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Presbyterian, Jewish Leaders Consider a Summit
by Eric J. Greenberg
August 6, 2004

[This article appeared in "The Forward" and could be viewed originally at the following link.]

An interfaith summit is being planned for next month between Jewish communal leaders and Presbyterian Church (USA) officials to address mounting tensions following the approval of several anti-Israel resolutions by the church's General Assembly.

The church upset Jewish communal leaders last month with its decision to divest from Israel and its refusal to stop funding efforts to evangelize Jews. The director of interfaith affairs at the Anti-Defamation League, Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, told the Forward that ADL and other Jewish communal organizations plan to meet in September with Presbyterian officials "to discuss the controversy."

No date has been set.

At least two organizations, B'nai Brith International and the Zionist Organization of America, have called for an end to all dialogue between Jewish communal officials and Presbyterian leaders.

Mark J. Pelavin, director of the Commission on Interreligious Affairs of Reform Judaism, called for a two-pronged dialogue with Presbyterians.

"On the national level, we need to reach out to the leadership of PC-USA and explain to them 'without rancor or disdain' that the repercussions of their actions belie their stated support for Israel and deter progress towards a lasting peace," Pelavin said.

"On the local level, synagogues across the country need to reach out to Presbyterian churches in their communities and embrace a dialogue around Israel that will be difficult and may not lead to complete agreement, but is absolutely essential."

The Presbyterians have been drawing fire from many Jewish organizations, including ones that have displayed a willingness to criticize Israel. For example, the Israel-based Rabbis for Human Rights released a scathing open letter to Presbyterian leader Dr. Clifton Kirkpatrick, scolding the church for calling Israel's "occupation" the root of evil in the Middle East and for failing to halt his organization's support for the missionizing of Jews.

"We write to convey our dismay at the steps you took at your recent convention in regard to the Jewish People and the terrible conflict in this Land," the multi-denominational group stated in its letter. "We are appalled that you conceptualize this Occupation in the same one-sided terms that have been applied for so long by Christian Churches to the real or perceived sins of Jews. Your simplistic declaration is inaccurate and inadequate to explain the situation in all its tragic moral complexity" ignoring "the homicidal ideologies that have so sadly taken hold among some of our Palestinian neighbors."

The rabbis described the divestment vote as "a descent into discriminatory behavior against Jews and their State."

"This is an act," the group declared, "that resonates with examples of discrimination against Jews that we thought we left where they belong, in the trash bin of history."

The rabbis urged the church to "repent of these decisions and to rethink your relationship with the Jewish People and their State."

Also, an online petition calling on the church "to reverse its antisemitic resolution on divestment has gained 5,297 signatures as of Tuesday.

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