Interfaith Mission to Israel Leads to 'New Trust' Between Jewish And Protestant Leaders; Jews Hope for End To Divestment Campaign
New York, NY, September 26, 2005 … American Jewish and mainline Protestant officials concluded an unprecedented joint mission to Israel saying they were heartened by a new trust that developed among the participants, who are now pledging to work together to seek peace between Israel and Palestinians.
The five-day mission was called for to try and quell growing tensions between the Jewish community and mainline Protestant groups whose leaders have proposed divesting from Israel as a tool against the Jewish State in the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
Jewish participants expressed the hope that the mission would lead to concrete steps by the leadership of the Protestant churches to cancel their divestment campaign against Israel and instead focus on positive opportunities to invest in the many hopeful programs that enhance peaceful co-existence between Palestinians and Israelis.
During the mission, the Jewish leaders also challenged a leading Palestinian Christian cleric "who refused to back off from previous anti-Semitic writings and statements," said Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, Director of Interfaith Affairs for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and one of the leaders on the trip.
The cleric, Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, is Director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, which, according to ADL, has been the driving force behind the scenes pushing mainline Protestant denominations to adopt a policy of divestment against companies doing business with Israel.
During a September 22 meeting in Jerusalem, Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor, along with other Jewish leaders, questioned Rev. Ateek about his position on Israel's legitimate right to exist, citing quotations from his book, "Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation" (1989), in which he wrote, "It has taken me years to accept the establishment of the state of Israel and its need – although not its right – to exist."
"We read to him several quotations from his sermons and writings that we believed denied the legitimate right of the Jewish people to live in their land, and echoed medieval anti-Semitic canards," Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor said. "He affirmed that he continues to support the suggestion that if Israel had a right to exist, it should have been created somewhere else, but not on the Holy Land.
"We accept it may not be his intent to disseminate anti-Semitism, but we made it clear that was what has been done," added the rabbi. "We hope that he may reconsider his language and imagery. But the significance of this is that those people and those churches that use Sabeel's writings and theology to support their political point of view potentially may be considered accessories in the advancement of anti-Semitic theology."
The meeting with Sabeel came at the end of an intensive five-day program in which 17 U.S. Protestant and Jewish leaders met with Israeli and Palestinian public officials, religious leaders and scholars in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Bethlehem. They met with Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi, Dr. Mustapha Barghouti, Director of Health and Development for the Palestinian Authority, Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, Director of the International Christian Center of Bethlehem, Israeli Housing Minister Yitzchak Herzog, Michael Oren, Senior Fellow of the Shalem Center, and David Shearer, Director of the Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs for the United Nations.
Mission participants included: ADL, Alliance of Baptists, American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Episcopal Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, National Council of Churches, Presbyterian Church USA, Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism, United Church of Christ, United Methodist Church and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism.
The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.