Participants at a 24-hour summit of mainline Protestant and Jewish leaders said tensions between the two groups over Israeli policy didn't derail talks but added to a sense of urgency to reach common ground. The Oct. 20-21 meeting came as Jewish groups heavily criticized the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for proposed financial divestment of church holdings in companies that profit from Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and as a church delegation met with Hezbollah leaders during a visit to Lebanon.
Presbyterian church leaders said they didn't authorize the Oct. 17 visit to a refugee camp in southern Lebanon controlled by Hezbollah, listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department. But remarks made by some in the delegation inflamed Jewish leaders.
An earlier summit was held in September between Jewish and Presbyterian leaders regarding the Presbyterian General Assembly's approval of a resolution on divestment this summer. Church officials didn't yield on the divestment controversy but promised more dialogue. Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick said the church would also target, where possible, corporate interests that support Palestinian terror.
David Elcott, the U.S. director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee, who brought together the 18 leaders, said of the October summit: "No one sought to limit this to a feel-good gathering. We understood the gravity of why we were gathering ...."
The Episcopal Church also is considering divestment. "It is important to distinguish between what we consider to be legitimate criticism of Israeli governmental policy and action and the impropriety of anti-Jewish prejudice which we deplore," said Bishop C. Christopher Epting, deputy for the church's ecumenical and interfaith relations, and Brian Grieves, director of its peace and justice ministries.
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