Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams arrives in Jerusalem on Tuesday for two days of meetings with the Chief Rabbinate in a bid to improve relations damaged by the Church of England's 2006 decision to back divestment from Israel.
An outspoken critic of the war in Iraq, Williams denounced American neoconservatives last month for advocating preemptive action against Iranian and Syrian nuclear stockpiles. A military strike, he said, would be a "criminal, ignorant and potentially murderous folly."
"I can't understand what planet such persons are living on, when you see the conditions that are already there," Williams told the BBC upon his return to London following a September 27 meeting with Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The spiritual head of the 77 million-member Anglican Communion has also been a vocal critic of Israeli policies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and at the meeting of the Church of England's parliament last year endorsed a call for divestment from "companies profiting from the illegal occupation" of the territories.
Fallout from the 2006 divestment vote, which led former archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey to say he was "embarrassed to be an Anglican," prompted a formal dialogue between the Chief Rabbinate and Williams to heal the rift.
On September 5, 2006, Williams and Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger endorsed a joint declaration in London creating a dialogue commission between Anglicans and Jews to "advance interfaith relations" and foster "trust and cooperation."
A spokesman for the archbishop told The Jerusalem Post Williams hoped this week's meeting would build upon that first encounter and "deepen their friendship."
Rabbi David Rosen, chairman of the International Jewish Committee, said the trip to Jerusalem was "an important demonstration of the archbishop's dedication to dialogue and deepening the relationship with the Jewish people, and his commitment to Israel's well-being and desire to live in peace and security."
There were signs of "real seriousness" on the part of the Anglicans, which boded well for future relations, he said.
Williams's staff has also denied the veracity of accounts printed by the official Syrian news agency, SANA, of his September 27 trip to Damascus to meet Assad and Syrian religious leaders. SANA reported that in talks with williams, the grand mufti of Syria "pointed out the Israeli suppressive practices in the occupied Palestinian territories, which violated all religious laws and international norms."
Williams's office denied this, saying his talks with the grand mufti "concerned issues internal to Syria and focused on the secular character of the Syrian constitution."