Twenty-one high-level Christian and Jewish officials met in Washington D.C. for the second in the series of inter-religious dialogues between the American Jewish Committee and the National Council of Churches, Oct. 20-21, 2004.
The dialogue, which acted as a continuation of a similar meeting held in May 4, focused on the Jewish and Christian understandings of the “Theology of Land.”
“This was a continuation of the dialogue begun in May with a focus on understanding each other and building trust,” said the Rev. Shanta Premawardhana, NCC Associate General Secretary for Interfaith Relations, New York City.
In relation to building trust, one of the main concerns discussed at the table was the “divestment” policy recently adopted by the Presbyterian Church (USA) - a member of the NCC. Delegates to the PC(USA)’s general assembly earlier in the year voted to selectively divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and construction of the “separation barrier.”
Numerous Jewish leaders, including several of those who attended the Oct. 20th gathering, criticized the divestment policy for being ‘biased’ against Israel.
Additionally, an Oct. 17 meeting between the PC(USA) Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy and a Palestinian terrorist group strained Israeli-Presbyterian relations even further.
According to two national Jewish organizations, the advisory group’s meeting with the terrorist group Hezbollah “lent legitimacy to what American government officials call the “A-Team” of global terrorists” and delivered a “blow to peace efforts in the region."
Despite the tension created by the policy and the meeting, the participants agreed to continue consultations with each other.
“The Christian and Jewish representatives spoke positively of their longstanding cooperation on a range of domestic policy issues and ways to strengthen their common social justice agenda,” said the Rev. Premawardhana. “As a next step, participants will explore the possibility of a trip to the Holy Land to witness and listen to, the suffering of Palestinians and Israelis alike.”
According to Premawardhana, “at the end of the meeting, participants expressed to each other a sense of accomplishment that despite the difficult issues we face, we can still come to the same table, share our differences, vigorously debate each other and still build trust and collegiality.”
Participants at the Oct. 20-21 meeting included: Dr. Said Ailabouni, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; Mr. David Bernstein, American Jewish Committee; Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, Anti Defamation League; Dr. David Elcott, American Jewish Committee; Rev. C. Christopher Epting, Episcopal Church; Mr. Ethan Felson, Jewish Council for Public Affairs; Mr. Richard Foltin, American Jewish Committee; Ms. Catherine Gordon, Presbyterian Church (USA); Rev. Brian Grieves, Episcopal Church; Mr. Jess Hordes, Anti Defamation League; Dr. Darrell Jodock, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America; Dr. Peter Makari, United Church of Christ/ Disciples of Christ; Mr. Mark Pelavin, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; the Rev. Larry Pickens, United Methodist Church; Rev. Shanta Premawardhana, National Council of Churches; Rev. Jay Rock, Presbyterian Church (USA); Rabbi David Saperstein, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism; Ms. Emily Soloff, American Jewish Committee; Mr. Jacob Solomon, Greater Miami Jewish Federation; Mr. Mark Waldman, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; Mr. Jim Winkler, United Methodist Church.