Netanyahu and why he matters to the NCC

Netanyahu and why he matters to the NCC

by Jim Winkler, President and General Secretary
National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA

I have received many emails and text messages since Benjamin Netanyahu won re- election for another term as Prime Minister of Israel. All of them reflect discouragement.

Netanyahu pledged during the final days of his campaign that there would be no two-state during his tenure, effectively ending negotiations that would create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. And in a warning against the influence of Arab Israeli voters, he offered a glimpse of what may become of their rights under his rule. It is challenging to find a silver lining for those who have long worked and prayed for peace in the Holy Land.

This is a matter of great importance to the National Council of Churches and our member communions. Why? Precisely because this is where Jesus lived, died, and was resurrected, and therefore the place where Christianity is rooted. This is why we travel there, study it, pay attention to developments there, lament the violence that envelops it, seek reconciliation for its inhabitants, and yearn for the day when Jews, Christians, and Muslims will live there in harmony.

On each of my visits to the region with NCC delegations we have met with the patriarchs of the ancient Christian churches, including the Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, and Latin patriarchs. From these churches did many of our denominations emerge. We have also met with Mideast leaders of Protestant and Anglican churches, with which many of our U.S. communities have denominational ties.

Always, those religious leaders have asked visiting American religious leaders to do more for their communities.They have pleaded with us to speak on their behalf to American political leaders. They have told us how they have suffered under the Occupation, how their sons and daughters have moved abroad because life is too harsh and restrictions too great. Always, I have left with a heavy heart because I know this message is not received in the corridors of power in Washington, DC., where wielding the right influence could affect real change.

Over the decades, the NCC has repeatedly spoken to and acted on the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. For example, in 2002, the NCC urged the US government to play an active role in working toward a peaceful and just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within the context of the UN and in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions. In 2003, the NCC called for the removal of Israel’s Separation Barrier and reiterated its long-standing support for the establishment of a Palestinian State alongside the State of Israel, and for the preservation of the City of Jerusalem as an open, shared city where free access to holy places and freedom of worship are assured for people of all faiths.

In 2007, the NCC again expressed concern over the diminution of the Christian community in the Holy Land and called again for a two-state solution, which takes into account the right to self-determination of, and security for, both Israelis and Palestinians; an end to the Occupation which involves resolution of issues such as refugees, the Separation Barrier, checkpoints, illegal settlements, water sources, and the status of a shared Jerusalem, and human rights for all people in the region, which leads to the monitoring of alleged rights violations and justice for both Israelis and Palestinians.

All along we have condemned the violence perpetrated by each side against the other.
Without a doubt, if he sticks to his pledge the re-election of Netanyahu will deepen the isolation of Israel in the world. I confess that, like many others, I have serious doubts about the Prime Minister’s quick backtrack on his pledge and I possess those doubts because of his long track record of intransigence, inflammatory rhetoric, and disinterest in a Palestinian state.

In the face of all this, we must not lose hope. Instead, we must rededicate ourselves to peace for all peoples in the region.