An association of hundreds of predominantly African-American churches in Missouri condemned the recent platform of the Black Lives Matter movement labeling Israel an “apartheid state” and accusing it of genocide.

In a statement published Sunday in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Bishop Lawrence Wooten, president of the St. Louis chapter of the Ecumenical Leadership Council of Missouri, said that while Black Lives Matter plays a “vital role” in addressing racial violence by police, its language on Israel was misplaced.

“The Ecumenical Leadership Council of Missouri, representing hundreds of predominantly African-American churches throughout the state, rejects without hesitation any notion or assertion that Israel operates as an apartheid country,” Wooten wrote. “We embrace our Jewish brethren in America and respect Israel as a Jewish state. Jewish-Americans have worked with African-Americans during the civil rights era when others refused us service at the counter — and worse.”

Wooten also referred to two American Jews — Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman — who along with James Chaney, a young black man, were murdered in 1964 while doing civil rights work in Mississippi.

“We cannot forget their noble sacrifices,” Wooten wrote. “Neither should Black Lives Matter.”

Clarence Jackson, the council’s executive director, told JTA the statement emerged from a meeting held Aug. 5 between the council leadership and the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis. The organization, Jackson said, drew the black leaders’ attention to the controversy generated in the Jewish community by the Black Lives Matter platform.

“They brought it to our attention,” Jackson said. “We were quite shocked. We didn’t know about this.”

Maharat Rori Picker Neiss, executive director of JCRC, said her organization already had a meeting with council leaders scheduled before the Black Lives Matter platform was publicized. 

The Ecumenical Council’s statement was “very encouraging, especially because it wasn’t something that we asked of them, and it really affirmed for us the work that we have been doing and are continuing to do, to build relationships and engage in respectful dialogue,” Picker Neiss said. 

The Jewish and African-American leaders discussed organizing affinity groups for people who are in similar professions or have similar interests, she said.

Picker Neiss will also talk with Ferguson City Council member Wesley Bell, an African-American attorney, during his radio show “Community Conversations” at 1:30 p.m. Sunday on WGNU (AM 920).

Jewish Light Staff Writer Eric Berger contributed to this report.