On Oct 9 I had an opportunity to lead a delegation to meet with Judy Chu, my Congressional Representative. I'm pleased to report this visit was very different from what happened last month in Senator Feinstein's office. Our encounter with Chu was friendly and in keeping with our Quaker beliefs and practices.
I had been to Chu's office before with a delegation to talk about repealing the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF). At that time, we met with her aide Matthew Hovsepian, who was very friendly and sympathetic, but this time we met with Judy Chu face-to-face. I was pleased that Chu has voted three times to repeal the AUMF and hoped she would be open to seeking diplomatic ways to resolve the conflicts in the Middle East.
Our group consisted of Estee Chandler, radio commentator for KPFJ’s “Middle East in Focus” and founder of the LA chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace; Cody Lowry and his girlfriend Annie, and Madeline Schleimer, members of Orange Grove Meeting. Estee presented the views of Jewish Voice for Peace on Israel/Palestine. I provided the views of Friends Committee on National Legislation (fncl.org) and Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (icujp.org).
We followed the Quaker practice of beginning our meeting by thanking Judy for stands she took that we agree with. We especially appreciated her stand on immigration (sponsoring a bill to give free legal counseling to refugee children crossing the border), on repealing the AUMF, and on supporting vets. I told her about Quaker House in Fayetteville, NC, and how we Quakers are doing what we can to support vets when they have concerns of conscience, or when their rights are violated, or when they are suffering from domestic violence and abuse. We feel the best thing we can do to support our vets is to bring them home!
Judy was a good listener. Her face lit up when I told her I had crafted a statement about Israel/Palestine and the Middle East that Jews, Muslims and Christians at ICUJP had agreed upon. Knowing how difficult it is to achieve any kind of consensus on this region among people of different faiths, she smiled and began reading this document as soon as I handed it to her.
I did my homework and was able to ask about two bills she supported that we Quakers oppose. First, sending aid to Syrian rebels. Second, increasing sanctions against Iran. I asked her to explain her reasons for supporting these bills.
She told us she struggled over whether or not to send aid to Syrian rebels. She went to secret briefings and became convinced that such aid might work. She told us that the measure was coming up for review in December and she would be looking closely to see if this aid was helping
I told her I couldn’t see how such aid could help. We don’t know enough about the rebels, or even how such aid would be used. Sending military aid to rebels during times of civil war seldom works, as a recent classified CIA study that was leaked to the press indicates. See http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_world_/2014/10/15/classified_cia_report_finds_that_arming_rebels_rarely_works_so_where_does.html
A better approach would be to send humanitarian aid and to work for a diplomatic solution, bringing all the parties to the table (Iran, Russia, Syria, rebel groups, etc).
I also asked her why she supported more sanctions against Iran at a time when we were embarking on long overdue negotiations. Such sanctions could undermine these sensitive diplomatic efforts.
She said that she voted for the bill because she didn’t think it would pass, but it would send a message. She wants to be sure that Iran doesn’t get nuclear arms
I agreed with her that it is undesirable for Iran, or any nation in the Middle East, to have nuclear weapons. But I couldn’t see how imposing more sanctions, or even threatening to do so, could help. Negotiations worked to convince Assad to destroy his chemical weapons stockpile; we need to use diplomacy to convince Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions.
I told her I was especially concerned about this issue because it will be the focus on Quaker lobby day in November. I hoped to see her then.
All in all, It was a good meeting and I look forward to seeing Judy and her aids in the future. I feel we are building a good relationship with her and her staff that will bear good fruit.
Interfaith Communities United For Justice And Peace
817 W. 34th Street, Los Angeles, CA 90089
Religious Communities must stop blessing war and violence!
STATEMENT ON THE MIDDLE EAST AND ISRAEL/PALESTINE – September 2014
As people of faith and conscience, we are appalled and saddened by the escalating violence in the Middle East. We are convinced that military force is not the answer. President Obama’s call for military intervention in the civil wars taking place in Iraq and Syria cannot be justified militarily or morally. We are deeply concerned that the President feels he has the authority, under the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, to engage in military interventions without consulting Congress. The AUMF must be repealed.
As we have seen repeatedly, violence begets more violence and our drones and bombing raids recruit more militants. A different approach is needed if we want different results. We need to work for political solutions through diplomacy and humanitarian aid and express genuine concern for the best interests of all of the people of this region.
We therefore call upon the United States:
· To end arms shipments to the Middle East. US weaponry fuels violence and supports authoritarian regimes that do not represent the will of their people or promote democracy or a just peace.
· To provide massive humanitarian efforts (implemented mainly by civilians, not by the military) to rebuild Gaza, Iraq, Afghanistan and other areas ravaged by US military interventions. We feel that the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the failed “War on Terror” would have produced far better results if our resources had been used for community development and to alleviate poverty and disease.
· To condemn human rights abuses by all countries in the Middle East, including our allies, and to support genuine democracy, especially nonviolent grassroots movements seeking to end oppression.
We are especially concerned about the violence in Israel/Palestine because the US provides billions of dollars annually in aid to Israel, and because this area is considered sacred to Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
We are appalled by the thousands killed in the latest violence in Gaza, most of them civilians and children, as well as by massive destruction of homes, mosques, schools and hospitals. We equally grieve the deaths suffered in Israel from Hamas rockets.
We therefore call upon the United States:
· To support the international commission of inquiry appointed by the United Nations to investigate possible human rights violations and war crimes committed by both sides during the recent conflict.
· To condemn violence on both sides and to stop justifying Israel’s use of disproportionate force and killing of innocent civilians because of “its right to defend itself,” which leads only to an escalation of violence.
· To demand that Israel immediately end its blockade and siege of Gaza.
· To demand Hamas end its violence and dismantle its offensive arsenal.
· To condemn extremism and demonization on both sides. Both sides have legitimate grievances, yet both sides have committed wrongs. The US needs to work with the UN and the international community to help redress grievances and resolve differences in a fair and impartial manner.
· To encourage genuine peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians. If the Israeli government will not participate in talks with Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, then no further American aid of any sort should be provided to Israel.
· To provide immediate humanitarian aid and supplies to Gaza. Our tax dollars have played a significant role in the destruction of Gaza; now our tax dollars must be used to rebuild Gaza and aid its civilian population.
· To support the international consensus recognizing Palestine as a state, alongside Israel.
· To end illegal settlements in occupied territories that make a two-state solution increasingly difficult if not impossible to implement.
· To put pressure on both governments to guarantee equal human and civil rights for Palestinians and Israelis, as guaranteed by the UN Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Resolving the conflict in Israel/Palestine, with equality and justice for all, is an important step towards peace in the Middle East.