Presiding Bishop writes to presidential candidates

Posted Oct 12, 2012

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has written to the presidential candidates, urging President Barack Obama and the Hon. Mitt Romney “to use the debate forum to articulate strong support for a just and peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as a clear plan for how you would work to support that goal in the next four years.”

The following is the text of the letter:

October 12, 2012

The Hon. Barack Obama                   The Hon. Mitt Romney
c/o Obama for America                     c/o Romney for President
P.O. Box 803638                                 PO Box 149756
Chicago, IL  60686                             Boston, MA  02114-9756

Dear Mr. President and Governor Romney,

As each of you prepares for the two remaining presidential debates, I write to urge you to use the debate forum to articulate strong support for a just and peaceful resolution to the Arab-Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as a clear plan for how you would work to support that goal in the next four years.

While the volatile political nature across the Middle East has emerged as a key theme in this year’s campaign, I am concerned by the relative absence of discussion of a conflict that is central to that region’s future.  This week Palestinian leaders have signaled their willingness to consider a return to the negotiating table, and it will be vital for the next President to prioritize the re-launch of the peace process and to articulate a clear vision for how American diplomatic leadership can assist and encourage negotiations.

Support for a two-state solution is the shared policy of the United States government, the government of Israel, and the Palestinian National Authority.  The contours of such a solution should be clear to all:  a secure and universally recognized Israel, the homeland for the Jewish people, standing alongside a viable, contiguous, and independent Palestinian state with a shared Jerusalem as the capital for each state.  Despite widespread recognition that a solution should reflect this goal, progress toward it has remained elusive.

In the meantime, the level of strife in the conflict has grown.  Several current trends give significant cause for alarm, including the threat to Israel’s security from others in the region, most especially a nuclear Iran; continued Israeli settlement building, particularly in and around Jerusalem, at a pace and pattern that complicates the territorial contiguity of a future Palestinian state; unacceptable levels of violence on all sides; and the humanitarian disaster of the Gaza Strip.  Each of these complicates the task of peace negotiations, and each passing day makes a final solution more difficult to achieve.

While it remains fundamentally true that only direct bilateral negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians themselves can bring about a just and lasting peace, history is clear that American political leadership has the power to play a catalytic role in supporting the work of peacemakers.   As you present your foreign-policy plans to the American people, I urge you to discuss specifically how you would work with our nation’s partners in the Quartet for Middle East Peace to support the resumption and successful completion of negotiations.  I urge you to be as specific as possible, considering not just the complexities of the issues to be resolved by the parties, but also the impact of such factors as the upcoming Israeli elections, Palestinian political division, rising unrest and extremism in the region, and the tragic humanitarian dimensions of the conflict.

As Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church, I lead a faith community with a particular concern for peaceful resolution of this long and devastating conflict.  Our Church’s partner in the region, the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, has stood for decades as a voice of peace and moderation – and a significant provider of healthcare, education, and social services – in the midst of the various instabilities of the region.  The Diocese of Jerusalem, together with its Episcopal and Anglican partners in the United States and throughout the world, works to build understanding and reconciliation through these forms of human service – in Israel and the Palestinian territories, as well as Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.  The Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt. Rev. Suheil Dawani, has described the role of Christians in the Holy Land as to “work together with people of other faiths to encourage the politicians to put politics aside and meet midway, where all people are equal.”

I believe that the next American President has an opportunity and a responsibility to help make this vision of reconciliation a reality.  The peace and stability of the region, the safety and human dignity of those who live in the midst of this conflict, and the moral character of our own nation all require the full engagement of the United States and its President in the resolution of the conflict.  Would that we were again known as builders of peace on the global stage!

Please know that my prayers are with each of you, and with our nation, in these undoubtedly challenging and personally costly final days of the campaign.  I remain

Your servant in Christ

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop
The Episcopal Church


Comments (24)

  1. Thomas Worthm says:

    I pray that ears and hearts be open to the truth of our bishop’s fine letter.

  2. Allison Duvall says:

    Thank you, Bishop Jefferts Schori. Amen.

  3. The Rev'd Canon Samir J. Habiby says:

    We continue to ceaselssly pray and work towards Peace and goodwill among the Three collegial Abrahamic Faiths, and especially in the Holy City of Jerusalem.

  4. martha knight says:

    Amen. I am so glad to see Bishop Jefferts Schori take a stand.

  5. Rev. Robert T. Yeager says:

    Thank you, Bishop Jefferts Schori. It is my hope and prayer that our leadership will have the courage and conviction to match words with deeds. Our government has stated on many occasions its opposition to continued West Bank expansion by illegal Israeli settlements, but it has never taken any action to stop it. We have conditioned our aid to other countries upon their compliance with basic human rights norms. I hope that the President will condition any continued aid to Israel upon their compliance with international law, and put a halt to settlement expansion. Otherwise we are complicit in the crime, and are seen as hypocrites in the eyes of the world.

    1. Well Said Tim….
      I think of our confession
      We have denied your goodness in each other,
      in ourselves, and in the world you have created.
      We repent of the evil that enslaves us,
      the evil we have done,
      and the evil done on our behalf.

      I grow weary confessing the evil done on my behalf….

  6. F. William Thewalt says:

    I fail to see why the Episcopal church supports and/or favors the Palestinians against the Israelis. Palestine and it allies stand for the elimination of Israel. The organizations in control of Palestine stand for and participate in terrorism in Israel, the U.S. and around the world. Israel has made contributions the world and world peace by at least a factor of 10 over that of the Palestinians.
    F. W. Thewalt

    1. Fr Steven Smith says:

      Well said my friend. If the Presiding Bishop is wrong on the subject of human sexuality, biblical inerrancy, the divine nature of Jesus Christ, and centuries of apostolic teaching, then surely she’s wrong on middle east policy. Have a blessed day and keep the faithful in South Carolina in your prayers as God leads us to greener (and more orthodox) pastures.

    2. Addison Bross says:

      F. William Thewalt says:
      “I fail to see why the Episcopal church supports and/or favors the Palestinians against the Israelis. Palestine and it allies stand for the elimination of Israel.”

      Your comment repeats a widely disseminated but wholly baseless assertion.

      (1) Actually, Hamas (commonly identified as an enemy seeking to “eliminate” Israel) was in large part Israel’s creation as a means of dividing the Palestinian independence movement::
      “Instead of trying to curb Gaza’s Islamists from the outset, says Mr. Cohen, Israel for years tolerated and, in some cases, encouraged them as a counterweight to the secular nationalists of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its dominant faction, Yasser Arafat’s Fatah. Israel cooperated with a crippled, half-blind cleric named Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, even as he was laying the foundations for what would become Hamas.”
      The Wall Street Journal:

      (2) Iranian President Ahmadinejad, though he is almost always blamed for threatening to wipe Israel off the map, has never threatened Israel’s existence. This inaccurate account of his remark has fed the image of Israel as victim and has therefore been exploited consistently by Israeli officials. The statement at issue was not his statement; nor was it a threat against Israel. It was uttered by Ayatollah Khomeini. Ahmadinejad’s words were (in correct translation): “The Imam [Ayatollah Khomeini] said this regime, occupying Jerusalem, must vanish from the page of time.”
      1. This is what Khomeini said. He had said it years earlier, and at that time no one took it seriously.
      2. He said “this regime,” not “Jews,” and not “Israel.”
      3. He did not say “must be destroyed,” rather “must [is destined to] disappear.”
      What he meant was that Israel’s regime and political system “must” disappear, akin to what happened in the Soviet Union, where the regime disappeared without bloodshed. In fact, Khomeini, in a famous letter to Gorbachev, had made that prediction.

      (3) Much of the Palestinian struggle to end their country’s illegal occupation by Israel has been nonviolent. Some Palestinian leaders (or Arab leaders from other nations) employing nonviolent methods, teaching their use, and mobilizing their compatriots to employ them include: Daoud Nassar, Father Raed Awad, Faysal El-Husseini (called “the Palestinian Gandhi”), Jawdat Said, Jonathan Kuttab (co-founder of the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence), Sami Al Jundi (supervisor of the Seeds of Peace Center, Jerusalem), Yahya Shurbaji and Ghiyath Matar (Syrian peace advocates), Abdallah Abu Rahmah (a school teacher and coordinator of the nonviolent Bil’in Popular Committee Against the Wall), and Mubarak Awad (psychologist, founder of the Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence), whom Prime Minister Yitzak Shamir deported from Israel in April 1988 over the objections of President Ronald Reagan and Secretary of State George Schultz. (The Prime Minister was so far from respecting the Palestinian peace movement — or any Palestinians — that he commonly referred to the latter as “cockroaches” [In the Footsteps of Gandhi, p. 51]). I could continue this list, but probably this number will suffice. Information concerning all of these Palestinian peace advocates is available on the web.

  7. Scott Lewis says:


  8. James Tate says:

    It is nice that ethe PB has written to the cadidates for President. It would have been nice if she had joined the 15 religious leadwers who wrote to congress to enforce our laws on foreign aid to Israel. see: LOUISVILLE
    Fifteen religious leaders representing many major faith groups in the country, have written a letter to Congress seeking to make U.S. military aid to Israel contingent upon its government’s “compliance with applicable U.S. laws and policies
    Jim Tate

  9. Bishop Allen Bartlett says:

    Well said, Bishop Katharine. A concise statement of the broad range of issues, and very timely.
    We shall be looking for the words in the campaign, and the ACTIONS later.

  10. Don Reed says:

    Thank you, Bishop, for calling attention both to security concerns and to humanitarian concerns. May our prayers be fervent for healing of divisions within each people, with both of whom we share bonds of affection, so that a consensus for peace and an openness to compromise may emerge among both.

  11. Thomas R. Getman says:

    Thank you Presiding Bishop for your thoughtful appeal to President Obama and Governor Romney . It is a much needed addition to the conversation. An urgent concern is that Israeli government policy, to which you have alluded, seems to belie commitment to a two state solution as the remaining bits and pieces of Palestine are not a viable contiguous governable economic entity…even with promised land swaps. Thus despair “on the ground” is increasing volatility.
    With prayers for a soon just peace, Tom Getman

  12. The Rev. Harriet B. Linville says:

    Powerfully written, Bp. Katharine. Many thanks. May all make peace come to pass, for all of God’s children in the Middle East.

    1. MJ Fowler says:

      And let us say: Amen!

      1. Ed McCarthy says:

        The Presiding Bishop’s letter has much to commend it. It demonstrates a grasp of the realities that (a) a 2-State solution is the realistic alternative to perpetuation of an Israeli occupation which does nothing but harm to both peoples; and (b) that the United States can and should act to bring about the hoped-for peace. The letter is also sent to the right addresses, i.e., to the candidates for next President. It is the Executive who can take the needed actions on Israel/Palestine, as on foreign policy in general. In this respect, the letter contrasts with the communication sent to Congress by 15 “religious leaders,” some of whom are indeed leaders of denominations and some who have lesser standing. That letter, dispatched to the principal US bastion of pro-Israeli support, will predictably get at best a pro forma response. There will be no Congressional inquiry into possible Israeli violation of US laws regarding military aid. Unlike the writers of that letter, the Presiding Bishop recognizes what is possible: Movement toward compromise settlement–but not implied or actual criticism of Israeli behavior –even though that behavior is often deserving of criticism.

        The Presiding Bishop’s letter does share with the other letter one questionable aspect: Its timing. We are talking about one of the most notorious “Third Rails” of American politics. With the November election looming, the incentives not to address Israel/Palestine, or to stick to established policy generalities, are overwhelming. During the campaign, the candidates will say little meaningful about the subject. Nor, I think, should they. Action, not words, is what is needed, and words such as Bishop Schori has asked for prematurely stated could get in the way of what should be done. A letter to the President-elect once the November poll is over could be useful, particularly if it comes from a broad range of denominational leaders, but the churches probably can most usefully contribute by building support among their congregations for the kind of balanced approach envisioned by the Presiding Bishop in her letter. I wish I could agree completely with commentator Don Scott Elliott that Israel/Palestine is a “non-zero-sum game,” but as some other comments indicate, there is still far too much of Zero Sum, of polarized and uncompromising views, on both sides, and that remains to be overcome.

        1. The Rev. Sharline A. Fulton says:

          Is speaking the truth of the “facts on the ground” that is, the slow, steady elimination of the presence of Palestinians on any part of Israel-Palestine, and/or the “wharehousing ” of the Palestinian people just “criticism of Israeli behavior” or the truth as we are seeing it?

  13. David Burwell- Johnson says:

    I appreciate this strong statement and hope that she( along with other religious Leaders in the US) will put strong pressure on both Congress and the Administration -to lead this Peace initiative. WAR is nonzero-sum game.. peace is peace and war is war: if anybody “loses,” everybody else does, too.

    If Palestine is to be free and independent, Israel must be safe; if Israelis are to be free from young men with bombs, Palestinians must be safe from Israeli helicopters and bulldozers.

  14. Neil Richardon says:

    The letter is a good one. However, the theme that only direct negotiations can resolve the issue denies the reality that the Israelis are all powerful and the Palestinians are virtually powerless. It is difficult to imagine how talks only between the two peoples can accomplish any reasonable settlement of the issue of Palestinian freedom and self-determination.

    The letter also gives no recognition, explicitly or implicitly, that the Palestinians are the ones having their land stolen, their resources such as water, being taken away from them, and their heritage and history being dispossessed. Even the word “anti-semitism”, as used to defend Jews, is a high-jacking of Palestinian identity as the Palestinians are a truly Semitic people. Whether we want to admit it or not, it is the Israeli people who are doing the stealing and dispossessing.

    When one people, such as the Palestinians, are being controlled by another people for their own selfish ends, such as what is going on in Palestine, it seems to me that it is the same dynamic as an issue such as slavery. The institution of slavery did not end by slaves and slaveholders negotiating a settlement or the freedom of slaves. It ended because the outside world spoke out and supported the movement to end the practice. People such as William Wilberforce would be an example of leaders who took up the challenge. My own feelings about Christianity, and my own Church specifically, is that we need to take up the challenge of speaking out in support of Palestinian freedom and equality.

    To admonish the Palestinians for what a few among them may do wrong in reaction to their dispossession, without paying a much greater priority to addressing the core issue, Palestinian dispossession, is not right. They are an “equal” people, in the eyes of God, as are all people, and need to be recognized in that light.

  15. Charles Robideau says:

    Bishop Katharine,
    Your letter runs off the road at the third paragraph, where you state: “Support for a two-state solution is the shared policy of the United States government, the government of Israel, and the Palestinian National Authority.”
    If the government of Israel wanted two states, it would not have done everything it could to prevent that solution. It wouldn’t have encouraged rampant expansion of settlements on Palestinian land, or imposed harsh — even brutal — restrictions on the rights of the Palestinian people. It wouldn’t have built the wall, an affront to basic humanity.
    If our U.S. government really wanted a two-state solution, it would not have winked at Israel’s abuse of the Palestinian people. It would not have shielded Israel from any censure by the United Nations, or rewarded Israel with financial aid and weaponry that help support Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory.
    If either of the presidential candidates you address had an open mind on the issue, they would not be trying to outdo each other in obeisance to their “good friend” Bibi Netanyahu and the supposed Jewish vote.
    Most important, if our Episcopal Church were committed to a Palestinian settlement worthy of the Abrahamic faith we profess, we would not abet the literalization and trivialization of that faith by the claim of many — but surely not all — Israelis that God gave that tiny piece of Holy Land to one single group of people, out of all the God-created peoples on God’s earth.
    In you letter, you appropriately hold up the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and its leader, Bishop Suheil Dawani, as exemplars of faithful efforts to preserve Christianity in the land of Jesus. It might be noted as well, however, that Bishop Dawani and his Lutheran colleague, Bishop Munib Younan, are among 13 patriarchs and heads of Christian denominations in Jerusalem who have endorsed the Kairos Palestine statement of 2009, a passionate cry for peace, but even more for justice, in the Holy Land. The call of the 2009 statement has now been amplified by a new Kairos USA statement, endorsed by communicants of many Christian denominations, including our own. If you could add your endorsement to that statement, it would be salutary

  16. Marianne Albina says:

    If the bishop is so concerned about real justice and peace, why has she not signed the letter from her ecumenical partners to Congress calling for an accounting of U.S. aid to Israel. Really bishop… step up, and make Jesus proud!

  17. Danny Buckley says:

    The letter rides roughshod over the reality of an overwhelming power imbalance between an occupying military superpower and a minimally armed subject population.

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