Why are so many of America’s mainline churches partnering with the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR), an anti-Israel organization which allegedly has financial ties to terror groups and is a leader and mobilizer of BDS (boycott, divestment, and sanctions) activism?
As we’ve highlighted in many prior posts, the USCPR has long played an outsized role in advancing a vehemently anti-Israel agenda in America’s Protestant churches.
In recent years it’s been a visible presence at nearly every U.S. mainline church general convention, assembly, and synod where it helps its church allies to promote distorted anti-Israel resolutions that solely blame Israel for the continuation of the conflict while virtually ignoring or trivializing Palestinian rejectionism, incitement to violence, glorification of terrorism, and the fact that Israelis live under constant threats.
Now, in an online fundraising letter sent to supporters last week, USCPR bragged about its critical role in advancing BDS within America’s churches. Specifically, the letter boasts about how the USCPR has served as a “common organizing thread” that “connects church divestment wins.”
The letter is meant to solicit tax-deductible gifts so that USCPR can continue to “support church communities.”
But what it really does is show how minority church subgroups made up of anti-Israel zealots—like Isaiah-58 in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Presbyterian Church USA’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network (IPMN), and the Episcopal Peace Fellowship/Palestine-Israel Network (EPF-PIN) in the Episcopal Church—make use of USCPR funds and resources to successfully advance a BDS agenda within their denominations.
They do so even though BDS is completely out of sync with the views of worshipers in the pews—most of whom just like the vast majority of Americans support Israel, Gallup: Americans’ support for Israel increases to historical high.
Basically, by its own admission this week, USCPR is engaging in an effort to turn America’s mainline churches against Israel, and it’s in it for the long-term. The fundraising letter makes clear that this isn’t a matter of simply sending a few activists to church conventions and cheering allies there on to victory. Rather, it’s a major effort to push BDS into U.S. progressive churches and one that will require considerable sums of money to be successful.
So it’s worth noting that Rockefeller Brothers Fund donates substantially to USCPR, along with providing significant funding to other virulently anti-Israel and pro-BDS groups, Rockefeller Brothers Fund finances Jewish Voice for Peace as it launches new anti-Israel campaign.
As we discussed in a prior post, USCPR (formerly known as the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation) is a prominent Washington, DC-based umbrella organization for hundreds of groups that work nationally to “end all US support for Israel’s military occupation and apartheid policies toward Palestinians.”
Founded in 2001, it’s designated as a 501(c)3 charitable organization that’s committed to “Palestine solidarity and activism.” But as we highlighted in our prior post, it spends very little effort on actually alleviating the plight of Palestinians harmed by the PA, Hamas, or other governments in the Middle East. There’s no USCPR campaign to support the Palestinians suffering in Syria, for example:
So it’s important to understand that the USCPR’s focus isn’t really on improving Palestinian human and civil rights but on demonizing Israel and trying to shift U.S. policy against the Jewish state.In its reports, conferences, and in the social media activity of its leadership, USCPR rhetoric includes constant accusations of Israeli apartheid, ‘war crimes’, ‘genocidal actions’ and ‘colonialism.’ USCPR also endorses a Palestinian ‘right of return’ to Israel, which is in fact a rejection of self-determination for the Jewish people in their ancient homeland—a bigoted stance because USCPR doesn’t deny statehood rights to anybody else.”
In our prior post we also showed how USCPR has been at the forefront of the disgraceful effort within anti-Israel circles to exploit the U.S. civil rights struggle for the Palestinian cause. Executive Director Yousef Munayyer has preposterously cast Israeli policies toward the Palestinians as a discriminatory “matrix of control” with laws similar to those used against Black Americans during the Jim Crow era:
These days, Munayyer spends an inordinate amount of his time trying to racialize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, making untenable connections between the experiences of black men in America’s inner cities and his own as an Israeli Palestinian and trying to sell the idea that Palestinians are people of color oppressed by privileged white Jews.”
As we’ve highlighted in numerous posts, anti-Israel activists have long been engaged in an effort to hijack racial issues and tensions unrelated to Israel and redirect them against Israel.Under the direction of Munayyer, USCPR has become a leading player in promoting such “intersectional hijackings”, as indicated by its “political educational curriculum” meant to simultaneously strengthen U.S. and Palestinian “liberation struggles”; its ardent support for JVP’s “Deadly Exchange” campaign; and its upcoming national conference focused on the “struggle for collective justice from the U.S. to Palestine”:
In our prior post we also documented that a number of USCPR’s staffers have sketchy backgrounds. Its Director of Grassroots Organizing (Ramah Kudaimi) has promoted incitement to violence against Israelis. Policy Director (Josh Ruebner) is an ADL-flagged activist who once publicly claimed that the IDF “studied what the Nazis did” during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in order to “attack and kill Palestinians” in Gaza (Ruebner also has a nasty habit of smearing Jewish members of Congress as “Israel firster” traitors to America because of their support for Israel).
But even more disturbing than all this is how USCPR works to uplift terrorists and its alleged ties to U.S. designated terror organizations.
In recent weeks USCPR has served as an apologist for Hamas, insisting that the efforts of its militants to breach the Gaza border is “peaceful protest.” Not long ago, Munayyer and other USCPR staffers also advocated on behalf of the unrepentant terrorist and immigration fraudster Rasmea Odeh:
Recent media reports (see here and here) and a study released by the Israeli government also suggest that along with other U.S.-based pro-BDS organizations, the USCPR has more direct operational and ideological connections with terror groups, including the PFLP and Hamas, Israel Study Asserts Link Between BDS Movement and Palestinian Terrorist Groups.
Bottom line: Given its vehement anti-Israel advocacy, embrace of BDS tactics and goals, and support for violence and terror against Israelis, USCPR can’t possibly serve as an appropriate partner for American progressive churches which profess to value justice, peaceful conflict resolution, and tolerance and coexistence.
In a number of prior posts, we’ve highlighted how anti-Israel organizations and activists in the U.S. have targeted U.S. progressive Protestant churches in recent years—an ongoing campaign that’s been fairly successful to date:
We noted that the BDS movement has managed to score wins in these churches because virulently anti-Israel yet self-identified Christian NGOs—groups like Sabeel/FOSNA, Kairos, and American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)—have been able to infiltrate decision-making bodies, Sabeel – The Anti-Israel Christian activists you never heard of.
These NGOs then forge close partnerships with church subgroups to ensure that voting delegates are exposed to a relentless barrage of anti-Israel propaganda.
Much of their success depends on the particular institutions in place for voting on church-wide resolutions and moving them up from committees to plenary.
For example, at this month’s Episcopal Church’s 79th General Convention (GC) in Austin, Texas a bicameral governing body adopted six (out of 15) separate resolutions devoted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but each is “advisory only,” and the GC wasn’t willing to implement a direct divestment policy.
The same day that Israeli children were hiding in bomb shelters and in stairwells as Hamas rockets rained down on them, the House of Bishops voted up a resolution accusing Israel of mistreating detained Palestinian children (the resolution relied on a UNICEF report which drew on ‘data’ provided by the terror-linked Palestinian NGO Defense for Children International-Palestine, UNICEF: Another UN agency corrupted by anti-Israel politics).Still, the Episcopalian House of Bishops “shot down” a number of anti-Israel resolutions that had earlier been adopted by lay and clergy deputies. By contrast, the more egalitarian decision-making process and voting rules in the Presbyterian Church-USA and the United Church of Christ meant fewer checks and balances on anti-Israel groups, which resulted in more direct divestment policies passing.
Also crucial to the success of groups like Sabeel/FOSNA, Kairos, and AFSC is whether they can collude with fringe (non-Jewish) groups like Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). For anti-Israel boycott activists, JVP provides the “façade of significant Jewish support for BDS.” Basically, it gives a stamp-of-approval needed to pass anti-Israel resolutions by helping to delude church members into thinking that there’s significant support for anti-Israel divestment and boycotts within the American Jewish community.
In many progressive churches, this elaborate system works like a charm—turning general assemblies and conventions into forum for a Palestinian solidarity politics which is actually anti-Israel and anti-peace.
Fostering an atmosphere infused with an obsession on Israel’s alleged wrongdoings, the agenda at these meetings demonizes Israel while effectively crowding out other critical issues, like radical Islamist anti-Christian hostility, genocidal persecution and the suffering of Christians throughout the Middle East, or even harm to Palestinians meted out by their own governments in the West Bank and Gaza.
Basically, the anti-Israel groups operating in these mainline U.S. churches have “sucked all the oxygen out of the room” when it comes to talking about the real plight of Christians in the Middle East. Israel is promoted as a racist, oppressive state and the greatest source of suffering in the region, even though the Christian community in Israel is thriving.
As we showed in our prior posts on anti-Israel activism in the churches, USCPR acts like a kind of glue that holds the various groups together and keeps them interacting and coordinating their efforts in between and in the run-up to the national conventions.
USCPR releases calls to action and encourages supporters to sign petitions and helps various NGOs to get access to church subgroups. It also assists anti-Israel activists to field snazzy PR campaigns during the conventions and general assemblies.
Despite their dedication to the truth and to the survival of their shrinking churches, groups and activists opposed to these anti-Israel hijackers simply don’t have the expertise or the finances to do any of the fancy marketing that IPMN, Isaiah-58, or EPF-PIN typically uses to persuade delegates and commissioners.
Written by Dale Loepp, an activist affiliated with the group Isaiah-58 in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA), the fundraising letter sent out to USCPR supporters last week offers further insight into how indispensable the organization has become to the BDS movement’s church divestment efforts.
As Loepp notes, for years Isaiah-58 wasn’t able to get any traction for BDS with anti-Israel resolutions repeatedly failing to pass at ELCA’s national meetings:
our humble ELCA group, Isaiah-58, was rich with passion and commitment but we didn’t have the capacity or the organizing expertise to get an investment screen passed. A similar resolution to the one we were supporting had failed miserably three years earlier. We knew our chances of success were minimal.”
But then Loepp says that his group reached out to USCPR and everything changed.
Loep credits USCPR and especially Anna Baltzer as the “key to our success!” in 2016. That’s when, at its triennial Churchwide Assembly in New Orleans, ELCA adopted resolutions calling on the U.S. government to end all aid to Israel and requiring a screening of church investments in companies profiting from Israel’s ‘occupation.’Loep literally writes that without USCPR and “Anna’s presence” in New Orleans they would never have achieved “something none of us could have ever dreamed of!”
Basically, the fundraising letter shows how USCPR “amplifies” the work of other groups that are trying to undermine support for Israel in U.S. churches—by building up leadership skills, strategizing outreach, bringing in an organizational savviness, and locating the right anti-Israel activists who can deliver “powerful testimonies” of Israel’s alleged transgressions to the delegates at the national conventions, assemblies and synods (see for example this short video clip posted to Facebook of Sabeel/FOSNA’s Executive Director Tarek Abuata addressing a hearing at the Episcopal Church’s general convention in Austin several weeks ago—you can watch how Abuata skillfully works to manipulate the emotions of the committee members).As we noted in our prior post, the American Jewish Committee decided not to attend last month’s Presbyterian Church (USA) general assembly in St. Louis on account of the repeated assaults on Jewish identity and the “relentless anti-Israel demonization” that happens at these meetings.
But apparently, according to Loepp, compromising longstanding relationships with the Jewish community and potentially harming these interfaith relations isn’t really important. What matters is that USCPR has facilitated new “opportunities for ecumenical and interfaith learning” by building anti-Israel coalitions made up of Presbyterian, Mennonite, Lutheran, and Episcopalian boycott activists.
In Loebb’s estimation this “culture of church groups supporting one another” has been so “immense and rewarding” that they’re worthy of duplicating on an even grander scale by a further “investment in USCPR” with “the most generous gift you can give.”
Like USCPR’s other ambitious multi-year campaigns, the effort to usurp the Middle East agenda in America’s progressive churches isn’t something that can be done on the cheap. It takes a significant amount of money to assist anti-Israel subgroups in the churches to develop the “capacity and organizing expertise” that they need to score BDS victories.
A substantial amount of money is needed to coordinate the work of multiple church subgroups and to pay for the overseas flights and accommodations for the anti-Israel delegations of Palestinians that come to the U.S. to speak at church conventions—not to mention covering the salary of full time staffer Anna Baltzer, who has been present at most if not all mainline church national meetings in recent years.
According to NGO Monitor, a Jerusalem-based watchdog group, in 2016 USCPR had a budget of approximately $850,000. It claims that it receives the majority of its funding through “small individual donations”—hence last week’s call for supporter funds. However, USCPR reportedly recently received $90,000 from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), which as we noted in several recent posts also funds JVP andother virulently anti-Israel and pro-BDS groups:
Several weeks ago, the Jerusalem Post published a scathing condemnation of RBF’s funding of the USCPR. According to the Post article, RBF was informed by Israeli officials about USCPR’s “encouraging terrorism” by facilitating the “funneling of tax-free donations to several Palestinian terrorist groups.”
In a letter to the editor, RBF’s President Stephen Heintz “unequivocally” rejected the Post’s allegations:
The Rockefeller Brothers Fund conducts robust due diligence to ensure that our grantees comply with US laws and regulations. Using an industry-standard global screening platform, the Fund screens the staff and board members of all grantees to verify their identity and confirm that there are no known legal issues. Grantees also submit annual financial and narrative reports to demonstrate that RBF resources are allocated in accordance with their grant agreement. Our program staff maintain close relationships with our grantees and consistently monitor their work in the field.We remain convinced that no resources from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund have been used to support any individual or group identified by the United States government as engaging in terrorist activities.”
Bottom line: The Rockefeller Brothers Fund claims to be pro-peace and anti-occupation. It insists that it supports the Jewish people’s right to self-determination and non-violent strategies to achieve peace—just like other legitimate leftist Zionist groups do. But if that’s the case, why is RBF lavishing money on a pack of pro-BDS and anti-Zionist grantees that ignore and justify terrorism, demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state, and seek to “drive a wedge” within the American Jewish community and generate polarization over Israel?
Two years ago during their quadrennial General Conference in Portland, the United Methodist Church (UMC) rejected a slate of anti-Israel divestment resolutions, most of which were defeated in committee and so didn’t even reach the plenary session.
Then, in a 478 to 319 vote, the denomination also called for the church’s General Board on Global Ministries to disaffiliate from the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation—the virulently anti-Israel umbrella group which has now rebranded itself as the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights:
At the time, we surmised that the UMC might lead the way toward a more responsible Middle East peace activism within other mainline churches, as they too distanced themselves from the USCPR, realizing that it betrays their values.
But that hasn’t happened.
If anything, even as more evidence of USCPR’s anti-peace work has become publicly available, other Protestant churches have bizarrely grown even closer to the group—allowing USCPR’s leadership to shape and shove church agendas about the Middle East, gain access to national conventions and general assemblies to lobby delegates, and provide materials and other “guidance” to their members.
In some cases, church members are even helping to promote USCPR by writing testimonials on its behalf and helping to fundraise—as with the online letter sent by ELCA and Isaiah-58 member Dale Loepp to USCPR supporters last week.
Bottom line: According to the USCPR, to be an American progressive church means standing for BDS and against Israel—even to the point of rejecting the Old Testament, steering dangerously close to antisemitic supercessionist theology, and revising a liturgical prayer by excising God’s promise to the Jewish people, all of which almost happened at the Episcopal Church 79th general convention in Austin, Texas this month:
It’s an indication of just how much BDS activists have managed to change opinion on the progressive left, even as BDS has been revealed time and again to be offensive to Jews, harmful to Palestinians, and damaging to the prospects for peace.
[Featured Image: US Campaign for Palestinian Rights staff bid farewell to convicted terrorist murderer Rasmea Odeh on the day of her deportation from the U.S. for immigration fraud, via US Campaign Facebook]
Miriam F. Elman is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Inaugural Robert D. McClure Professor of Teaching Excellence at the Maxwell School of Citizenship & Public Affairs, Syracuse University. She is the editor of five books and the author of over 65 journal articles, book chapters, and government reports on topics related to international and national security, religion and politics, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She also frequently speaks and writes on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) anti-Israel movement. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter @MiriamElman