YOFFIE CALLS MEETING WITH PRESBYTERIAN LEADERS 'DIFFICULT BUT PRODUCTIVE' IN ADDRESSING CONTROVERSIAL PRESBYTERIAN POLICIES ON ISRAEL, EVANGELISM
Yoffie: We are religious leaders, not politicians; as religious leaders, we cannot stand aside when Jewish children are murdered in the name of God, and we cannot ignore the abysmal plight of the Palestinians.
New York, NY, September 28, 2004 Following a high-level meeting between religious leaders of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Jewish community, Rabbi Eric Yoffie said there is no substitute to meeting face-to-face to discuss the controversial positions about Israel that the Presbyterians took at their General Assembly in July, and thanked the Presbyterians for accepting his invitation to meet with the Jewish community. This was the first meeting of Presbyterian and Jewish leaders since the General Assembly.The group discussed the PC(USA) resolutions calling for recommendations concerning selective divestment from companies which do business in Israel, along with resolutions on the Israeli security barrier and the funding of messianic congregations.
Following the meeting, Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, issued the following statement:
Todays meeting was a gathering of great importance. While some in the Jewish community called for burning bridges in the wake of the Presbyterians actions this summer, we believe in building them. And so we were pleased when Rev. Kirkpatrick accepted our invitation to join us here today, and we are pleased by the participation of Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase and other leaders of PC(USA).
We came together today as religious leaders, not politicians or diplomats. As a rabbi and president of the largest Jewish religious movement in North America, I can only respond to the Overtures in religious terms, and it is precisely as a religious statement that I find them to be so distressing.
The heart of the issue is the declaration that the occupation (is) at the root of evil acts committed against innocent people Evildoers are those who defy Gods law, and if the occupation is evil, so are those who carry it out. Yet the Presbyterians do not call suicide bombings evil, nor does their overture call them terrorism. We are religious leaders, not politicians; as religious leaders, we cannot stand aside when Jewish children are murdered in the name of God, and we cannot ignore the abysmal plight of the Palestinians.
In our discussions, I spoke frankly of our deep concern about the Churchs one-sided approach to sanctions through divestment without any call for Palestinians to stop their killings. We believe divestment is not a weapon that can be wielded with the precision of a scalpel; it can instead become a cruel and unwieldy club.
At the conclusions of todays meeting, we made a bilateral pledge to continue advancing Presbyterian-Jewish relations. Specifically:
Rev. Kirkpatrick will issue and I will reiterate a call to our respective congregations to pursue interfaith dialogue on the local level. In particular, we will highlight such resources as the URJs curriculum Open Doors, Open Minds: Synagogues and Churchs Studying Together. I especially want to welcome the new materials which the Presbyterians have prepared to support this initiative. As a parallel effort, we will work to establish lines of communication between our seminary students.
In addition, the Presbyterian Church assures us they will keep the concerns we raised today in mind as they consider their selective divestment process and their reexamination of evangelism.
We jointly pledge to expand our interfaith advocacy work on American policy regarding the Middle East conflict. Here we can, and will, focus on fundamental principles on which we agree: peace and security are only possible if both are present; a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will require two states; American leadership is crucial.
We have had a preliminary discussion about the possibility of an interfaith trip to Israel. Though no plans are certain on this front, the great potential value of such an interfaith experience behooves us to pursue it further.
We thank Rev. Kirkpatrick and the Presbyterian delegation for their responsiveness to our concerns and their ongoing commitment to justice. Todays meeting was only a first step, but a vital first step. We look ahead, reassured that a spirit of interfaith cooperation will guide our future actions and interactions.
Meeting participants included representatives of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Commission on Interreligious Affairs of Reform Judaism, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, Rabbinical Assembly, National Council of Synagogues, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, PC(USA) Office of Interfaith Relations, and PC(USA) Mission Responsibility through Investment Committee.
Note: The full text of Rabbi Yoffie's comments opening the meeting are available online.