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NEW YORK – The Israel Palestine Mission Network* (IPMN) of the Presbyterian Church (USA), The Presbyterian Peace Fellowship (PPF) and the National Middle East Presbyterian Caucus (NMEPC) oppose the misuse of the grand jury process by the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) and the accompanying FBI raids. The DOJ served a total of nine federal grand jury subpoenas to Chicago area Palestinian solidarity activists in the month of December alone, raising the total subpoenas served to 23. These Presbyterian groups call upon their own denominational leadership, as well as Churches for Middle East Peace, The National Council of Churches and all concerned Christian denominations to join them in denouncing the DOJ's bold attempts to suppress peaceful dissent on the part of those working for an end to the illegal Israeli occupation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
Jeff Story, a Chicago attorney and member of the IPMN, points out "the time for all Americans to speak up about these encroachments on our constitutional right to dissent is now. We must not wait until Presbyterians who are Palestinian solidarity peacemakers receive the 'knock on the door'." Story, who is also a member of the National Lawyers Guild Free Palestine Subcommittee, adds that Christians, to our discredit, did not adequately "raise the alarm when the DOJ politically prosecuted Muslim charities and mosques in the recent past" and that "our present response is long overdue."
The Supreme Court's ruling from last June on "material support" for terrorism has enabled the DOJ to conduct these raids, armed with an extremely broad definition of what constitutes "material support." Parallels can be drawn to Schenck v. United States, a 1919 Supreme Court decision that upheld the overbroad definition of espionage and sedition. The DOJ subpoenas from Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald are an infringement on the First Amendment, which upholds the right of free speech, protest and free assembly – one of our most basic rights as Americans.
At its General Assembly in Minneapolis in July 2010, the Presbyterian Church (USA) called upon the United States government, "to exercise strategically its international influence, including making U.S. aid to Israel contingent upon Israel’s compliance with international law and peacemaking efforts." Rev. Jeffrey DeYoe, Advocacy Chairperson for the IPMN, adds: "As the Presbyterian Church (USA) and other denominations begin to take courageous stands against U.S. military support of violations of human rights in the OPT, all Christians should be concerned about judicial efforts to silence fellow citizens opposing unjust policy."
Of special concern are DOJ demands that activists in the U.S. be forced to reveal names of those who seek peaceful change in Palestine. This process has been described as a "fishing expedition" in which the DOJ looks for ways to prosecute activists without legal grounds.
The IPMN, the PPF and the NMEPC are deeply concerned that solidarity activists, through this misuse of the grand jury process, may soon be facing imprisonment for refusing to allow themselves to be compelled to name names of fellow activists here at home, and in the OPT. If this process is carried forward and church workers are similarly subpoenaed, this could threaten partnerships between American churches and Palestinian Christians striving for justice.
These Presbyterian groups call upon all concerned Christian bodies to act with peace, love and courage to affirm our nation’s higher good, as well as God’s highest law.
*The PC(USA) General Assembly mandated IPMN, who speaks TO the Church not FOR the Church.