Interfaith Challenge; On Chickens and Eggs

Interfaith Challenge
For those who care about maintaining dialogue between faiths, there has been nothing more discouraging than the willingness of mainline Protestant denominations to adopt anti-Israel measures in recent years. In particular, the decision of the Presbyterian Church USA to support divestment, which amounts to an economic boycott of the Jewish state, has become a symbol of the drift toward anti-Zionism among liberal Christians.

Though far from alone, the leadership of the Presbyterians seems to have been among the most extreme in their unwillingness to view the conflict as anything but one of Palestinian victimization and Israeli oppression. Their statements have reflected a mindset that views Palestinian terror as understandable, if regrettable, and Israeli measures of self-defense as always indefensible.

The Jewish community has responded by telling the Presbyterians that as long as they support calls for divestment, they cannot expect Jewish groups to engage in dialogue of any kind with them. While entirely justified, such "threats" aren't likely to change the minds of the anti-Zionist idealogues who fomented this campaign. The only ones who can change Presbyterian policy are the Presbyterians themselves. That's why the movement within the church to counteract the Israel-bashers is so encouraging.

Most Presbyterians have little idea that a small cadre of anti-Israel activists has hijacked their church. Even more revealing is data obtained as part of a survey conducted by the Philadelphia-based American Interfaith Institute that shows that a majority of Presbyterian ministers are themselves against divestment.

Members of the Presbyterian church, as well as the other Christian denominations that have flirted with anti-Zionism, need to clean their own houses. We expect that as more attention is paid to this issue, that is exactly what they will do.

On Chickens and Eggs
For more than 12 years, those who wished to facilitate the Middle East peace process have been struggling with the same dilemma: how to get Israel to make concessions that would constitute "progress" toward an agreement while the Palestinian leadership continues to fail to act against terrorism.

The two sides of the equation are, we are told, like the old line about which came first, the chicken or the egg – a conundrum that supposedly illustrates that neither side is entirely right or wrong.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heads to the region this week with exactly this problem at the top of her agenda, but the truth is, the same headlines could have been written to describe many of the trips taken by her predecessors in recent years.

Though the name of some of the players in these talks have changed – Rice replacing Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright and Warren Christopher as secretary of state, and Mahmoud Abbas stepping in for the late Yasser Arafat for the Palestinians – little else has. The United States is still hoping that even more Israeli "confidence-building" measures will embolden the Palestinians to see that they have something to gain from peace. Not for the first time, we are being told that Palestinian compliance with agreements to end terror must be tied to further Israeli moves.

But this scenario has been played out so many times with the same result – Israeli concessions, which are then followed by more Palestinian violence – that we wonder how even the most intrepid of diplomats has the heart to rehearse the scene again. Though we share the hopes of the would-be peacemakers in both Washington and Jerusalem, at some point, it might be wise to admit that the old chicken-and-egg scenario has been permanently cracked.



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