Jewish-Anglican pact upsets Arab clerics

Bishop Riah Abu al-Assal of Jerusalem: Arab Christian leaders had not been properly consulted.

archbishop of canterbury (photo credit: )
archbishop of canterbury
(photo credit: )
The chief rabbis of Israel and the archbishop of Canterbury have endorsed a joint statement that denounces anti-Semitism and creates a formal dialogue between Judaism and the 81 million-member Anglican Communion. The agreement, modeled upon the current Roman Catholic-Jewish dialogue, has drawn protests, however, from Arab Anglican leaders, who argue that now is not the time to begin talks between the two faith groups. The September 5 concordat, endorsed by Archbishop Rowan Williams and Rabbis Shlomo Amar and Yona Metzger before 70 British Jewish and Christian leaders at Lambeth Palace in London, condemned the "rise of anti-Semitism in Britain and the rest of Europe, in the Middle East and across the world at the present time. This is a scourge that we are committed to struggle against." The statement acknowledged that "there have been times when the Church has been complicit in" anti-Semitism, and pledged the parties to oppose it "where it is fostered within communities of faith," governments and political parties. "This is a potentially fruitful development for relations between Christians and Jews in general and for the peoples of the Holy Land in particular," Dr. Williams said. "What we've agreed today will provide a framework within which both practical and sometimes challenging issues can be discussed on the basis of mutual trust and respect." Plans for an Anglican-Jewish dialogue were nearly derailed and a May meeting postponed by the February 6 vote by the Church of England's General Synod to "divest from companies profiting" from Israel's "illegal occupation" of the territories. Jewish leaders in Britain had been assured privately by Lambeth Palace before the start of the Synod that divestment would not come up for a vote, and were shocked when it was debated and passed with the endorsement of Dr. Williams. The former archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Carey, denounced the divestment decision. telling The Jerusalem Post that it made him "ashamed to be an Anglican." The chief rabbi of Britain, Sir 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 Rabbi David Rosen, president of the International Jewish Committee for Irreligious Consultations; Oded Weiner, director general of the Chief Rabbinate; and Dr. Williams's interfaith adviser, Canon Guy Wilkinson. Archbishop Williams has visited Israel twice since taking office in 2003, last meeting the chief rabbis in January 2004. Rosen told the Post that the meeting would launch a bilateral commission, which he saw as "an important achievement for Jewish and Israeli interests and a testimony to Rowan Williams's genuine goodwill." The dialogue would be a way of building "real bridges of understanding and learning; and to examine what we can say and do together for the betterment of humanity and for the promotion of those values we share," Rosen said. Dr. Williams's rapprochement with Jewish leaders has not sat well with some leaders of the Anglican Communion. Bishop Riah Abu al-Assal of Jerusalem told the Post that neither he nor other Arab Christian leaders had been properly consulted. "Senior people of the Church of England informed me that the whole event came to appease Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Israel and the Jewish lobby because of what happened at the Synod of the Church of England regarding the issue of divestment," Bishop Riah said. "My personal opinion is that it is not the right time - given the events in Palestine and the Middle East at large." The "tragic conflicts in the Holy Land" necessitated dialogue, Dr. Williams said on Monday. "Without friendship and mutual confidence, without the ability to speak to one another candidly and lovingly, we shall never be in a position where our relationship can change things and challenge things and move the situation forward," he said.