Guess who is not coming to dinner
Thursday, September 25, 2008
This evening, September 25, the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will meet with religious leaders at a dinner in New York. The event is co-sponsored by the Mennonite Central Committee, the American Friends Service Committee, the Quaker United Nations Office, the World Conference on Religions for Peace, and the World Council of Churches. While a member of Religions for Peace, the United Church of Christ is not active in its participation. We are, of course, a very active member communion of the World Council of Churches.This is a surprising but welcome gesture by Thomas who has been widely criticized by the Jewish community in the past for statements and actions he has made regarding Israel.
I was invited to the dinner but have declined. In previous public statements I have objected strongly to the rhetoric of President Ahmadinejad, rhetoric regarding the State of Israel and the historicity of the Holocaust that is deeply disturbing to all who believe in Israel's right to exist and who acknowledge the on-going pain that the Holocaust and its memory still evokes. While the organizers of this event certainly hope to raise their concern over this rhetoric with President Ahmadinejad, I am not convinced this will be effective. To the contrary, I fear the occasion can and will be used by President Ahmadinejad to claim legitimacy and support for himself by an association with respected United States religious leaders. I respect the sponsoring organizations' intent for dialogue, but fear that the more likely outcome is sowing confusion and disappointment among our own members and, in particular, the American Jewish community.
The UCC's Justice and Peace Action Network also made statements in the past that appeared to support Iran's false claims that it would not enrich uranium while the U.S. was pushing for greater measures of accountability. From a 2005 UCC Justice and Peace Action Network alert:
The government of Iran has already submitted to the International Atomic Energy gency protocol and has opened up its facilities to international inspectors. In addition, Iran signed an agreement with Britain, France and Germany that it would stop developing uranium enrichment facilities.Thomas should be praised for his decision to not attend the dinner this evening. While this is a clear sign that he does take the opinions of the Jewish community seriously, there is much more work that needs be done.