- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 28, 2004

NEW YORK (AP) — Calling their discussion difficult, American Jewish leaders and Presbyterian officials met privately for three hours yesterday, but failed to reach agreement about a vote by the Protestant denomination to pursue divesting from some companies working with Israel.

Rabbi Eric Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, which organized the gathering, told the Presbyterians that their church’s vote last summer reflected a “fundamental unfairness” toward Israel and would hurt the Palestinians by hardening Israelis against a negotiated solution to the Mideast conflict.

“We did not expect the Presbyterian Church to come in and renounce this,” Mr. Yoffie said. “It is nonetheless our hope that there will be a reconsideration.”

The Rev. Clifton Kirkpatrick, the stated clerk, or executive officer, of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said he would continue discussing the issue with Jewish groups, but planned no immediate changes in how church officials will carry out the vote by their legislative body, called the General Assembly.

“I do not leave this meeting feeling that the decision by the General Assembly should be reversed,” Mr. Kirkpatrick said.

He said his denomination’s goal was to pressure companies to end their involvement in practices that harm Palestinians. He said divestment would be used only as a last resort, if discussions with company officials and presentations to shareholders fail.

The conflict is occurring during a dismal period in relations between mainline Protestants and American Jews over Israel and the Palestinians.

As the Palestinian uprising enters its fifth year, the more liberal Protestant denominations are becoming bolder in their criticism of Israeli actions in the occupied territories, even as they condemn violence against Israeli citizens.

Last week, some Anglican leaders visiting the Mideast said they will recommend that their global Communion of 77 million members withdraw investments from Israel because of what they called mistreatment of Palestinians.

Mr. Kirkpatrick acknowledged in his presentation to Jewish leaders that the divestment push “invited comparisons” to the divestment campaign against South African apartheid two decades ago. Yet, he insisted the General Assembly did not see the two policies as morally equivalent.

“The two situations are distinct,” Mr. Kirkpatrick said, according to a copy of his remarks distributed to reporters. “The focus of this action is to explore use of a proven tool of economic pressure to motivate real change in Israeli policies and movement toward peace.”

Delegates to the General Assembly adopted the divestment resolution on a 431-62 vote. However, many Presbyterians have joined Jewish leaders in protesting the decision to denominational leaders.

Among the organizations represented at the three-hour meeting yesterday were the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Leaders of both faiths plan to meet again and explore other means of reconciliation, such as joint trips to Israel and the territories, and more interfaith dialogue among local congregations and seminary students.

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