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IRD to Release Report Documenting
Imbalance in Mainline Church Human Rights Advocacy;
Over One-Third of Criticisms Aimed at Israel

[This article was issued on September 23, 2004, and could be viewed originally at the following link.]

9/23/2004 12:26:00 PM
To: National Desk
Contact: Erik Nelson, the Institute on Religion and Democracy, 202-969-8430

News Advisory:

At a September 27 press conference, the Institute on Religion and Democracy will release an extensive report critical of human rights advocacy by mainline U.S. Protestant churches and related ecumenical bodies.

The report examines resolutions passed by the highest governing bodies of four denominations -- the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), United Methodist Church, and Evangelical Lutheran Church in America -- between 2000 and 2003. It also covers resolutions, press releases, and articles during that same period from the U.S. National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches. The IRD report scrutinizes the churches' choice of the nations at which they aim their human rights criticisms. It uses as a yardstick the assessments of civil and political freedoms around the world compiled by the human rights group Freedom House.

The results showed that over one-third of all church criticisms of human rights abuses were aimed at a single small nation: Israel. Slightly less than one-third were aimed at the United States, and the rest were distributed among twenty other nations. Only 19 percent of the church criticisms were aimed at nations deemed "not free" in the 2004 Freedom House assessments. Many of the countries rated lowest by Freedom House -- such as China, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia -- were not criticized even once. Of the fifteen worst human rights abusers listed by Freedom House, only five received any criticism during the four years studied.

"Israel is certainly responsible for some human rights abuses, as are all nations," said IRD President Diane Knippers. "But an extreme focus on Israel, while ignoring major human rights violators, seriously distorts the churches' message on universal human rights. We cannot find a rational explanation for the imbalance. We are forced to ask: Is there an anti-Jewish animus, conscious or unconscious, that drives this drumbeat of criticism against the world's only Jewish state?"

"Explicit criticism of Israel was completely out of proportion, in volume and in severity of tone, with church criticism of more notable human rights abusers," said IRD Research Assistant Erik Nelson, the primary researcher for the report. "That excessive criticism, paired with the fact that none of the churches or groups that we studied criticized human rights violations by the Palestinian Authority or other neighboring governments, certainly raises concerns about a prejudiced double standard. Mainline churches need to face frankly the possibility of anti-Semitism among 'our kind of people.'"

Harsh mainline criticisms of Israel have already raised alarms in the Jewish community. A September 28 meeting in New York between top officials of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and leaders in the Reform and Conservative Jewish movements will address these issues, among others. IRD Vice President Alan Wisdom, co-author with Nelson of the report, commented: "I hope that leaders in my denomination (the PCUSA) will see this situation as more than a public relations problem with an external group (the Jewish community) that needs to be mollified. I hope that they will take this opportunity for some serious introspection, asking whether we Presbyterians have been faithful to our own Christian commitment to value equally the human rights of all peoples."

Knippers expressed her concern for the future of human rights advocacy in the mainline: "After the Cold War, some church leaders apologized for ignoring human rights abuses behind the Iron Curtain. Today the churches seem to be ignoring human rights abuses in other parts of the world, most notably the Arab world. Did these churches really learn anything from their failures during the Cold War? We need an entirely different approach for the 21st century."

The complete report will be released at a press conference on September 27, 2004, at 1:30 p.m. in the Lisagor Room, the National Press Club, 529 14th St., NW, Washington, DC.

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