Sunday, May 26

AME Church Leaders Call for End of U.S. Aid to Israel

Leaders of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the country’s oldest and most prominent Black Christian denominations, called this week for the United States to end its financial aid to Israel, saying the monthslong military campaign in Gaza amounted to “mass genocide.”

The statement was issued by the church’s Council of Bishops, its executive branch, and signed by four senior bishops, including the council president, Bishop Stafford J. N. Wicker.

Black churches and other faith groups have pushed for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war for months in advertisements, open letters and social media campaigns. Black faith leaders across denominations have amplified their calls as the number of dead rises. More than 28,000 people have been killed in Gaza, according to health officials there, many of them women and children.

But the A.M.E. council’s statement goes further than a cease-fire demand, insisting that the United States immediately stop its financial support of Israel. It came as Israeli forces pushed into southern Gaza and prepared for a ground assault on Rafah, where more than a million displaced Palestinians are trapped.

The latest war between Israel and Hamas erupted on Oct. 7, after a Hamas attack on Israel killed 1,200 people, according to Israeli officials. The conflict has been a point of tension between President Biden, who has stood by Israel during the war, and African Americans, many of whom have taken up the Palestinian cause.

Several Black clergy members said the war could weaken an already fraught relationship between Mr. Biden and Black voters, Democrats’ most loyal voting bloc. The Black church is viewed as crucial to helping marshal support for Mr. Biden.

The A.M.E. church, which claims nearly three million members worldwide, holds a special place in that effort. Last month, Mr. Biden became the first sitting president to speak at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., the oldest A.M.E. church in the South, and the site of a 2015 racist massacre. Mr. Biden’s appearance was intended to invigorate African American support for his campaign, though his speech was interrupted by protesters calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

In its statement, the A.M.E. council said Israel’s military had cornered Palestinians in Rafah and “denied them access to food water, shelter and health care.”

It continues: “After this torture, they plan to murder them. The United States of America will have likely paid for the weapons they use. This must not be allowed to happen.”

Senior Bishop Adam J. Richardson Jr., one of the four bishops who signed the statement, said it represented the voices of bishops who are the chief officers of the A.M.E. church. It grew out of many conversations among leaders and members of congregations, he said. Support for Israel’s right to defend itself after the Hamas-led assault in October eventually became more conflicted as the war continued because the “deaths were not proportional,” he said.

“What we are saying is enough is enough — we felt we needed to take it a step further because the money issue must be addressed,” said Bishop Richardson, who presides over 200 congregations in Texas. “Israel has a right to defend itself, but why are we paying? Why are we paying for the destruction of people?”

Still, Bishop Richardson said it had been a difficult decision because the church considers itself a Jewish ally. He wanted to make it clear that the statement was not directed toward Israel, rather at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

“We are hoping that Biden will address the money, but we are not saying we don’t support him or Israel — this is about funding a war,” he said, adding that the denomination would continue to host and support voter registration drives.

A $95 billion foreign aid package, which includes $14 billion Mr. Biden requested for Israel, was passed by the Senate this week. Israel already receives more than $3 billion a year from the United States for weapons and defense.

The Biden campaign and White House did not comment on the A.M.E. church’s statement. A spokeswoman for the White House referred to recent meetings that White House officials and Mr. Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris had held with Black faith leaders in key primary and early battleground states. A spokeswoman for Mr. Biden’s campaign pointed to the president’s heightened criticism of Israel’s tactics in Gaza. Last Thursday, he called them “over the top.”

Still, Black faith leaders say that their congregations have grown increasingly dismayed by the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Rabbi Peter S. Berg, a senior rabbi of the Temple in Atlanta, has said that the growing push for a cease-fire led by some Black faith leaders has at times felt insensitive to the plight of Jews with relatives and friends in Israel.

“While we all want peace and for this war to end, I was disappointed to see that some faith leaders call for a cease-fire without focusing on bringing the hostages home and holding Hamas accountable for the atrocities they have committed,” Rabbi Berg said in a January interview, adding, “This is the time to double down on our strong relationships and to be open and honest with each other.”

The Rev. Michael McBride, lead pastor of The Way Church in Berkeley, Calif., and a co-founder of the Black Church PAC, which helps progressive faith leaders organize, said that he saw the A.M.E. statement as part of ongoing efforts from faith leaders to call for an end to the war.

“It is very clear to us that the approach of Netanyahu and the Israeli forces is to not be concerned about the civilian loss of life, but to at any cost render collective punishment to all the Gazans, and some would even say Palestinians living throughout the West Bank,” said Mr. McBride, whose organization has called for a cease-fire.

During prior cycles, Mr. McBride said he and other faith leaders would spend months working with community organizers planning get-out-the-vote strategies for November — efforts, he said, that would be “fully ramped up by now.” Instead, much of their time is now being used to organize protests and marches against the violence in the Middle East.