AJCommittee weighs forming Episcopalian-Jewish pro-Israel group
Washington Jewish Week Online
April 25, 2002
by Aaron Leibel
Sparked in part by a recent "one-sided" letter to President George W. Bush on
the Arab-Israeli conflict from the local Episcopalian bishop and assisting bishop
and inspired by the recent formation of The Episcopal-Jewish Alliance for Israel in
Boston, the American Jewish Committee Washington-area director is "exploring
the possibility" of forming a similar group here.
The premise of the proposed group, said David Bernstein, "is that I strongly
suspect there is a disconnect between the bishop and parishioners in the church,
who are much more supportive of Israel."
Bernstein said the AJCommittee has worked closely with the Episcopalian clergy
in the past and hopes the formation of a new group would not poison those
relations. "I would hope that the leaders would see this as a good-faith effort to
develop an alternative voice on Israel that reflects the diversity of the church," he
said. "We're more than willing to engage them [Episcopalian leaders] in further
Lacking more details, Assisting Bishop of Washington Allen L. Bartlett Jr. would
not comment on the possible new group, except to note that he hoped for a
continuing "constructive relationship with the Jewish community."
The March 5 letter to Bush from Bartlett and Bishop Jane Holmes Dixon urges
Bush to support Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah's peace plan, which would trade
Arab recognition of Israel for a complete withdrawal to the pre-Six Day War June
That plan, write Dixon and Bartlett, "addresses the root cause of most of the
Palestinian violence: the occupation and the expanding Jewish settlements.
Without the settlements, there would be no need for home and agricultural
demolitions; separation of Palestinians into isolated areas, and military
checkpoints with their associated daily humiliation of the Palestinian people."
In response, Bernstein, who just learned about the letter last week, writes that the
AJCommittee agrees the Saudi plan is a step in the right direction.
However, his organization "strongly disagrees" that Palestinian violence is caused
by the settlements and occupation. In addition, he notes that it is "inconsistent
and morally incoherent" to condemn Palestinian violence against Israeli civilians
(as the bishops' letter did) while "at the same time, hold[ing] Israel responsible for
such acts. Moreover, you do a great disservice to the Palestinians to suggest
that, unlike Israelis and us Americans, they do not have the free will to resist
The AJCommittee leader said he has found "many voices among the clergy and
the laity in the mainline Christian communities who do not accept the anti-Israel
However, Bernstein concedes that more evangelical Christian groups tend to be
more pro-Israel, while more mainline groups -- like the Episcopalians -- tend to be
Reacting to Bernstein's letter, the two Episcopalian leaders, while noting that they
have a different view of Israeli settlements, write, "we surely agree with you that
any encouragement or blessing of suicide bombing is a perversion of religion."
The letter continues: "Violence on either side makes more difficult the road back
toward the negotiations which we all support. We strongly support the existence
and security of the state of Israel."
The Episcopalian leaders also invite Bernstein to attend an Interfaith Prayer Vigil
for Peace in the Middle East at the Washington National Cathedral on May 5.
Bernstein said he is considering attending the prayer vigil.