WASHINGTON, D.C. -- On June 19, two young members of Congress received an extraordinary letter from Jerusalem. On behalf of Christian churches in the Holy Land, they were told a House resolution they were circulating blaming the Palestinian Authority for Christian decline there "is based on many false affirmations." The Very Rev. Michael H. Sellers, an Anglican priest who is coordinator of Jerusalem's Christian churches, said the real problem is the Israeli occupation -- especially its new security wall.
Prior to hearing this from Jerusalem, freshman Republican Rep. Michael McCaul of Austin, Texas, and four-term Democratic Rep. Joseph Crowley of New York City (Queens) had collected 21 co-sponsors (mainly conservative Republicans) for their resolution. But Sellers' communication was followed two days later by a letter from Rep. Henry Hyde, House International Relations Committee chairman. He told the two junior congressmen that their claim of systematic persecution by the Palestinian Authority is "inaccurate and incomplete."
McCaul and Crowley retreated in haste, putting their resolution "on hold" going into the long Fourth of July recess. So apparently ends an audacious effort by Israeli public relations to place full blame for the Christian exodus from the Israeli-controlled Holy Land on Muslims. Instead, problems caused by the security wall have been highlighted once again.
The U.S. House of Representatives was pulled into this issue by Justus Reid Weiner, an Israeli lawyer with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (headed by prominent hard-liner Dore Gold). Weiner, who long has blamed Christian misfortunes on the Palestinian Authority, contacted Ari Stein, a staffer in McCaul's congressional office. Stein in turn brought in Crowley, a prominent Democrat, through his staffer, Gregg Shelowitz.
The result was a "Dear Colleague" letter from McCaul and Crowley blaming the Palestinian Authority for "the systematic destruction of the oldest Christian community in the world." The staff-written letter asserted: "If we do not act now, Christians around the world risk losing control of and access to the most ancient and holy sites in Christendom."
Their subsequent resolution spent three pages detailing alleged persecution of Christians by Arab Muslims, even assailing the State Department for failing to put "treatment of Palestinian Christians by the Palestinian Authority" in its annual report on human rights violations. The McCaul-Crowley resolution immediately picked up 16 Republican co-sponsors (including two candidates for International Relations Committee chairman, Dan Burton of Indiana and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida) and five Democrats.