‘Ecumenical deal’ crumbles as Christian denominations press on US aid to Israel

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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Earlier this week the heads of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Methodist Church and 12 other Christian denominations wrote a letter to members of Congress “urging Congress to conduct an investigation into possible human rights and weapon violations by the government of Israel.” As Annie Robbins reported the response from American Jewish organizations was swift (the American Jewish Committee for one said it was “outraged”) and now the Anti-Defamation League has come out swinging.

Haaretz reports that the ADL has withdrawn from a national Jewish-Christian interfaith dialogue in protest over the letter. Abe Foxman explained, ”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.” He also called for other Jewish leaders to boycott the event as well.

Remember, during the debate over Presbyterian divestment Jewish leaders threatened the very same thing. In July, Rabbi Gil Rosenthal lobbied against divestment using some vague, but ominous language:

Rabbi Gil Rosenthal, executive director of the National Council of Synagogues and for years a participant in Jewish-Presbyterian dialogues, told the 220th General Assembly Thursday that significant work of interfaith reconciliation could be in jeopardy if the assembly approves a controversial divestment recommendation. . .

“Instead of being the only mainline church that espouses divestment, I encourage you to work hard to get the parties to return to the table and talk with one another. I’ve learned something from history. People who don’t speak to one another do unspeakable things to one another . . . I fear sincerely that divestment will cast a pall on our relationships and undermine our dialogue and fracture relationships, perhaps irreparably. So I implore you, do not undo what we have accomplished so beautifully together.”

“People who don’t speak to one another do unspeakable things to one another?” I think we can assume Rabbi Rosenthal wasn’t referring to divestment. No, “unspeakable things” can only refer to the ultimate bludgeon the organized Jewish community has used to quash Christian dissent over Israel – the holocaust.

Marc Ellis explained the “ecumenical deal” in a post for Mondoweiss during the Presbyterian debate:

A civil war within the Christian denominations is being waged over Israel and the rights of Palestinians. During the Shamir years few would have thought it possible that the interfaith ecumenical deal between Christians and Jews might be broken. Back then there wasn’t any daylight between the Holocaust and the Jewish abuse of power. Christians were riding their high horse of repentance for anti-Semitism. It didn’t to matter that another people was suffering at Jewish hands. High level Jews didn’t care. Why should they? Now all of that has changed. Christians have gone international in their justice concerns. The Empire and Progressive Jewish establishments have gone American – without a second thought! . .

Crushing the Palestinian uprising ultimately sounded the death knell for the Jewish-Christian dialogue/cooperation/deal making. It has unraveled year by year. Though they continue, Holocaust memorialization – the engine of the interfaith ecumenical deal and now a major factor in trivializing the Holocaust itself – also started its downward slide then. The reasons are obvious. When it became clear that Israel as a state wasn’t interested in justice for Palestinians and that Jewish leadership in America was only interested in silencing Christian misgivings about Israeli occupation policies, it was only a matter of time before the Jewish-Christian love fest came to an end.

Among the liberal Christian denominations, Christian support for Israel is on life support. The back-up oxygen tanks, already in use, are running empty. There isn’t any way of resurrecting the interfaith ecumenical deal. The “Christians are evil/Jews are innocent” genie is out of the bottle, never to return.

The Presbyterian divestment push just barely failed to pass, but this new letter to Congress proves Ellis’s point.

My question is, what’s the Jewish endgame here? Foxman has gone incommunicado, will Church leaders cave? And assuming they call the ADL’s bluff, what next? Does the Jewish community withdrawal from American life? Cut itself off from its neighbors and broader community as a separation wall goes up over criticism of Israel? I don’t think many in the community would support this, interfaith dialogue has been a hallmark of Jewish assimilation and acceptance in the United State and I doubt many will heed Foxman’s call to follow him out the door (although I could be wrong). But what do they say to their interfaith partners if they stay? A tipping point has been reached and American Jews in public life will increasingly be forced to defend, or reject, Israel’s actions.

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