Saturday, July 29, 2006

Second Statement of the METF to the ICPJ Steering Committee

To see a leaflet concerning the dispute between the METF and the ICPJ Steering Committee click here (PDF). The leaflet has not been approved by the METF as a body.

STATEMENT OF THE MIDDLE EAST TASK FORCE
TO THE INTERFAITH COUNCIL FOR PEACE AND JUSTICE STEERING COMMITTEE

Approved by the Middle East Task Force at its regular meeting on May 2, 2006.

We wish to express our appreciation to the Steering Committee for choosing dialogue and the search for common ground instead of disbanding the METF. We recognize that in some respects disbanding the task force might have seemed the easier choice and there was, indeed, pressure to do just that. We are grateful for your gesture of good faith in rejecting that choice. We would also take this opportunity to ask the SC to commit to at least six months of structured dialogue with us concerning the substantive issues raised below, in the statement we presented for consideration at your April 25, 2006, meeting, and in the statements issued by the EC. To be clear, individual METF members (and non-members) who attend SC meetings have not been delegated to represent the task force and such encounters are not the dialogue we envision.

The vigils of Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends (JWPF) have repeatedly been raised as an issue in favor of disbanding the METF. For example, in its statement of April 4, 2006, the Executive Committee asserted, "This weekly protest at a house of worship has so alienated many other members of ICPJ that they are unwilling to participate in actions with vigil members, whether outside of the Synagogue or under the umbrella of the Middle East Task Force."

Given the lack of formal organizational ties this really ought to be a non-issue but others have chosen to make it an issue and, so, we feel compelled to briefly address the matter. We first note that the presence of vigil participants in METF and on the SC has not prevented Ruth Kraut, a Beth Israel congregant, from serving in ICPJ as both an SC member and an officer nor has it hindered Ernest Fontheim, another Beth Israel congregant, from serving on the METF. Thus, we see no reason for the ICPJ to capitulate to the anonymous "other members of ICPJ that … are unwilling to participate in actions with vigil members … " To disband the METF on their account is to engage in a form of collective punishment that seems inconsistent with the ICPJ's core values. Why must JWPF members and other members of the task force be cast off simply to please those who have conditioned their own participation in the ICPJ on the rejection of others?

While few would object to protests outside government or corporate offices, some deem protests outside places of worship inappropriate. Although we are not all members of JWPF, we all reject this notion. Arguably, institutions and individuals who deal in values and ethics deserve to be held to a higher standard of conduct.

Scripture tells us that Jeremiah stood "in the gate of the LORD'S house" and rebuked Israel. As Abraham Heschel explains:
The prophet knew that religion could distort what the Lord demanded … To the people, religion was Temple, priesthood, incense: "This is the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord, the Temple of the Lord" (Jer. 7:4). Such piety Jeremiah brands as fraud and illusion. "Behold you trust in deceptive words to no avail," he calls (Jer. 7:8). Worship preceded or followed by evil acts becomes an absurdity. The holy place is doomed when people indulge in unholy deeds.
Also, In the Christian tradition, Jesus chased the money changers out of the Temple and Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of Castle Church in Wittenberg. We make no claims concerning the prophetic nature of the JWPF vigil, we merely wish to point out that such protests are consistent with religious tradition.

On the question of the "effectiveness" of the vigils, we observe that, by tradition and according to scripture, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all had rather inauspicious beginnings. Right after his covenant with Abraham, God's next act is to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus is crucified after a ministry of, at most, three years. Mohammed is threatened with death and driven from Mecca years before Islam becomes widely accepted. The vigils are, obviously, not an undertaking of comparable magnitude but our point is that without the benefit of hindsight it is hard to know the ultimate outcome of one's efforts. Humility and reason argue against harsh judgments based upon the criterion of effectiveness.

In closing we, again, ask the SC to commit to at least six months of structured dialogue with us concerning the substantive issues raised below, in the statement we presented for consideration at your April 25, 2006, meeting, and in the statements issued by the EC.

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