- The Washington Times - Friday, September 16, 2005

Seventeen mainline Protestant and Jewish officials are flying to Israel this weekend for a five-day summit on Israeli-Palestinian issues, with a goal — at least among the Jewish participants — to stop Americans from pulling funds out of Israel.

“Obviously, our hope is to clarify why divestment is negative,” David Elcott, director of interreligious affairs for the American Jewish Committee (AJC), said yesterday. “The hope of our Christian colleagues is to explain why it’s necessary.”

The trip, which was under wraps until this week, was organized after Jewish leaders became alarmed by several resolutions circulating among Protestant denominations to defund companies operating in the Jewish state.

A year ago, the Presbyterian Church in the USA voted to “selectively” divest church funds from six corporations doing business in Israel. The Episcopal Church has a committee investigating the matter.

In February, the World Council of Churches, frustrated by six years of “intifada,” or uprising, between Israelis and Palestinians, voted in favor of divestment.

In July, the United Church of Christ discarded a resolution urging divestment, but did pass one condemning massive Israeli security fences around Palestinian lands and urging companies to use “economic leverage” to promote Middle East peace.

Mr. Elcott began compiling a guest list from eight Christian denominations and national organizations and six Jewish national organizations and religious movements.

“This trip is meant to knock everyone off their high chairs,” said co-organizer Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, director of interfaith relations for the Anti-Defamation League. “We’ve gotten to the point in our dialogues on Israel, the Holy Land and the Middle East to where we know what the other’s going to say, so we’ve tuned each other out.”

The problem, he added, is not so much divestment but “a greater misunderstanding that occurs between Jews and mainline Protestants over Israel, the Holy Land, covenant, mission, ultimately rightful claims to land and space. That’s the issue.”

Evangelical Christians, almost uniformly strong backers of Israel, were not included in the trip.

“Our issues with the evangelicals are different,” Rabbi Bretton-Granatoor said, referring to differences over Bible interpretation and Christian evangelism of Jews.

Participants in the trip are paying their own expenses. Meetings begin Sunday night in Jerusalem with a dinner hosted by the AJC.

On Monday, the group will go on a “walk through Jewish history” tour, meet at the site of a Palestinian terrorist attack, speak with Knesset members, meet one of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s chief negotiators at Camp David peace talks and visit with Monsignor Pietro Sambi, apostolic nuncio to the Holy Land for the Vatican.

On Tuesday, the group will tour Bethlehem University, visit the 30-foot-high wall the Israelis have built separating Palestinians and Israelis, speak with Palestinian Christian leaders and meet with Zoughbi Zoughbi , director of the Wi’am Center for Conflict Resolution.

On Wednesday, the group will visit the Yad VaShem, the Israeli Holocaust memorial, and speak with Jerusalem Post columnist Khaled Abu Toameh, members of an Arab-Jewish soccer team and officials from the traditionally pro-Israeli Arab village of Abu Ghosh.

And on Thursday, the group will meet with Palestinians whose homes have been demolished by Israeli soldiers and journey to the West Bank capital of Ramallah, where they will meet with Palestinian leaders.

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