On April 11, the Columbia, Missouri, Tribune published a letter from a local rabbi against divestment. Columbia's a big university town. The letter was clearly timed just as the Missouri delegation of Methodists was preparing for its General Conference in Florida (April 24-May 4).
My friend Andy Whitmore of Kansas City sent a letter in response to the rabbi's, but it was not published. I'm publishing most of the rabbi's letter, and Whitmore's response.
Rabbi Yossi Fentuch:
"Churches should resist Israel divestment push"
The Methodist and Presbyterian churches are approaching their respective April and July national conventions, where it is presumed motions for divestment [etc.]...
Suffering in the land of the Bible is experienced sadly on both sides of the Arab Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Hence, if American Christian denominations indicted only Israel for the conflict, they would effectively paint her shamefully as a pariah nation solely responsible for frustrating peace.
It would justify the violence perpetrated against Israeli civilians, including children, as the unfortunate result of Israel's "unilateral guilt." In other words, Israeli victims would be responsible for their own suffering.
Divestment directed against Israel alone would be not only counterproductive but would divert efforts toward achieving a lasting peace that is based on the envisioned two-state solution: one Arab, one Jewish. Simply put, the bitter debate over divestment would drown out the really needed conversation about how to end the conflict. Efforts should rather be aimed toward reconciliation by investment in projects that are geared toward a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
Many of the major proponents of divestment deny Israel's right to exist, a position not shared by either church.
Rabbi Yossi Feintuch
From Andrea Whitmore:
Rabbi Yossi Feintuch correctly notes the “suffering in the land of the Bible.” Israelis and Palestinians are yoked together in misery due to the decades long, illegal occupation of Palestine. What kind of church profits from such misery?
At this point, both the United Methodist and Presbyterian Church USA do. Both have pension funds invested in three American companies that directly profit from it. The upcoming resolutions would simply align church investments with their long-known official positions against the continuing devastation of an occupation condemned by virtually the entire world.
The divestment is not “directed against Israel.” Our churches have a right and a responsibility to remove equity from companies—in this case American companies--involved in blatant human rights abuses.
The rabbi wants “investment in projects that are geared toward a peaceful resolution to the conflict.” The people of Palestine cannot move from town to town to trade, are daily restricted from farming their own land or herding their flocks, and crops are held at Israeli checkpoints—in Palestinian territory, mind you—until they rot. Projects, such as a small swimming pool built for Palestinian children with USAID funds, are routinely destroyed by Israel. Investment? Yes--but not as a way of avoiding responsibility for the churches’ role in perpetuating an illegal and immoral occupation that is harmful to both peoples.
It is time to put our treasure where we say our hearts are. Surely Jesus would chase us from the temple for further oppressing an already burdened people.
Member, Citizens for Justice in the Middle East, Kansas City
Member, United Methodist Kairos Response
Member, Friends of Sabeel North America
Supporter, Jewish Voice for Peace