The long-expected pressure by pro-Israel forces on US Christian leaders has begun, as the article below from Saturday's Washington Post demonstrates. Because many of American Christianity's highest leadership so visibly supported the call for Israel to exhibit a modicum of justice in sharing Jerusalem, US Jewish organizations have mobilized their top brass to counter.
Now is certainly the time for everyone who cares for justice and has an American Christian connection to make their position clear. Speak and write to Christian leaders and the media in your community and your denomination in support of Palestinian rights and for an open Jerusalem to be shared by the three monotheistic religions without bias. Urge the National Council not to knuckle under to pressure.
Peace. John Worrell
Council of Churches to Revise Mideast PolicyAfter Criticism from Jews
by Ira Rifkin Religion News Service
The National Council of Churches said it will review its Middle East policy because Jews have criticized its signing of a recent newspaper advertisement urging the United States to prod Israel into ceding part of Jerusalem to Palestinian control.
In an interview this week, the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, the council's general secretary, said the review is unlikely to alter the council's general support for Palestinian self-determination, which often has brought the ecumenical agency into conflict with Jewish organizations.
But Campbell said that by consulting Jewish leaders in the writing of a new policy to replace the council's current, 17-year-old Middle East policy statement, she hopes to improve relations between the parties.
The ad - published Dec. 21 in the New York Times with the headline "Christians call for a shared Jerusalem" - drew an angry reaction from American Jewish leaders and led to a meeting last week between council officials and representatives of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, an umbrella agency for about 50 national Jewish groups.
The Anti-Defamation League, echoing the sentiments of several leading Jewish organizations that support Israel's claim to Jerusalem as its undivided capital, called the ad "unhelpful and a potentially dangerous intrusion in the Middle Est peace process and U.S. policy-making."
The ad was published by Churches for Middle East Peace, a joint lobbying effort of 15 Protestant, Roman Catholic and Unitarian Universalist churches and church related organizations. Although about 100 religious organizations signed the ad., the council was among the most influential.
Corinne Whitlatch, who directs Churches for Middle East Peace, said the ad - part of campaign that included writing letters to members of Congress - was tended to impress upon Americans the importance of a "shared Jerusalem, open to all and shared by all, two peoples and three religions -Jews, Christians and Muslims."
Campbell said this week that one of the ad's "weaknesses was that there was not sufficient consultation with the Jewish community" before publication. She called the council's current Middle East policy outdated in view of the current peace process.
But Campbell said that besides consulting Jewish groups, the council also will seek input from the 33 Orthodox and Protestant denominations it represents, many of which have Palestinian members. Many of the denominations also have their statements that voice strong support for Palestinian aspirations and call for a divided Jerusalem.
She said Palestinian, Armenian, and other Christians living in Israel, the West Bank, and elsewhere in the Middle East also will be consulted and may disagree with input received from American Jewish leaders.
"Difference in points of view that will be difficult to resolve" will remain between the council and the Jewish community, Campbell said.
The council's commitment to reviewing its Middle East policy was expressed in a letter sent Wednesday by Campbell to Leon Levy, chairman of the Conference of Presidents.
Levy said Thursday that he was satisfied with the council's response to Jewish criticism of the ad "even though we didn't get the apology or retraction we wanted...Hopefully this will result in more sensitivity to Jewish and Israeli concerns."
In addition to the call for a divided Jerusalem - among the most contentious issues of the many that remain to be resolved in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process - Levy said Jewish groups were upset at the ad's timing. The Christmas season, he said, can be a time of increased anti-Semitism, prompted by lingering belief on the part of some Christians that Jews were responsible for Jesus' death.
Campbell agreed that the timing was ill-advised. She said the council signed the ad without being aware of its publication date.
Despite the ongoing differences between the council and Jewish groups over the Middle East, they often cooperate on domestic political and social issues. For example, the American Jewish Committee as worked with the council to raise money to reconstruct black churches destroyed in the recent wave of church arsons.