Jewish Groups Leave Interfaith Conference After Protestants Accuse Israel of Human Rights Abuses

A number of Jewish organizations pulled out of an interfaith meeting with Protestants on Wednesday after church leaders questioned why the United States was providing military aid to Israel in its conflict with Palestine.

The American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, and Conservative and Reform Jewish have all said they will not be attending the annual Christian-Jewish Roundtable, which was planned to take place in New York on Monday, The Associated Press reported.

The Jewish groups explained that their decision was based on several mainline Protestant leaders asking Congress to re-evaluate the military aid it sends to Israel and accusing the Jewish state of human right abuses.

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The Protestant leaders in question 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, the leaders directly state they find both Israelis and Palestinians responsible for the tension currently gripping the region, and the U.S. should not support one side over the other with military aid. "We have also witnessed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinians," the letter reveals.

The letter also positions that U.S. military aid sustains the conflict and undermines "the long-term security interests of both Israelis and Palestinians." The Protestant leaders have urged Congress to investigate whether Israel has violated the human rights standards set by the Foreign Assistance Act and the Arms Export Control Act.

The Jewish groups have strongly denied that such human right abuses are taking place, with Rabbi Steven Wernick, chief executive of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, saying that the accusations are "repugnant, regrettable and morally misguided," and get in the way of the partnership they had built with the Protestants over the eight years that the Roundtable conference has been taking place.

The Anti-Defamation League had particularly strong words to say about the letter, with Abraham Foxman, ADL's national director, stating: "The blatant lack of sensitivity by the Protestant dialogue partners we had been planning to meet with has seriously damaged the foundation for mutual respect, which is essential for meaningful interfaith dialogue."

He continued: "It is outrageous that mere days after the Iranian president repeated his call for Israel's elimination, these American Protestant leaders would launch a biased attack against the Jewish state by calling on Congress to investigate Israel's use of foreign aid. In its clear bias against Israel, it is striking that their letter fails to also call for an investigation of Palestinian use of U.S. foreign aid, thus once again placing the blame entirely on Israel."

The U.S. Episcopal Church, which is also a part of the Roundtable, did not endorse the letter sent to Congress.

Tony Kireopoulos, an interfaith leader for the New York-based National Council of Churches, has said that efforts will continue to re-start the Christian-Jewish Roundtable, noting that the Protestant organizations were disappointed at the decision by the Jewish groups and hope for further discussion on the matter.

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