WASHINGTON (JTA) – Jewish groups pulled out of an upcoming meeting with Protestant colleagues over a letter from Christian leaders to congressmen calling for a possible suspension of U.S. aid to Israel.
“While we remain committed to continuing our dialogue and our collaboration on the many issues of common concern, the letter represents an escalation in activity that the Jewish participants feel precludes a business-as-usual approach,” stated a letter sent by seven Jewish groups to their Christian counterparts in canceling their participation in the Oct. 22 -23 meeting in New York.
The event, an annual gathering, is known as the Christian-Jewish Roundtable and began in 2004 when the issue of Protestant groups divesting from their financial portfolios operations doing business with Israel rose to prominence. Prior to the Protestants’ letter to the lawmakers, participants had pledged to update one another on activities regarding Israel, such as the Palestinians’ statehood push in the United Nations and the upcoming Israeli elections.
The letter by the Jewish representatives was signed by the American Jewish Committee, 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. The Anti-Defamation League had announced earlier this week that it would not attend the meeting.
The Jewish groups quit their participation, Ethan Felson, vice president and general counsel of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs umbrella group told JTA, because “There’s been a betrayal of trust. … We have to discern if there’s a positive path forward.”
Signers of the Protestants’ letter to Congress included the heads of the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodist Church, the National Council of Churches USA and the United Church of Christ.
Saying they have “witnessed the pain and suffering” of both Israelis and Palestinians, they implored the lawmakers to launch “an immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel” of agreements with Washington for alleged illegal use of U.S.-sold weapons against Palestinians.
Meanwhile, Rachel Lerner, vice president of the J Street Educational Fund, wrote last Friday on the Daily Beast website that her liberal pro-Israel group “opposes proposals to condition or cut security assistance to Israel.” She added, however, that J Street shared the Christian leaders’ “concern that conditions in the region are deteriorating to the point where they `threaten to lead the region further away from the realization of a just peace.’ ”
Lerner called for American Jews to put "at least as much energy and effort" into pushing for a two-state solution as they are putting into fighting such letters, of which she said there would be more.
Also, a dozen Jewish clergy allied with Jewish Voice for Peace — which supports the so-called Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions movement targeting Israel for its occupation of the West Bank — praised the Protestants’ leaders call.
“It is altogether appropriate — and in fact essential — for Congress to ensure that Israel is not in violation of any U.S. laws or policies that regulate the use of U.S. supplied weapons,” said the statement signed by 10 rabbis, two rabbinical students and a cantor.