On Monday, June 24th, Churches for Middle East Peace (CMEP) held an annual Advocacy Summit in Washington, D.C. The summit primarily focused on the ecumenical organization’s positions on various aspects of the Israel-Palestine conflict and ongoing efforts to shape U.S. policy towards Israel-Palestine. While some of CMEP’s aims are admirable, including mitigating human suffering in the Middle East, some of the group’s objectives are problematic.
While it is reasonable to seek improvements in the quality of life for Palestinians and to advocate for a solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict that takes all views into account, the CMEP Advocacy Summit offered a one-sided story. For an organization that claims to represent “the unified voice of all U.S. churches,” CMEP did little to hide its affinity for groups that many American Christians surely find to be polarizing. The world has an interest in solving the Israel-Palestine conflict in a peaceful and enduring manner, but CMEP’s summit was uniquely critical of Israel and U.S. President Donald Trump, offering few new insights into how to resolve one of the world’s most complicated geopolitical conflicts.
The Rev. Dr. Mae Elise Cannon, Executive Director of CMEP, claimed in her afternoon address that CMEP holds thirteen guiding policy positions agreed to by “unanimous consent” of thirty of the largest U.S. Christian denominations. It seems, then, that CMEP would represent the views of the majority of Christians in America.
CMEP makes this claim in its most recent YouTube promotional video, in which the group claims to be “the leading Christian advocacy group in Washington, D.C.” The group touted an operating budget that has expanded six-fold since Cannon assumed leadership of the organization, but it remains difficult to see how CMEP can be the leading Christian advocacy group in Washington. This becomes clear when examining the group’s engagement with the public: despite development of social media campaigns, CMEP’s online public engagement remains lackluster. With approximately 5,000 Facebook likes, 500 Twitter followers, 150 Instagram followers, and 70 YouTube subscribers, CMEP’s message is probably not disseminated to the vast majority of U.S. Christians — the very demographic for whom CMEP claims to advocate. Perhaps, CMEP is overstating its role as “the united voice of all U.S. churches,” as its Executive Director asserted.
In terms of the Israel-Palestine conflict, CMEP claims to “recognize the religious importance of the Middle East to Jews, Christians, and Muslims and others.” Unfortunately, this did not appear to be the primary focus of the annual Summit.
Monday afternoon’s sessions almost exclusively directed rhetorical fire at the Israeli government. CMEP takes a stance that places the primary burden of peace on the Israeli government. The ecumenical organization’s officials also equate the Palestinian liberation movement with the U.S.-based Black Lives Matter movement. On more than one occasion, a CMEP panelist claimed that “the goal is for it to be political suicide [for U.S. politicians] to NOT criticize Israel.” Perhaps this is what Cannon means when she claims that “CMEP seeks to shift U.S. policies toward a more ‘holistic’ agenda for the Middle East.”
As an organization, CMEP publicly opposed Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner’s new Middle East peace economic plan, citing the proposal’s lack of attention on ongoing human rights abuses and injustices in the region.
For an organization that claims “to take a multinarrative approach that silences none,” CMEP dismisses the possibility put forth in Kushner’s new plan that economic development could drastically improve the standard of living for Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Kushner proposes that economic growth would provide an environment more conducive to reaching an enduring, peaceful solution to the conflict.
That CMEP rejects this proposal out of hand reveals the group’s anti-Trump Administration sentiments, rather than an approach that “silences none.”
The final speaker at Monday’s summit, The Nation sports columnist Dave Zirin, alleged the Israeli government is “sports-washing” professional athletes into pro-Israel apologists. By facilitating all-expenses-paid trips to Israel for athletes, initiated in cooperation with U.S.-based advocacy organizations, Zirin claims that the government of Israel is able to influence American public opinion.
Zirin was critical of this practice and condemned a lack of attention to Palestinians. By voicing his support for and linking the social movements embodied by Muhammad Ali, John Carlos, Colin Kaepernick, and Michael Bennett to the situation in Palestine, Zirin appeared to offer a one-sided political narrative that demonized the government of Israel. He also praised the connection between the Black Lives Matter movement and the Palestinian Movement, claiming that the leaders of each movement often use Skype to coordinate and share tactical advice.
On Tuesday, June 25th, CMEP Advocacy Summit attendees participated in a day of Congressional lobbying, focused on advancing the organization’s narrow vision of Middle East peace. However, it is unlikely that CMEP will be able to advance meaningful policy changes without reconciling the one-sided narratives that contradict its state goal of silencing none.
Here is CMEP’s newest promotional video: