Keeler seeks to calm U.S. Jewish leaders

March 14, 1995|By Michael James and Frank P. L. Somerville | Michael James and Frank P. L. Somerville,Sun Staff Writers

Cardinal William H. Keeler sought yesterday to mollify national Jewish leaders angered over a recent request by him and Protestant and Orthodox leaders for a greater Christian role in the future of Jerusalem.

The request, issued March 6, sparked a meeting at the cardinal's residence in Baltimore yesterday. In part, the Christian clergymen had asked that the Clinton administration "press Israel to stop seizing land and constructing settlements in the Jerusalem area."

Since the statement was issued -- signed by Cardinal Keeler as president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops -- it has been assailed by several Jewish groups, who accused the Christian leaders of being one-sided.

"It is a seriously flawed and incomplete document . . . that does a disservice to the quest for an enduring Arab-Israeli peace," the American Jewish Committee responded. "The statement puts the onus on Israel and Israel alone, as if Israel were operating in a vacuum and not in a dangerous and unpredictable situation."

B'nai B'rith, the world's largest Jewish organization, accused the Christian leaders of "inserting themselves in the active and ongoing peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians." It called the statement an "ill-conceived appeal."

Other signers of the statement that drew Jewish criticism included Greek Orthodox Archbishop Iakovos, Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning of the Episcopal Church and Bishop Herbert W. Chilstrom of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Cardinal Keeler invited eight Jewish leaders, including six from New York City, to his home to discuss the matter yesterday. He said he would be issuing a "clarification" of the statement sometime in the next several days.

Among those attending were Rabbis Leon Klenicki, A. James Rudin, David Saperstein, Mordechai Waxman and Jack Bemporad. The other Jewish leaders were Dr. Michael Kotzin, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Chicago, and Phil Baum, executive director of the American Jewish Congress.

"It was an excellent meeting," Cardinal Keeler said yesterday. "It was clear they had some misperceptions about one or two aspects of the statement. But once we were able to put it in context they were able to see where we were coming from."

Cardinal Keeler said the intent of the March 6 statement was to shed light on the problems facing the Christian minority in Jerusalem. He said he was not taking sides and would clarify his stance.

"I think the initial statement itself needs to be put in a context," Cardinal Keeler said. "We certainly hope that when finally the settlement comes, Christians will have a voice with [respect to] their own civil and religious rights as we hope all religious bodies will have civil and religious rights."

Cardinal Keeler has usually maintained a solid relationship with Jewish leaders. In December, representatives of Baltimore Jewry presented a silver menorah to him and praised his promotion to cardinal.

Some of those same leaders yesterday said they were shocked to read the words of the March 6 statement, in which the Christian leaders said they "question controversial efforts by the Israeli government and the U.S. Congress to cement exclusive Israeli control over the parts of Jerusalem occupied by Israel in 1967 and thus pre-empt negotiations with the Palestinians."

The Christian leaders requested that representatives of the three religious communities in Jerusalem, as well as Israelis and Palestinians, have a role in the peace talks.

Arthur C. Abramson, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, who attended yesterday's meeting, said Jewish leaders "were clearly wounded by the statement, but we expect that the cardinal's clarifying remarks will be a major salve on the wound."

"Our relationships with the cardinal and the Catholic community are good. That's why we were concerned," Mr. Abramson said. He said Jewish leaders also were concerned that they had not been consulted before the issuing of the remarks.

"The meeting was a good opportunity to hear each other out and learn from them why they issued the statement. And they learned from us why we were concerned about it," Mr. Abramson said.

Other signers of the Christian statement were Philip Saliba, the Metropolitan of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese; Kara Newell, executive director of the American Friends Service Committee; Robert A. Seiple, president of World Vision; and the Very Rev. Gerald Brown, another Catholic leader.

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