Tensions rise in US between Christian and Jewish Leaders

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Father Roy writes: Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote (someplace) that tensions in society can be “creative”.  I’ve done no highlighting in the article pasted below.  It’s self-explanatory.  If one reads the article on the Internet, one can learn a bit about Peter Smith, the man who wrote the article.  Peter is a Presbyterian.  Breaking News:  Jimmy Carter backs Christian leaders’ letter.  


Church leaders, Jews spar over letter on Israel

Tensions have risen once again between Jewish and several Protestant denominations, including the Louisville-based Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), in the wake of a letter sent by several church leaders calling for a congressional review of U.S. military aid to Israel.

The letter has also stoked controversy within the Presbyterian Church itself.

The letter, sent earlier this month by leaders from several Protestant denominations as well as of Orthodox and Catholic groups, denounces what it calls “widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of U.S.-supplied weapons.”

Several Jewish groups responded by canceling a previously planned meeting with Protestant leaders, saying it showed a “betrayal of trust” by the church groups.

“The objectionable actions of Israel enumerated in this letter to Congress are either taken out of context, severe exaggerations or outright false,” Matt Goldberg, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in Louisville, wrote in a recent statement.

“…Additionally, to focus singularly on Israel when other nations receiving American foreign aid (such as Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Afghanistan and Iraq) have far worse human rights records is insulting,” he wrote.

The Rev. Gradye Parsons, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said the letter reflects the denomination’s longstanding call for a two-state solution in the Middle East and for U.S. aid to Israel to be subject to conditions, such as a halt to Israeli settlements on the West Bank. The 2010 General Assembly of the denomination, he said, called on him to send a letter to Congress raising concerns that military aid to Israel has not been used in compliance with U.S. law regulating the use of such aid. He said the 2012 assembly similarly called for U.S. government accountability on this matter.

Parsons said now was the right time to send the letter. “The whole issue of West Bank settlements is off everybody’s radar because of everybody’s legitimate concern about Syria, Egypt Iran” and other global hot spots, Parsons said in an interview. “We weren’t even talking about it.”

He echoed sentiments in the letter that the church leaders supported Israel’s right to exist in security.

The letter said:

“We want to be clear that we recognize that Israel faces real security threats and that it has both a right and a duty to protect both the state and its citizens. However, the measures that it uses to protect itself and its citizens, as in the case with any other nation, must conform to international humanitarian and human rights law.”

In the past decade, Presbyterians have repeatedly considered pulling investments from Israel but balked at votes at its biennial General Assemblies after vigorous debate within the church — debate that also drew in Jews, Christian Arabs, Muslims and others outside the denomination.

Earlier this year, an assembly narrowly rejected a proposal to divest from three American companies identified as aiding the Israeli occupation, although the assembly did call for a consumer boycott of Israeli products manufactured in the occupied territories, such as Dead Sea cosmetics.

Also this year, Methodist and Episcopal conventions rejected divestment proposals, but a Quaker group did vote to divest from two companies seen as involved with the occupation.

Parsons said the church does recognize the responsibility on all sides:

“There are things that the Palestinians need to do to move toward peace. There are things the Israeli government needs to do. At the end of the day, I want any parent that lives in Israel or Palestine to put their child to bed without any worry about any harm coming to them.”

The recent letter by the coalition of church groups was also signed by high-ranking officials in the National Council of Churches, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the Quaker-affiliated American Friends Service Committee, the Mennonite Central Committee, the American Baptist Churches U.S.A., the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

Representatives of the Orthodox Peace Fellowship and two Roman Catholic groups, the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, also signed.

The letter was signed by more liberal and mainline church groups that historically have had warm interfaith ties with Jews and have worked with them on interfaith projects.

But on the topic of Israel, such church groups have increasingly criticized Israel’s occupation of Palestinian lands as the heart of the Middle East conflict, whereas more conservative evangelical groups have taken vocally pro-Zionist positions. (The recent Billy Graham near-endorsement of Mitt Romney explicitly cited support for “candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel.”)

A Presbyterian caucus, Presbyterians for Middle East Peace, disputes Parsons’ stance, saying that General Assembly votes have called for a “balanced approach” to the standoff and fails to note human rights violations under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas.

Parsons said the debate is difficult but necessary.

“I hope that people that have been in dialogues in one way or another for half a century can find ways to talk about things that are difficult.”

The letter cited such things as reports of the killings of civilians by the Israeli military, Jewish settler attacks on Palestinian targets, restrictions on Palestinians’ movement and the use of prohibited military weapons. It says allowing U.S. aid to continue without any review “will only serve to sustain the status quo and Israel’s military occupation of the Palestinian territories.”

Goldberg wrote that Israel does not deliberately target civilians, “as opposed to the terrorist organizations such as Hamas that exclusively target civilians.”

Groups the pulled out of a planned meeting with Protestants last week include the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, B’nai B’rith International, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Rabbinical Assembly, the Union for Reform Judaism and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.

They are instead calling for a summit with church leaders to discuss the controversy.

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