AP Religion Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – Major American Jewish organizations said Wednesday they have cancelled talks with liberal Protestant leaders after the churches sought an investigation of U.S. military aid to Israel.
The American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and Conservative and Reform Jewish movements are among those withdrawing from the national Christian-Jewish Roundtable. The dialogue group was founded in 2004 to ease tensions over escalating church protests against Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories.
The Jewish groups announced their decision in response to a request by several mainline Protestant leaders for Congress to re-evaluate U.S. military aid to the Jewish state. The church leaders said in an Oct. 5 letter to Congress that Israel was guilty of widespread human rights violations against Palestinians that violated U.S. legal standards for recipients of military aid.
Rabbi Steven Wernick, chief executive of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism called the claims “repugnant, regrettable and morally misguided.” The American Jewish Committee, a co-founder of the dialogue group, has requested a meeting with senior church leaders to “determine a more positive path forward.”
The church leaders seeking the congressional hearings represent some of the largest mainline Protestant groups in the United States. They include Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson, head of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Gradye Parsons, a top executive of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); Rosemarie Wenner, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops; and Peg Birk, leader of the National Council of Churches.
In the letter to Congress, the Christian leaders said both Israelis and Palestinians share responsibility for the conflict in the region, and church leaders acknowledged the suffering of both groups. But the leaders said, “we have also witnessed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinians.”
Arguing that U.S. military aid to Israel was “sustaining the conflict and undermining the long-term security interests of both Israelis and Palestinians,” church leaders said Congress should investigate whether Israel has violated the human rights standards set by the Foreign Assistance Act and the Arms Export Control Act.
The Christian-Jewish Roundtable was scheduled to meet next Monday. Tony Kireopoulos, an interfaith leader for the New York-based National Council of Churches, said Wednesday that the organizations were “disappointed that the meeting wasn’t going forward” and they hoped to restart the dialogue.
The U.S. Episcopal Church, also a member of the interreligious dialogue, didn’t endorse the Protestant statement to Congress. Alexander Baumgarten, the Episcopal public policy director, said the request for congressional hearings was not in line with Episcopal policy.
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