As diplomats in the Middle East worked to finalize a cease-fire proposal between Israel and Hamas, Christian clergy here joined Israeli Ambassador Ido Aharoni to denounce Hamas’ continued rocket attacks on Israel.
“This conflict between Hamas and Israel could not reveal a starker contrast,” Rev. Paul de Vries, president of the New York Divinity School, said in prepared remarks ahead of the press conference last Friday at the Faith Exchange near Ground Zero in Lower Manhattan.
“Israel does all it can to protect the lives of all people in Israel and Gaza, while Hamas intentionally terrorizes men, women, and children in both Gaza and Israel,” he said. “Hamas has malignant morals.”
A total of 32 Christian clergy attended the press conference, along with several rabbis, including Joseph Potasnik, executive vice president of the New York Board of Rabbis.
The press conference came after several other Christian denominations sent a letter to the White House and members of Congress calling for an “investigation” into the security assistance Israel receives from the United States.
Among the groups signing the letter were the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Pax Christi and the United Methodist Church. These same groups made a similar request in 2012 that was rebuffed.
B’nai B’rith International issued a statement decrying the letters and saying the letters make plain the fundamental misapprehensions of its signatories, who see the “underlying causes” of the conflict as Israeli “occupation” and the “siege” of Gaza, as well as the failure to reach a two-state solution.
“Are the denominations who signed this letter aware that Israel completely withdrew from Gaza nine years ago?” B’nai B’rith International President Allan J. Jacobs said. “It even uprooted every single Jewish settlement community there, yet was rewarded with relentless terrorist attacks.”
B’nai B’rith also rejected the letters’ calls for Israel to lift “the Gaza siege.”
“This, however, is clearly not the solution to ending recurring bloodshed because unconditionally ending blockade measures would allow the further, unfettered mobility of armaments and Palestinian terrorists,” the statement said.
“Why would these denominations pin the cause of the conflict on Israel, America’s key democratic ally, yet ignore those complicit in the atrocities carried out by Palestinian terrorists?” asked B’nai B’rith International Executive Vice President Daniel Mariaschin in the statement. “Repeatedly over the past week, rockets have been uncovered at UN schools in Gaza and cross-border infiltration tunnels were revealed to have been constructed with imported materials, not to mention the indiscriminate firing of rockets putting innocent civilians constantly at risk. Those civilians also include a Christian community that, unlike elsewhere in the region, is free and continuously growing.”
At Friday’s press conference, Rev. Robert Stearns, executive director of Eagles’ Wings, an evangelical pro-Israel group, said in written remarks: “Israel is defending its civilians from over 2,000 rockets that have fallen in the last several weeks, while Hamas specifically directs innocent civilians into harm’s way by launching attacks from, and storing weapons in hospitals, schools, and homes. Clear thinking requires that we not stay silent on this issue of the value of human life.”
Rev. de Vries later told The Jewish Week that the “consensus [among the Christian clergy] is that Gaza needs to be demilitarized completely and that any cease-fire has to have that as a condition.”
Several of the clergy at the press conference called the Palestinian leaders, “Leaders from hell.”
“Our hearts go out to the Palestinian civilians, who are being told by their leaders not to leave their homes despite Israeli warnings to do so,” Rev. de Vries added. “Nobody volunteers to be cannon fodder. … The Palestinian leaders are abusers of the Palestinian people and their abuse stinks to high heaven. Israeli leaders care for the Palestinian people and for their own people.”