Chief rabbis to meet Anglican head

May meeting will go on despite Anglican Church divestment decision.

archbishop of canterbury (photo credit: AP [file])
archbishop of canterbury
(photo credit: AP [file])
Israel's two chief rabbis have questions for the Archbishop of Canterbury, but will not cancel plans to meet the leader of Britain's state church this May in light of the vote by the General Synod of the Church of England to divest its shares in companies whose products are used by the Israeli government in the territories. Preparations continue for Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger to meet Archbishop Rowan Williams in London, Rabbi David Rosen, president of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultations, told The Jerusalem Post. The meeting at Lambeth Palace comes at a critical stage in Anglican-Jewish relations, severely damaged by the February 6 vote of the General Synod, the church's legislature. Jewish leaders in Britain had been assured privately by church officials before the start of Synod that divestment would not come up for vote, and were shocked when it was debated and passed with the endorsement of the Archbishop of Canterbury. Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, denounced the divestment decision, telling the Post it made him "ashamed to be an Anglican," while the Chief Rabbi of Britain, Jonathan Sacks, said it was "ill-judged" and its "timing could not have been more inappropriate." Plans for the May meeting were set on January 8 by Rosen, Oded Weiner, the Director-General of the Chief Rabbinate, and the Archbishop's Interfaith Adviser, Guy Wilkinson. Archbishop Williams has visited Israel two times since taking office in 2003, last meeting the Chief Rabbis in January 2004. "The present stance of the rabbis towards a reciprocal visit to London to meet with Dr. Williams is that they are waiting for additional clarification," Rosen said, adding that he was "hopeful that the obstacles will be cleared." Jon Benjamin, CEO of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told the Post he hoped the meetings would take place as the proper "response was not to break off dialogue" with the Church of England, "but to intensify it." Williams apologized for the distress caused to the Jewish Community in Britain, and wrote to the chief rabbis of Israel on February 10 explaining his vote was "emphatically not to commend a boycott, or to question the legitimacy of Israel and its rights to self-defense." Speaking to Anglican delegates to the World Council of Churches on February 17 in Porto Alegre, Brazil, Williams further clarified his remarks, stating he had not voted for divestment. "The question the Church of England had to face was whether it was willing to profit from activities from which it has moral questions," he said. The fallout from the vote continues to rile the Church, as divestment supporters demand the vote be honored, while the ranks of those opposed to the decision swell. Divestment campaigner the Rev. Stephen Sizar wrote that the Church's "Central Board of Finance is on notice. If they do not sell our Caterpillar shares as expected by Synod within a short period of time, individual parishes will begin unilaterally doing it for them." Those who "cry 'anti-Semitism' whenever Israeli human rights abuses in the Occupied Territories are mentioned" would not "intimidate" the Church of England, Sizar said. Writing in a letter to the Times published February 24, opposition Members of Parliament denounced the vote as feckless and "politically motivated." The ten Tory MPs called the decision one-sided and questioned why the Church had not spoken out with equal vigor against Hamas's "anti-Jewish and anti-Christian" agenda. "We believe a better Christian witness is to encourage positive engagement with all parties in a difficult and protracted conflict," the 10 MPs wrote, rather than single out one side for opprobrium.