries with persistent records of human rights violations. The Obama administration has vowed to increase that sum over the coming decade in what would be the largest military aid package the US has ever given any country.

The second resolution, adopted by a 90 percent margin on Saturday, calls for the creation of a “human rights social criteria investment screen,” specifically citing concerns raised in the church’s Middle East policy.

The Lutheran church has deep ties to Palestinian churches which are members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. Reverend Mitri Raheb, whose Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem is one such congregation, was one of the authors of the Kairos Palestine Document which calls on churches around the world to use “boycott and disinvestment as tools of nonviolence for justice, peace and security for all.”

“By adopting this investment screen, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is taking an important step to ensure that we are not profiting from, or complicit in, injustice in the Holy Land and elsewhere,” said church member Jan Miller in a press release from the grassroots group Isaiah 58. The group describes itself as Lutherans advocating “for an end to Israel’s occupation and a just peace for both Israel and Palestine.”

Dramatic shift

According to Tim Fries, an Isaiah 58 activist, much of the assembly was focused on getting the church to move toward taking responsibility for the ways it has been complicit in systemic privilege, “namely, white, European colonial privilege.”

Fries cited huge majority support for resolutions also put to vote at the assembly about supporting refugees and immigrants (by an 842-48 vote), and expressing solidarity with Black Lives Matter (846-73).

Resolutions on fossil fuel divestment and opposition to US military spending also passed with overwhelming support.

Still, the votes on the Israeli occupation marked a notable shift in position.

Dale Loepp, an Isaiah 58 leader, noted that at the previous church assembly in 2013, there was visible and organized opposition from the Zionist activist group Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East.

At that time, Loepp told The Electronic Intifada, the main strategy to defeat such measures was to introduce amendments that removed any economic consequences, allowing such “toothless” resolutions to pass easily.

Similar tactics were used to effectively deflect divestment actions targeting occupation-linked firms during the United Methodist Church convention earlier this year.

At the 2013 Lutheran gathering, the only amendment that introduced an investment screen targeting the occupation failed by a 70 percent margin.

“The surprising story here is that there has been a massive shift in the stance of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on the occupation in only three short years – 70 percent opposed to economic tools to end the occupation, versus 90 percent in favor today,” Loepp said. “Though these are three years that I’m sure seem like two eternities to Palestinians.”

Abuse of privilege exposed

At this year’s assembly, Loepp observed no such visible organized opposition.

At the same time, grassroots organizers from the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation joined Isaiah 58 and allies from the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA), American Friends Service Committee, Friends of Sabeel North America, New Orleans Palestinian Solidarity Committee and Jewish Voice for Peace to support the resolutions.

Yet the same obstructionist strategies were employed by a number of bishops who had actively opposed divestment efforts three years ago.

Echoing widespread complaints about the US presidential election system, both Loepp and Fries noted how these bishops used their privilege to manipulate parliamentary procedures in an attempt to thwart popular sentiment.

Loepp credits the head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton, with not allowing filibusters to block the measures from going to a vote.

He has also observed calls on social media for systemic reforms that would prevent a handful of elites from attempting to hijack the democratic will of such proceedings in future.

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  • Robert H. Stiver

    Excellent report! Good on ELCA! (Gov. Zio-Coward Cuomo of New York State: take note!) Viva Palestine!

  • Jahar Saddles

    The only real question should be simply this; The “Jewish State of Israel” is completely comprised of people from several denominations of a religion that is founded around a “male” deity that according to the “Torah or Old Testament”, could create the entire universe and all of the things that we have not even discovered about it yet, in only six days; but it seems is incapable of writing his own book. AS a result, THAT BOOK is by any standards “Narrative Fiction”. In that narrative fiction “he” designates a group of people as HIS “chosen ones”, (revealing a bigot) and by the way, his first commandment to those “chosen ones” expresses HIS jealousy; which has never been anything but an indication of extreme insecurity. This brings the posting of this email comment to one conclusion; why does everyone seem to need to send those “chosen ones” ANY MONEY—-WHY NOT LET THEIR JEALOUS BIGOTED DEITY TAKE CARE OF THEM?
    THAT would be a true expression of “faith”, instead of hedging those “beliefs” with MONEY AND MILITARY AID—–not to mention “looking the other way” when those “chosen ones” commit so many international crimes that if they were ANY other criminal nation the rest of the world being lead by the USA, would invade them.
    Not one aspect of any of this makes any sense at all. Whether one is a “true believer” in their deity or not. That is why we here at JaHar Saddles are organizing a “movement” of “faith outside of faith” we are organizing a movement that will give everyone a chance to participate and that movement will be known as “LTGTCOTCO” OR—–“Let Their God Take Care Of Those Chosen Ones”.
    Show YOUR TRUE FAITH—–let their bigoted jealous “god” take care of the “Jewish State of Israel”…………….

  • DHFabian

    Profoundly complex issues about which today’s Americans know little, and fail to understand. From another perspective: Israel is a tiny country (roughly the size of New Jersey), the sole Jewish nation, the modern and historic Jewish nation. It is surrounded by vast, oil rich Arab nations that push for a “pure” Moslem Mideast/the eradication of the Jews. Each of these Arab nations are armed to the teeth by China, Russia AND the US. It takes everything Israel’s got just to survive. Israel has already ceded two entire chunks of the country in prior peace treaties, only to have the Arab states promptly disregard those agreements.

    Palestinians are Israeli Arabs, all living within short traveling distance of an Arab border, who have continued to be used as tools to end Israel. The only way to bring peace to the Mideast would be to get international oil companies out of the region.

  • DHFabian

    Nonsense. The Mideast is about oil. Religion and ethnicity are merely tools exploited for propaganda purposes. The God of Israel is the same as the God of the Arab nations, and Jews and Moslems recognize this.

    That said, note your own (rather repugnant) intolerance and contempt for those who do have a religious/spiritual perspective of life, in particular for Jews. Look in the mirror, then look outside your window, at the land that Europeans violently stole from American Indians.

  • DHFabian

    You know that the discussion isn’t about establishing a “Palestinian” nation, but about the eradication of the Jews from their own (historic and modern) nation. Look at a map of the Mideast. Tell me why a “Palestinian” nation isn’t established within the vast Arab nations, but demands the tiny bit of land that comprises the sole Jewish nation. Israel’s history as a Jewish nation dates as far back as Biblical times, as far back as the pharaohs in Egypt.

  • Lutherans, since their founding, have always hated Jews and Catholics. They’re just going back to their roots.

  • And get off oil and coal by using alternative energy. The Arab oil princes will have to get real jobs after their people deplete their royal bank accounts trying to placate the violent society they created.

  • Jahar Saddles

    WE here at JaHar Saddles are Native Americans (American Indians is a misnomer typically used by those who are either ignorant or arrogant and ignorant, which are you) our ancestors were here on this continent as far back as 18K years ago and THAT is an antiquity that the Jews would just love to have. The “God of Israel” is a fictional character invented sometime in at the end of the Bronze age or early Iron age, by what appears to be a group of nomads that from all evidence originated somewhere in central or north east Europe. AS the original posting states; even though we do not agree with ANY deities being in existence, we are willing to tolerate those who do as LONG AS THEY DO NOT BOTHER ANYONE ELSE WITH THEIR MEAN, JEALOUS, BIGOTED, INSECURE DEITIES…..whether they be, Jew, Christian, Muslims, Hindus or any other group of mindless followers.