Countering Divestment of Israel — A CRC Priority and Challenge

by Gordon Haas

Countering divestment of Israel, especially among the mainline Protestant churches, is a priority of the Community Relations Committee. Over the past eight years, there has been a small but powerful element within these church’s policy groups that has been escalating BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) efforts.

Unfortunately, this year, they had their first success within the Presbyterian Church (USA) at its biennial General Assembly, where a series of BDS resolutions passed. We are saddened and disappointed by this decision and are concerned about the domino affect with other mainline churches, such as the Episcopal and Lutheran denominations.

Specifically, the Church voted to:

  • Divest from three American companies because of their sales to Israel. The companies include Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola Solutions.
  • Re-examine its stated support for a two-state solution.
  • Not support “Zionism Unsettled,” a deeply distorted, one-sided anti-Jewish and anti-Israel congregational study guide. To date, however, it remains on their website.

The community relations community, through its affiliation with the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and Israel Action Network (IAN), worked with our national partners to deter this resolution from passing collectively. At the local level, we reached out to community rabbis and had a strong group of eight that helped us reach as many General Assembly delegates as possible, as well as share our concerns with fellow clergy in their communities.

We had a feeling from these conversations that although many of our friends said they understood and agreed with us on divestment not being the way to achieve peace in Israel, they did believe the divestment resolution would pass, and they were correct. There was nothing more we could do. These rabbis as well as the other 70 rabbis in our community were also urged to sign the letter in pursuit of peace.

We want to thank the community rabbis that took the time to help on this and have these difficult conversations. We hope to convene rabbis and other influentials during the summer to further discuss how to respond to this situation. In addition, this issue of reaching out to the mainline churches on Israel has become a priority issue for the IAN Fellowship program that the CRC launched this spring. This group was trained on how to effectively speak to the non-Jewish community, monitored the General Assembly, and will lead CRC outreach to the interfaith community on this issue.

Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ has issued a statement about its disappointment about the Church’s decision to divest. Please see below and feel free to share.

Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ Extremely Disappointed and Saddened by Israel Divestment Decision of Presbyterian Church USA

We are extremely disappointed and saddened by the national Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) decision to support divestment from three U.S.-based companies because of their sales to Israel. We believe that an opportunity to advance prospects for peace became instead a divisive act.

It is tragic to see the Presbyterian Church, which has a historic partnership and friendship with the Jewish community and Israel, ostensibly hijacked by a fringe element that challenges the very existence of a Jewish state and undermines efforts to establish true peace in the region.

In addition to personal appeals that urgently petitioned the church not to fall prey to the BDS movement, more than 1,700 Jewish community leaders wrote a Letter in Pursuit of Peace. This group of rabbis and other religious leaders represent the vast majority of the Jewish community who, like millions of Jews around the world, yearn for peace between Israel and the Palestinians. They support two states for two people who share one home, and who understand that boycotts, sanctions and divestment is antithetical to that goal.

We know that despite this act, the Church is seeking to distance itself from “Zionism Unsettled,” a chillingly anti-Jewish and anti-Israel, deeply distorted and one-sided congregational “study guide” developed by virulently anti-Israel elements within the church, by clarifying that this doesn’t represent official church policy. But this alarming distortion of Judaism and Zionism is still available for purchase through the PCUSA website. We urge the Presbyterian Church (USA) to firmly reject outright and stop making available “Zionism Unsettled.”

We thank those members of national PCUSA who fought so tirelessly to challenge divestment. At the local level we have deep affection for, and partnership with, our local church leaders. We will continue to work those who share our goal of a two-state solution and choose to join us in the most constructive path to that end.

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