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Lutherans Draw Fire for Urging Linkage on U.S. Loan Guarantees

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Jewish groups are condemning a resolution adopted by the nation’s largest Lutheran denomination that opposes further U.S. loan guarantees for Israel unless it stops expanding settlements in the administered territories.

The resolution was adopted Tuesday by delegates to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s biennial convention in Orlando, Fla. Representatives of the 5.2-million-member denomination met there Sunday through Wednesday.

Bishop Harold Jansen of Washington had warned convention delegates that the resolution would have “an enormous negative impact” on Jews and Christian-Jewish relations in this country. But his reasoning did not prevail.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations assailed the resolution as one-sided.

In a statement issued Wednesday, it pointed out that the resolution “did not ask the United States to ‘pressure’ the Arab states to end their state of war against Israel, to halt their economic boycott of Israel, to discontinue their support of Arab terrorism or to acknowledge the legitimacy of Israeli statehood.

“The convention’s silence on these issues betrays a partisan approach to the Middle East problem that vitiates whatever influence the resolution might have exercised,” the umbrella group said.

According to Rabbi A. James Rudin, national director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, the Lutheran resolution is part of an “orchestrated, systematic campaign” by “anti-Israel forces within each of the Protestant denominations, forces which have enormous vested interests in the Arab cause.”

‘A KIND OF ECONOMIC BLACKMAIL’

A similar resolution was passed by delegates to the Episcopal Church convention in July. While that resolution did not specifically address the issue of loan guarantees, it urged the United States to levy economic pressure on Israel to stop the building of settlements in the territories.

The Lutherans’ statement “is a kind of economic blackmail being applied” in advance of the proposed Middle East peace conference, and it “should be a serious warning to American Jews that the loan guarantees are going to be a very tough issue” to pass through Congress and the Bush administration, Rudin said.

Resolutions like the one passed Tuesday are typically sponsored by anti-Israel church leaders, he said, who are not involved in the constructive interreligious dialogue that takes place between Lutherans and Jews on the local level in places such as Washington, where Bishop Hansen has been very active in the relationship.

Rudin pointed out that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is part of the Lutheran World Federation, which owns facilities in East Jerusalem, including the Augusta-Victoria Hospice on Mount Scopus.

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