“A Budget is Always a Moral Document”

Revised and Updated

By James M. Wall

The Chicago Hearing, a “mock Congressional Hearing” sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee, attracted a standing room only crowd to the campus of the University of Chicago this past weekend.

In addition to the crowd assembled in Ida Noyes Hall for four hours on Sunday afternoon, April 18, the Chicago Hearing was viewed live in a streaming video internet broadcast to a worldwide audience of individuals and “listening groups” on campuses, in churches, and in private homes.

The Chicago Hearing was modeled after a Congressional Hearing. Veteran Middle East correspondent Helena Cobban served as chair of the Hearing.

Four Illinois area members of Congress were invited to attend, either in person, or by sending a staff member.  Let the record show that only one of those invitees, Senator Richard Durbin, bothered to send a staff member.

The No-Shows for the Hearing were outgoing Illinois Senator Roland Burris, and two Illinois House members whose districts are in or border on the University of Chicago neighborhood: Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. (son of the Civil Rights leader) and Congressman Bobby Rush.

The absence of the No-Shows was highlighted by Moderator Cobban, who placed empty chairs in front of the stage. I hope the No-Shows will soon receive a deluge of emails asking each of them, “where were you on the day when the question was asked, “Does U.S. Policy on Israel and Palestine Uphold Our Values?”

Thoughtful and informed answers to that question were offered by an impressive international panel of witnesses, including Jeff Halper, Amer Shurrab, Jad Isaac, and Mezna Qato, from Palestine,  and Cindy Corrie, the mother of Rachel Corrie, from the Seattle, Washington, area.

Other witnesses were Lisa Kosowski from the Arab Jewish Partnership, and Josh Ruebner, from the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occuption.

It was Rush, a former Black Panther leader turned mainstream, who handed State Senator Barack Obama his first defeat in politics when the former community organizer thought he was ready to jump from the state senate to the US House. The Hearing was held a short distance from President Obama’s Chicago home.

The entire hearing is now posted on the Chicago Hearing website, conveniently numbered by segments.

If you choose to join Burris, Jackson and Rush as a No-Show, and do not download this presentation, then I have a Shakespearean reminder for you from the famous Crispin Day speech from Henry V.

And gentlemen in England, now a-bed

Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

The Chicago Hearing was important because it joined together leading figures of the Palestinian Peace and Justice movement in one time slot and one location. The event provided basic information and analysis for anyone engaged in the struggle.

Topics for the Hearing were familiar: Property Rights; Freedom of Movement, Association and Speech, and Military Aid. But rarely will we have found such in-depth examinations of these topics, all under one roof.

“Listeners” who were invited to ask questions to the “Witnesses” were drawn from the Chicago area:

Cantor Michael Davis, from Jewish Fast for Gaza; the Rev. Cotton Fite, Episcopal priest; John J. Mearsheimer, a University of Chicago professor and co-author of the book, The Israel Lobby; Barbara Ransby, a professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago;  Ghada Talhami, Professor Emerita, Lake Forest College; and Zaher Sahloul, Chair of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.

On the Chicago Hearing website, you may access Section six, in which Josh Ruebner, National Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, offers a succinct statement on the military aid the US provides to the state of Israel, past, present and into the next decade.

His statement, “A budget is always a moral document”, was testimony to just how far American values are alienated from US policy. That statement also provides a strong slogan for use by American churches who have adopted the Palestinian-inspired program of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions), to help educate their members.

Within the next few weeks, at denominational meetings, delegates will be asked to support a variety of strategies to implement BDS. Perhaps the national meeting which has drawn the most attention and the strongest opposition from supporters of Israel, is the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church USA.

How the churches spend their money and invest their pension funds is a moral question. The Presbyterians have been asked by supporters of selective divestment to divest church funds from companies that provide materials and support for continuing the Occupation.

How the American government spends US tax dollars on military aid to Israel is also very much a moral question. US administrations, both current and in the future, are living with a financial agreement reached during the presidency of George W. Bush:

On August 16, 2007, Israel and the US signed a Memorandum of Understanding promising $30 billion in military aid to Israel over the following decade.

Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of military as well as total U.S. aid since World War II. Israel has received over $106 billion from the U.S., including $58.6 billion in military aid.

The US Congress approves this aid, while the Department of Defense, with assistance from the Department of State, is responsible for transferring the weapons.

Direct military aid from the US to Israel comes in two forms: money and weapons.

Foreign Military Financing (FMF) is the way money changes hands between the two nations. FMF is money transferred directly to Israel for the purchase of military products and services.

A total of $30 billion in FMF has been promised by the US for Israel  for the decade 2008-2018. Since 2008, all US aid to Israel has been, and will be, exclusively FMF. No more domestic program funding; from now on it will be all military funding.

Since 2010, Israel has received more than half of all FMF the US provides to nations of the world. As a special benefit, Israel is the only country allowed to use FMF (around 25%)  on its own domestic defense industry.

Israel is required, by its agreement with the US, to spend 75% of its FMF $30 billion between 2008 and 2018 on either US government weapons or private US producers of weapons.  All non-government purchases must be approved by the US.

In short, 75% of  FMF monies are spent within the US. Which leads to the obvious conclusion: It is not only the Israel Lobby, with its political and ideological loyalty to Israel, that drives American support for Israel.

American support for Israel is also driven by what President Eisenhower termed, the “military-industrial complex”.

As I let this reality sink in during the Chicago Hearing, I suddenly remembered Michael Apted’s 2006 film, Amazing Grace, which traces the struggle, led by William Wilberforce, to outlaw the slave trade in Britain. The parallel between the Apted film and the Chicago Hearing was strong.

I recalled  that in that film, the most passionate defenders of the slave trade were members of Parliament whose constituents benefited from the shipping trade.

This You Tube preview of Amazing Grace, provides an overview of Wilberforce’s battle over the slave trade.

The parallel between the two experiences is not, by any means, exact. No historical parallel ever is. But the sense of having been there before, after the Chicago Hearing was, for me, profound.

The film follows the same outline as the Chicago Hearing. Facts are laid out in both Amazing Grace and the Hearing that demonstrate the ignorance of two publics that hide behind a Wall of Indifference to the suffering of people who remain unknown to the “outside world”.

Testimonies from those who have suffered at the hands of those who hold the guns or the whips, are deeply disturbing and gripping.

In Amazing Grace, Wilberforce is a member of the House of Lords. He is angry and frustrated by the indifference and deliberate ignorance of Britain’s ruling class. These are the holders of power who benefit from economic growth.

It is that ruling class in the 21st century that excites Tom Friedman who writes so much about the “economic miracle” he finds in Israel’s booming economy. Those who profit from this economy have benefited from remaining aloof from the ugly reality of the Occupation.  It is easier to blame Palestinians for not cooperating more with Israel than it is to face that reality.

In one dramatic encounter in Amazing Grace, Wilberforce takes members of the Parliament, their wives, and their financial backers, on a boat ride around the harbor. He halts the ship next to an empty slave ship and forces his passengers to smell “the death” rising from the ship. The ship has just returned with a cargo of raw sugar. On the trip to Jamaica, the ship carried human cargo into slavery.

The film’s title comes from the hymn written by a remorseful John Newton (Albert Finney), now working in a church mopping floors. Newton had been a slave trader with a fleet of ships, until his dramatic conversion.  Repentant, Newton wrote the words to Amazing Grace, which is sung several times in the film,  and played, very slowly, by a Scottish marching band.

As a young man, Wilberforce had known Newton as a preacher, which is what led him to seek support and spiritual guidance from Newton after Wilberforce encountered increasingly strong resistance to passage of his bill to outlaw the slave trade.

Britain did not have slaves of its own.  It simply benefited from the shipping trade that raided Africa and shipped slaves to the Americas.

This parallel makes sense to me. Commercial interests and deliberate ignorance about the suffering of others were present in Britain’s Parliament, just as the military-industrial arms trade and deliberate ignorance about the inhumane practice of Occupation, force the Palestinian people to live behind prison walls erected by the Israeli occupiers, out of sight and out of mind of the Israeli and American publics.

National headquarters for Caterpillar Inc is in Peoria, Illinois, a small city not far from the campus of the University of Chicago, where the Chicago Hearing was held.

Among Caterpillar’s products is the famous earth-moving tractor which is used extensively in the Occupied Territories for demolishing Palestinian homes, constructing Jewish settlements, building Jewish-only highways, and completing the so-called “security wall” which separates Israel from the Occupied Territories.

The earth-moving tractor is not the only product in the Caterpillar line, but it is most certainly a big-seller in Israel. The company is flourishing, as this recent news story reports.

Caterpillar has been a target of the BDS campaign. Thus far Caterpillar has ignored the protests, a clear decision that the use of its tractors to support the Occupation is not hurting either Caterpillar’s public image or its bottom line.

Cindy Corrie, one of the presenters at the Chicago Hearing, told a worldwide audience the story of the death by Caterpillar tractor of her daughter, Rachel, while she stood in full view of the tractor driver, an IDF soldier.

Her testimony runs 19 minutes (about the time of a Friday, Saturday or Sunday sermon). It may be downloaded for use next week. For access, click on section seven on the Chicago Hearing website.

Rachel Corrie was standing on a mound of dirt with a bull horn, asking the driver not to continue toward her and the Palestinian home behind her.

This young American citizen was in Gaza as a volunteer. Her self-imposed task on the day she died was to stand between a Palestinian family whose home was being demolished by a Caterpillar tractor.

After her death in 2003, the Israeli army investigated the incident; it took no action against the driver. The US  Congress refused to call for its own investigation into the death of an American citizen on foreign soil.

The Corrie family is seeking redress in Israeli civilian courts. The case is pending. Meanwhile, Caterpillar’s business is booming.

The picture above is a Ma’an photo. It shows young Jewish settlers placing boulders on a Palestinian highway.  They do this to impede civilian traffic.


About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
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7 Responses to “A Budget is Always a Moral Document”

  1. The historic Chicago Hearing could prove to be the vessel that will make the blind see and the willingly ignorant care about current reality.

    Knowledge creates responsibility, and on moral and ethical grounds, shouldn’t knowing the truth also compel US to take correct action?

  2. Mart Bailey says:

    ‘AMAZING GRACE’? YES, PLUS…
    I am eager to see ‘Amazing Grace’ as well as watch The Chicago Hearing when it comes on line. No doubt there will be helpful parallels.
    But the description that Jim Wall gives to the Hearing fills me with a sense of deja vu. Having lived in Israel/Palestine for the length of time that most college graduates spend garnering their degree, the Hearing (and the discouraging daily news from Jerusalem) just serves to remind me of what we saw and experienced more than a decade ago.
    That is not to say that the Hearing and the Apted-ly named film are not important. It is to remind myself–and the increasing numbers of concerned Americans–that though little has changed beyond the multiplying facts on the ground, we must not grow weary in our advocacy.
    In addition to reminding the legislators that their absence was noticed in Chicago, we must find ways to assure President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton that we expect strong, creative, and persistent leadership from them. I believe we need urgently to find ways to coordinate our advocacy in Washington and to make our convictions heard.

  3. Bill Gepford says:

    I have been an observer of the Palestine/Israel vendetta for 57 years. What impresses me most is the well-thought-out strategy of the “Israel supporters,” both in consensus-building and in financial backing. Maybe, just maybe, things like the Chicago Hearing, as well as the Berkeley student debates, will become the groundswell for building the necessary strategy and funding for those of us who advocate for peace, justice and human rights in the Middle East. Money isn’t everything, but without it the best laid strategies will surely die ignoble deaths on the bookshelves of our libraries.
    Again, thank you Jim for your leadership.

  4. Janet Gillmar says:

    I think it is noteworthy that Sen. Durbin, who is a leader in Congress, stuck his neck out and did send a representative.

  5. David says:

    Thanks for sharing Jim!

    Folks can find out more about the cost of U.S. military aid at http://aidtoisrael.org

  6. Patricia Pynchon says:

    I shall try to find the time to look at the videos of this worthwhile program. But does it affect congress? The problem is that congress people have no conscience, they seem only to care for their bank accounts. What will give them the jolt to deny Israel funding and to make them come to an arrangement? These programs are all well and good, (But there have been so many Programs,) and I hope they are a start for the big jolt to make congress come around and force Israel; however, it is not enough. They have to get scared about being reelectedDo they really care about values?

  7. Renate Hanauer says:

    I always read your piece with great interest. However, just to set the record straight on a point that’s not really central to your argument, England did indeed have slaves.

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