17 Christian Groups Defend Right to Boycott Israel, Ask Congress to Reject 'Israel Anti-Boycott Act'

(Photo: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri)A demonstrator chants slogans during a pro-Palestinian protest in Times Square, in the Manhattan borough of New York, October 18, 2015.

A coalition of 17 Christian groups have sent a letter to Congress, urging them to reject a bill that would make it official U.S. policy to oppose boycotts of Israel.

The various Christian leaders, including many liberal mainline Protestants, sent the letter Monday, arguing that the "Israel Anti-Boycott Act" that is going through both houses would unjustly suppress "nonviolent peaceful action meant to bring about social change."

"We are concerned by any legislation that suppresses legitimate criticism of public policy, and that restricts freedom of expression and our ability to determine our own witness through investment and selective purchasing practices," read the letter.

"While we may not be of one mind about which measures are most effective, we collectively affirm and defend the right of churches and organizations to use economic measures in the specific case of Israel-Palestine."

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(Photo: Reuters)An Israeli flag flies high in Tel Aviv, December 28, 2010.

The faith leaders also stressed in the letter that they view their efforts as "an effort to change unjust Israeli policy toward Palestinians," but not "to delegitimize the State of Israel, nor to marginalize or isolate our Jewish neighbors, or their enterprises."

"As churches and church-related organizations, we reject any efforts by the state to curtail these rights. We urge you to oppose the proposed legislation, and thus support the rights of individuals and institutions to spend and invest in accordance with their faith, values, and policies," they concluded.

Signatories of the letter included the Rev. Teresa Hord Owens, president of the Disciples of Christ; Jim Winkler, president of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA; the Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; J. Herbert Nelson, II, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); and the Rev. John Dorhauer, president of the United Church of Christ.

Introduced in the Senate as S.720 and in the House as HR 1697, the Israel Anti-Boycott Act would amend the Export Administration Act of 1979 to prohibit support of international state-sponsored boycotts of Israel by U.S. citizens engaged in interstate or international commerce.

The "findings" section of S.720 explained that the United States has a history of opposing boycotts against Israel by international bodies.

"For a half century, Congress has combated anti-Israel boycotts and other discriminatory activity under the Export Administration Act of 1979," noted the bill.

"Congress recently passed anti-boycott, divestment, and sanctions measures in the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 ..."

The bill has bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House, with House bill sponsor Representative Peter Roskam of Illinois saying in a statement earlier this year that the Act will make the sure the government "will oppose all forms of economic warfare against Israel and Israelis."

"The BDS movement is nothing more and nothing less than the latest attempt by Israel's enemies to destroy the Jewish State," stated Rep. Roskam.

"After their repeated military conquests ended in failure, they have now turned to economic means in the hopes of achieving the same outcome. Thankfully, the United States Congress – and the American people – will not stand for it."

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