An elder in the Presbyterian Church, USA, said during a meeting with a leader of the terrorist group Hezbollah that Muslims are easier to deal with than Jews.

The comment was aired on Arab television and recorded by the Middle East Media Research Institute TV Monitor Project, or MEMRI TV. The meeting with the terrorist – Sheikh Nabil Qauq, the leader of Hezbollah in south Lebanon – occurred Sunday during a visit by a 24-member delegation from the Presbyterian Church, USA. MEMRI has a video clip of part of the meeting on its website.

“As an elder of our church, I’d like to say that according to my recent experience, relations and conversations with Islamic leaders are a lot easier than dealings and dialogue with Jewish leaders,” Elder Ronald Stone said during the meeting.

Stone of Pittsburgh, Pa., praised Hezbollah at the meeting, saying, “We treasure the precious words of Hezbollah and your expression of goodwill toward the American people.”

Three top church officials responded Wednesday, stating, “The visit to Hezbollah and the comments on that occasion by members of this Presbyterian group do not reflect the official position of the Presbyterian Church.”

As WorldNetDaily reported, in July the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA, voted 431-62 to divest from companies that are invested in Israel. The vote set the stage for the church to divest itself from companies that receive $1 million dollars or more in profits per year from investments in Israel or have invested $1 million dollars or more in Israel. PCUSA has foundation and pension funds totaling approximately $7 billion.

The Rev. Nile Harper is head of the Presbyterian delegation to the Middle East.

“The occupation by Israel in the West Bank and Gaza must end because it is oppressive and destructive for the Palestinian people,” Harper said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The group also visited Syria and Jordan.

“We are interested in peace and justice for Palestinians as well as in the relationship between Syria and Lebanon and Syria and Israel,” delegation coordinator Peter Sulyok is quoted as saying. “We will be looking to see what new initiatives there might be, what possibilities there might be for peace.”

Leaders of the Anglican Church, which in the U.S. includes the Episcopal Church, USA, are preparing to follow in the footsteps of the Presbyterians by also divesting from Israel.

The church report recommending divestment, signed by 29 Anglican representatives who toured the Holy Land last month before reaching their decision, will be delivered at a 2005 meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council, to be held in Wales.

The Anti-Defamation League has released a statement saying it was “deeply disturbing that leaders of the Presbyterian Church would seek out a meeting with members of a terrorist organization responsible for attacks that have killed both Americans and Israelis.” The group points out Hezbollah is on the U.S. State Department’s watchlist of global terrorist organizations.

Abraham H. Foxman, ADL national director, and Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor, ADL director of interfaith affairs, issued a joint statement in response to the visit, saying:

“Coming in an atmosphere where interfaith relations between Presbyterians and Jews have been sorely tested by the church’s proposal to disinvest from Israel, it is disturbing that the Presbyterian leaders made the irresponsible decision to meet with Hezbollah, an organization whose self-stated goal is the total destruction of the Jewish State and the establishment of Islamic rule over Jerusalem. It is outrageous that, rather than seeking out moderate voices working for positive change in the Middle East, the Presbyterian leaders decided to seek out the leader of a terrorist organization.”

Since its founding in 1982, Hezbollah has been responsible for hundreds of attacks against Israelis and Americans, including the 1983 suicide bomb attack on the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed 200. Hezbollah also attacked the Israeli Embassy in Argentina in 1992 and the Israeli cultural center in Buenos Aires in 1994.

The three top Presbyterian Church, USA, officials who disavowed the comments – General Assembly Stated Clerk Clifton Kirkpatrick, General Assembly Council Executive Director John Detterick and General Assembly Moderator Rick Ufford-Chase – noted the church’s General Assembly this year denounced terrorism.

The assembly called “terrorism – whether state, group, or individual – immoral because it wrongfully and deliberately attacks innocent civilians,” and is “a dead-end alternative to a negotiated settlement of the conflict.”

While it is the largest Presbyterian denomination, the PCUSA does not represent all American Presbyterians.

Related stories:

Episcopal Church next to shun Israel?

Presbyterians to divest from Israel

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