July 14, 2005
Vol. 24 No. 19

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    Jewish, Protestant leaders develop a dialogue to discuss Israeli-Palestinian conflict

    By Jennifer Carnig
    News Office

    After more than three years and a dozen meetings, a small group of Jewish and mainline Protestant leaders meeting at the Divinity School have created a document they hope can serve as a model for interfaith communication across the country.

    The document, titled “What We’ve Learned from Each Other: A Report on a Jewish-Protestant Conversation about the Israel-Palestinian Conflict,” includes a statement of shared principles, as well as guidelines for how American Jews and Protestants can respectfully discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    It was written and signed by: the Rev. John Buchanan of Fourth Presbyterian Church (Div. D.B.,’63); John Colman, the past president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago; Michael Kotzin, the executive vice president of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago (A.B.,’62); Cynthia Lindner, Director of Ministry Studies and Senior Lecturer in the Divinity School (Div. A.M.,’80); Martin Marty, the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus of the History of Modern Christianity in the Divinity School (Div. Ph. D.,’56); Rabbi Yehiel Poupko of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago; and Benjamin Sommer, the director of the Crown Family Center for Jewish Studies at Northwestern University (Div. Ph.D.,’94).

    The document comes at a time of great consequence. Tension between some mainline Protestant churches and some in the Jewish community are high. An effort by the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the Protestant World Council of Churches to divest from Israel has angered many in the Jewish community and was recently met by a counter-campaign led by the American Jewish Congress.

    “It’s no secret that there is a serious situation that pertains today between Jews and Protestants,” said Poupko, a Judaic scholar at the Jewish Federation of Chicago and one of the signatories on the document. “Jews and Protestants were once partners in a whole series of social justice issues, but there are now great strains in the relationship revolving around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

    At the same time, as Israeli and Palestinian officials are meeting to plan Israel’s pullout from the Gaza Strip, the time is right for increased dialogue and hope, said Richard Rosengarten, Dean of the Divinity School and convener of the group.

    “This document reflects the sustained and heartfelt engagement of people of good will from the Protestant and Jewish communities,” Rosengarten said. “ The conversation they seek to promote is particularly timely. I hope the resulting document will have a long and lively public life.”

    According to the group’s resulting document, the Jewish-Protestant Conversation grew out of the spreading feeling in the American Jewish community that some mainline Protestant churches, their spokespeople and their publications are biased against Israel. Similarly, many mainline American Protestants are feeling frustrated that when they critique the actions of the state of Israel, they are questioned about their friendship, loyalty and commitment to the Jewish people and to a secure Israel.

    After the group began meeting and talking, its members began to feel as if better understandings had been achieved. It was from there the “Report on a Jewish-Protestant Conversation” was created—a statement not about the conflict in the Middle East, but about how American Jews and Protestants can talk to each other about the conflict in the Middle East.

    “We have talked and engaged in at times difficult conversation and dialogue, and we will continue to do so,” they write. “We urge you who find yourselves in the leadership of churches and synagogues to do much the same and to reach out to one another and begin similar conversations.”

    The complete document is available online at http://www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/05/050505.conversation.shtml.