Chief rabbis to visit Archbishop of Canterbury

Historic meeting considered an 'important symbol' that church's ear is open to Jewish, Israeli voices.

By JOHNNY PAUL
September 2, 2006 23:14

 
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Israel's Chief Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yonah Metzger will travel to London this week for a special meeting with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace, the archbishop's official residence. On Tuesday the rabbis will meet Williams where a joint declaration to establish a new joint dialogue process is expected to be signed. It is hoped the new process will improve relations between the archbishop and other religious leaders, in particular in the Middle East where the initiative has been welcomed by the bishops of the Anglican churches. It is also hoped it will lead to better understanding and a strengthening of interfaith relationships in the Middle East and beyond. The declaration follows ongoing discussions over the years between the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the office of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel about strengthening relations and creating a framework for a continuing process of dialogue. It will be signed in the presence of leaders of the Jewish and Christian communities and the main Christian-Jewish dialogue organizations in the UK. Williams, the spiritual leader of the world's 77 million Anglicans, said that he was encouraged by the development. "I am delighted that we are now able to establish this important dialogue which enables religious leaders to discuss matters of concern. The more we are able to develop ways of listening to one's concerns and interest, the better our understanding will be of one another's hopes and fears," he said. It is hoped that the talks will also smooth over the relationship with the Church of England following their decision in February to disinvest in companies, such as Caterpillar Inc, whose products are used by the Israeli government. The vote in favor of divestment followed calls from the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem for "morally responsible investment in the Palestinian occupied territories" and to disinvest in companies, such as Caterpillar Inc. "that profit from the illegal occupation until they change their policies." Williams strongly supported the vote which led the former archbishop, George Carey, to say that he was "ashamed to be an Anglican" after the motion passed. The decision was subsequently overturned in March by the Church's Ethical Investment Advisory Group who voted unanimously against the decision saying it "could find no compelling evidence that Caterpillar is or has been complicit in human rights abuses." Britain's Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has welcomed the meeting. Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, he talked about the press's portrayal of the issues relating to the conflict, saying it "doesn't always present a balanced picture or provide the full context" and the implications it has on the church's decisions. "Anyone exposed to that media can be forgiven for taking a less generous view of Israel. But there is an issue there and it exists within the Church, so the meeting is important," he said. "The most important thing to achieve is genuine conversation in which the voice of Israel can be heard and heard in a way appropriate to a religious leader, mainly through other religious leaders - the chief rabbis of Israel. "I think the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury personally have welcomed this initiative and we see it as an important one. The Anglican Communion is an important body and the Archbishop of Canterbury is an important person," Sacks said. Asked if he thought, following the archbishop's support for divestment, Williams was hostile towards Israel, Sacks said: "I've always personally found him to be a very good listener and he is what he calls a critical friend of Israel which means he strives for balance in his views. "He's a very serious and thoughtful individual with whom I have a strong and personal friendship and I've always found him to be very open and I have signalled publicly and privately that for the Anglican Church to be a force for peace, it must hear both sides. There is no other way. "Therefore I think this is the beginning of something and an important symbol that the ear of the church is open to the Jewish, and indeed, the Israeli voice." The Council of Christians and Jews (CCJ) also welcomed the meeting. A spokesman for the interfaith organization said: "We commend the Church of England and His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury for their initiative and foresight in bringing this meeting to fruition. "CCJ acknowledges the determination of the Archbishop and Lambeth Palace to further positive Jewish-Christian relations, bringing about a process for the ongoing improvement in understanding and dialogue. "For 65 years, CCJ has been privileged to work with both traditions and can testify to the enrichment of all as a result. "The meeting is a historic milestone that acknowledges the contribution of the Jewish faith to the economic, cultural and educational life of the UK as well as to Christianity's understanding of its Jewish roots. The meeting will affirm the centrality of future dialogue in a world of conflict and political tension." The Anglican Friends of Israel, a London-based support organization, also welcomed the initiative but was more cautious. Simon McIlwaine, the director of AFI, said: "We would like both Reverend gentlemen to be assured of the continuing support of the patrons, clergy and laity of AFI for Israel and continued interfaith fellowship with our Jewish brothers and sisters, who like us, are children of the same heavenly Father. "AFI encourage the chief rabbis not to be shy about confronting Dr. Williams over the noisy anti-Semitic elements in the Church of England and also to be blunt about the damage and hurt that the Synod vote in February and continuing calls from the pulpit to isolate or pick on Israel. We hope they will appreciate that anti-Israeli sentiments are not representative of the beliefs of the rank and file in our pews! "We join with the chief rabbis in reminding the Church of the centrality of Israel, not only to the Jewish faith, but to the Christian faith too. "We also hope that this visit will remind the Church of the dangers of being swept up in an Islamic agenda to bring the entire Holy Land under Muslim control and may this visit strengthen the bond of interfaith fellowship and celebration of the common Biblical, theological and moral heritage we share with the Jewish people," he added. Dr. Irene Lancaster, an expert in Christian-Jewish relations and a recent new immigrant to Israel, said: "I do hope that the leadership of the Church of England will learn to accept the place of Israel (the land and the modern State) in the hearts and minds of the vast majority of Jews in the world. "Many Israelis are upset about the current demonization of Israel by elements of the Church of England, both in the UK and in Israel itself, one thinks especially of Bishop Riah of Jerusalem and Naim Ateek of Sabeel, as well as the vote in favor of divestment taken at the Synod debate in February. "This meeting of the chief rabbis of Israel with the Archbishop of Canterbury should provide an opportunity for the religious representatives of the Jewish State to convey to the leader of the Church of England that Israel would appreciate the positive input of Dr. Williams into forging a closer relationship between Israel and his Church." Reverend Stephen Sizer, an ardent pro-Palestinian campaigner and divestment supporter, told The Jerusalem Post: "On one level I'm pleased it's happening; any meeting between faith leaders is good. "On the other hand, I am mindful. I hope that the Jewish leaders will not be going to fulfill another agenda and hope it won't be to put pressure on Rowan Williams to modify the stance he took on Caterpillar and divestment and by saying it is ruining Jewish-Christian relations."

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