Wiesenthal Center: Presbyterian Church's Approval Of Hezbollah Contacts Emboldens International Terrorism

December 1, 2005

WIESENTHAL CENTER: PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH'S APPROVAL OF HEZBOLLAH CONTACTS EMBOLDENS INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM

The Simon Wiesenthal Center expressed its alarm that the decision by a leading mainline Protestant Church - the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA)  - to permit ongoing contacts with Hezbollah will further embolden international terrorism.

"Americans should be deeply troubled by PCUSA's decision to permit ongoing contacts with Hezbollah, a terrorist organization in word and deed", said Rabbi Abraham Cooper associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. "It was disturbing enough that PCUSA officials met recently with Hezbollah's Commander in Southern Lebanon. But to learn that future meetings would be sanctioned, even after Hezbollah launched unprovoked bloody attacks designed to kidnap Israelis, will only further embolden the forces of terrorism in the Holy Land, in Lebanon and around the world".

Officials of the Wiesenthal Center, a leading Jewish human Rights NGO had launched a protest after the Middle East Research Institute published Lebanese media reports that a PCUSA delegation headed by Robert Morley, a retired professor from McCormick Theological Seminary and Father Nihad Tomeh, the Church's Mideast liaison, met with Sheikh Nabil Qaouk, Hezbollah's commander in Southern Lebanon. The Church delegation reportedly wanted to learn more about Hezbollah's charitable works and its "concern" for people.

"The people of Lebanon struggle mightily to reassert their independent democracy, Israel evacuates Gaza and continues negotiations with the Palestinian Authority towards a two-state solution, hundreds of thousands of Jordanians throng to the streets to denounce suicide bombers in Amman, but leaders of the PCUSA rush again to coddle up to Syria and Iran-backed Hezbollah terrorists," charged Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center. "Their moral blindness is both arrogant and dangerous, seeking this meeting with Hezbollah even as the group plotted kidnapping and mayhem to blow up the quiet Lebanese-Israel border," Cooper continued.

At the meeting, Qaouk complained to the Presbyterian officials that U.S. policy towards Lebanon was dictated by Israel. Worley assured him that his delegation was blameless, because they had voted for the Democratic Party. Worley also voiced his own complaint about how much PCUSA had suffered from Jewish organizations because its stand supporting divestment from companies doing business in the Jewish state.

"The latest photo op with a frontline terrorist leader confirms these Presbyterian leaders are pursuing a functionally antisemitic, punitive campaign against Israel, motivated not by hopes for peace but as a desire to weaken the Jewish state," said Rabbi Cooper.

"The Jewish community can only hope that fair-minded members of PCUSA will take back control of the moral compass of their movement before any further damage is done to the cause of Middle East peace, interfaith relations and the Presbyterian Church's historic reputation," Cooper concluded.

PCUSA was the first mainline Protestant movement to call for divesting funds from Israel. A year ago, a PCUSA delegation also visited with Sheikh Qaouk in Lebanon. This led to the dismissal of two members of that delegation as well as condemnation by U.S. Congressional leaders, among others.

Now comes word from PCUSA’s interfaith coordinator Rev. Jay Rock that there would be new guidelines for its members. He explained, however, that "there will not be policies for or against meeting with any group, but we do have policies against the use of terrorism in any form."

"But in fact, PCUSA’s dance with Hezbollah, a group funded and backed by the Iranian and Syrian regimes, only validates and rewards terrorists. In effect PCUSA is saying that it is fine to bring terrorists into civil discourse, so long as you don't help them strap on the explosives belt," Cooper concluded.

Hezbollah is designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. In addition, the distinction between the group's political and terrorist wings was removed by General Intelligence and Security Service of the Netherlands following an investigation into the groups social services apparatus.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center is one of the largest international Jewish human rights organizations with over 400,000 member families in the United States. It is an NGO at international agencies including the United Nations, UNESCO, the OSCE, and the Council of Europe. For more information, please contact the Center's Public Relations Department, 310-553-9036, or visit www.wiesenthal.com.