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Church Flacks for Iran By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) ostensibly wants justice and comity between Israel and its adversaries, but speakers mostly inveighed against U.S. sanctions aimed at Iran. The convocation, entitled, “Israeli-Palestinian Peace: Hope for Things Unseen.,” was held in early June in Washington, D.C.

“Confrontational policies on our end do not help the moderates; they help the radicals,” insisted National Iranian American Council President Trita Parsi. According to a report by my colleague Jeff Walton, Parsi specifically warned against the “Sanctions Enabling Act” now before Congress, which would facilitate state and local divestment from Iran’s oil industry. Jim Fine of the Friends Committee on National Legislation (Quaker) agreed with Parsi and urged the church activists to oppose the Iranian divestment legislation during their lobby visit with Congress. He claimed that additional U.S. sanctions would only increase anti-Americanism in Iran and strengthen Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Parsi’s National Iranian American Council has denounced repression in Iran, especially since the dubious presidential election. But at the CMEP event, Parsi did not dwell on criticizing the despotic Iranian mullahs, instead praising the Obama administration for being less confrontational with Iran’s Islamists. “The president has unilaterally changed the atmospherics on Iran,” Parsi approvingly reported. “Obama is using language which does not imply regime change.” She also downplayed Iran’s nuclear ambitions. “Iran is entitled to [uranium] enrichment,” she insisted, suggesting sanctions were only appropriate after Iran has already weaponized. Parsi then alleged certain unnamed U.S. interests want Ahmadinejad to retain power because his hard-line rhetoric is politically useful.

CMEP itself has another record. Since the subsequent Iranian elections, the group has not criticized the Iranian theocracy’s violence and suppression of the opposition. Its members are far more concerned about the election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a potential threat to Middle East stability.

"It is the best of times and the worst of times," CMEP chief Warren Clark told his worried audience, according to Episcopal News Service. "Things seem to be grimmer than ever, and yet there's a great deal more hope today than there has been for a long time," he opined. On the grim side, is Netanyahu’s election and the ostensible “expansion” of Israeli settlements. On the “hope” side, is the expectation of increased U.S. pressure on Israel by the Obama administration.

CMEP is headquartered in the United Methodist Building on Capitol Hill and includes the Quakers, the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Board of Church and Society, several left-wing Catholic orders, the National Council of Churches, the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, and several others.

CMEP sees itself as the religious mobilizer for rallying a U.S. crackdown on Israel. "There will be more politicking on this issue in this town in the coming months than there has been for a very long time," Clark surmised. "[Obama] must have political support. That support comes from the Congress, and the Congress must hear from its constituents – from me and from you." 

Amjad Atallah of the New America Foundation's Middle East Task Force told the CMEP crowd, "The Obama administration is of course very concerned about how they're going to sell this [increased pressure on Israel] in the U.S." The Episcopal News Service reports that he continued: "And this is where CMEP comes in. The question is, who's going to back this up, and how?" As Atallah explained, “The promise for peace today doesn't rest in Ramallah and Tel Aviv and Jerusalem – it rests here in the United States."

"Imagine," Atallah asked of CMEP, "that the U.S. is not viewed as a colonizer, occupier, supporter of a conflict. Imagine that we're actually seen as a liberator. Imagine Jerusalem and its holy sites open to everybody. And it's sanctified, because there is peace." How Israeli withdrawal and accession to all Arab demands will automatically generate peace, as opposed to the vicious Muslim-on-Muslim violence we have witnessed in the current Palestinian Authority, nobody at the CMEP event explained.

Comprised of left-wing religionists, CMEP sees pro-Israel Christians in the U.S. as a main obstacle for neutralizing U.S. support for Israel. According to The American Prospect, Middle East Initiative at the New America Foundation Director Daniel Levy warned the CMEP crowd: "If there's not a counterbalance [with the Christian Zionists], I don't see how even this president with his determination and good intentions succeeds."

Inevitably, there were the usual comparisons of Israel to old racist South Africa. “Much of what is happening is worse than what happened in apartheid,” said self-professed Palestinian democracy activist Mustafa Barghouti. “There can be no justice, or peace, if apartheid continues. If you want to support nonviolence by Palestinians, you need to put pressure on the ‘civil violence’ practiced by Israel.” Somehow, the Palestinians and other Arabs who want all Jews to depart the West Bank never merit apartheid comparisons. “The presence of any settler in the West Bank is illegal,” asserted Barghouti, who denounced Netanyahu’s administration as “the worst, most racist government in Israeli history.”

Leading CMEP in worship, Maryland Diocese Episcopal Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton stretched back further in history for his anti-Israel comparison, likening Israel’s anti-terrorism security barrier to the Old Testament’s Tower of Babel. “There is every indication that the wall won’t set out to do what it was intended to do,” Sutton suggested. “There is something about walls God does not agree with.”

According CMEP and its member church groups, God wants his fanatical, theocratic left-wing servants to undermine democratic Israel while apologizing for Iran’s fanatical tyrants.

Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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