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Several key issues stand at the heart of this conflict. Some have to do with historic ties of Protestant missionaries to Middle East Arabs, which led to a cool approach toward Jewish nationalism in the Holy Land. Others stem from so-called liberation theology, which is interpreted as seeing the Palestinians as an oppressed group needing assistance.
Jewish members of the interfaith dialogue canceled the meeting planned in 2010, following a showing at a previous meeting of videotapes by Christian participants depicting alleged Israeli infractions of Palestinian human rights. The annual meeting was renewed in 2011 and then canceled again this year.
Participants on the Christian side of the table are equally disappointed with the roundtable. Protestant representatives had expected the roundtable to produce a strong joint call for Israeli–Palestinian, peace based on a two-state solution. They believe Jewish groups are dragging their heels about promoting such a solution in the face of Israeli intransigence.
“The dialogue has never been able to say anything constructive about Middle East peace, and that is very frustrating,” said Antonios Kireopoulos, associate general secretary at the National Council of Churches.
Church leaders have not yet responded yet to the Jewish community’s invitation to convene a high-level meeting instead of the annual roundtable. Despite harsh criticism from Jewish members of the interfaith forum, Protestant representatives remained unapologetic about their call for Congress to take action on aid to Israel.
“We have clear policies on use of U.S. aid around the world, and this letter is a result of these policies,” said Peter Makari, a roundtable participant representing the United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He added that signatories of the letter felt no need to consult with their Jewish counterparts before issuing the call.
Another factor complicating dialogue attempts between the Jewish community and mainline Protestants was the deepening of ties between Jewish organizations and the evangelicals from the Christian-Zionist community. Protestant representatives around the table expressed to their Jewish colleagues repeatedly their wish to see these ties severed.
“In reality, Christian Zionists aren’t ultimately real friends of Israel,” Kireopoulos said. “This is a false friendship.”