Things are heating up in anticipation of the Presbyterian Church’s 220th general conference at the end of the month, at which the U.S. church will debate divesting from three companies that do business in the occupation. Two letters follow. The first is from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs. It is a “letter in hope” that says that the conflict has hurt both sides. The second is a great response from Lynn Gottlieb. First the JCPA one:
We, the undersigned tens of thousands of American Jews and supporters of peace in the Middle East join 1300 rabbis from throughout our country to reach out in hope to our Presbyterian friends and neighbors. We have close relationships, deeply treasured and shaped over many years. We are partners on many social issues including fostering peace between Israelis and Palestinians. We ask you to stand shoulder to shoulder with us in rejecting the counterproductive proposal to selectively divest from certain companies whose products are used by Israel. We feel honored in our hope by the Methodist General Assembly which, after much forethought and debate, decided to oppose such divestment by a 2-1 margin.
These are our feelings. Any place in which a single human being suffers, we all suffer. We know that your concern for the Palestinian people, some of whom are your Christian sisters and brothers, comes from a deep commitment to the alleviation of human pain. There is suffering enough in the land of our common inheritance on both sides of the conflict. A just solution demands peace and security for Israelis and Palestinians. We share goals of a just and lasting peace, an end to affliction, a two-state solution, and the protection of the dignity and security of all in the Holy Land. We must marshal our efforts together to bring about this peace.
We understand and respect your calling to invest in a morally responsible manner. A policy of divestment to pressure Israel, however, runs counter to these goals. Such a one-sided approach damages the relationship between Jews and Christians that has been nurtured for decades. It promotes a lopsided assessment of the causes of and solutions to the conflict, disregarding the complex history and geopolitics. Furthermore, it shamefully paints Israel as a pariah nation, solely responsible for frustrating peace.
For Jews, the use of economic leverages against the Jewish state is fraught with inescapable associations. They resonate in the Jewish consciousness with historic boycotts against Jewish companies and the State of Israel. They are experienced by Jews as part of a pattern of singling out Jews for attack. To determine and continue policies that knowingly tap into the deepest fears and pain of another is, in our tradition, a serious failure of relationship.
Divestment, and the specious Apartheid terminology that frequently accompanies it, polarizes people and communities so that the policy of divestment, and not peace, becomes the central issue. Divestment will undermine the ability of many Israelis to imagine peace. Decades of terrorism and rejection have left Israelis feeling threatened and isolated. Many of the major proponents of divestment do not support Israel’s right to exist – thus deepening this fear. Divestment as a policy is more likely to encourage those with more extreme aims than to foster reconciliation. Simply put, the bitter debate over divestment drowns out the real conversation about how to end the conflict.
At a time when politics in general have become so divisive, here and abroad, our efforts should be aimed toward reconciliation. Together and independently, Christians, Jews, and Muslims must give the parties to the conflict the confidence they need to move toward peace. There are many meaningful coexistence programs that are necessary to foster a generation of Israelis and Palestinians that will work and live side-by-side – moving past the teaching of hate and the resort to violence. As leaders of the Jewish and Protestant communities we need to deepen our understandings of the multiple narratives in the region.
We recognize the urgency of these efforts and the frustration on all sides with achieving our lofty goals. Our collective voices can play an instrumental role, working with the American government and others, to help Israeli, Palestinian, and other Middle Eastern leaders to prevent violence and attacks on civilians, support Palestinian state-building and economic development, promote positive investment opportunities, provide humanitarian aid through appropriate channels, protect existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and, most importantly, encourage a resumption of negotiations among the parties toward a two-state agreement that will help bring about peace, which is at the core of our traditions. We recommit to such efforts, independent of any other matter.
Yet quite honestly, were American Christian denominations to indict only Jews and Israel for the conflict with the Palestinians, they 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. Frankly, such a representation is anything but an expression of friendship and common purpose, and it would replace the closeness and comfort the Jewish community feels in existing relationships with distance, distrust, and disappointment.
The Scriptures that bind us reveal that G-d created all of us in the divine image – human dignity and equality is a core value of Jewish and Christian traditions. Further, our traditions call upon us to be peacemakers. In Hebrew, the word Shalom doesn’t just mean “peace” but wholeness and completeness. Peace comes about by our labors to complete the work of creation. We must work towards the day when every human is granted the dignity, security, and beneficence that is the promise of the created universe.
After the letter was circulated by Rachel Eryn Kalish, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb responded:
I appreciate your peace-making work, but I cannot sign this letter opposing PCUSA’s effort to make selective divestment official church policy. I have written many statements detailing my support for selective divestment and BDS. You can find them on the JVP and F.O.R. websites.
Eryn, your letter, like the letter signed by 1200 rabbis, is deeply flawed in its rationale. Palestinians and not Jews are the targets of systematic violence by Israel. This is what your letter fails to grasp or acknowledge: the systematic violence of Israel’s military occupation is driving the conflict.
It is naive to think that any serious struggle against systematic state violence and military occupation can be won by instituting co-existence projects alone. First of all, such projects are limited by the structural problems that occupation imposes on the entire population of Palestine such as the lack of freedom of movement, the inability to export and the system of permits to name a few. Secondly, people who are victims of systematic violence have the right to determine their own methods of resistance. Gandhian methods of conflict transformation embrace both noncooperation and constructive peace building. Palestinians are engaged in both, as are Presbyterians in relationship to the conflict. Selective divestment is a form of noncooperation that targets the system of occupation. Palestinians have chosen this method of nonviolent struggle. It’s a no brainer.
Most Jews and Christians are not willing to go to Palestine to personally resist Israeli policies of land confiscation, home demolition, destruction of trees and property, military invasion, denial of freedom of movement, administrative detention or the arrest of children through nonviolent protest. Most Jews and Christians do not travel to Israel to work for an end to the blockade of Gaza and are not shot when they try to harvest their wheat or fish in the sea. Gazans have 6 hours of electricity a day which means there is virtually no refridgeration. Are you suggesting that humanitarian aid is a solution to Israel’s policy of occupation? Occupation is a form of structural violence. One side has access to water, the other side does not due to occupation policy. If you advocate a project to dig wells, for instance, you will be severely limited by the inability of Palestinians to dig a deep enough well to access water, even if you pay for the pump. This is what selective divestment addresses: the structural violence of occupation. Selective divestment places pressure on companies doing business with Israel to advocate for change or stop doing business.
As someone who lived through the Civil Rights Movement in America, I learned that it was noncooperation in the form of direct action, such as the Montgomery bus boycott, that provided the real push for change. White people who rode the Freedom Bus, joined in voter registration, walked for desegregation and joined the African American community in jail helped end the violent system of legalized segregation. One only has to read the letter MLK wrote to dissenting clergy while he sat in the Birmingham jail to understand this point. At the time, working for peace and justice meant that white people who wanted to be allies to the effort of ending segregation had to be willing to sit in jail. Struggling together in this way was an authentic act of love. Today, supporting selective divestment is an act of love and faith and hope. It is not an act that offends me or makes me feel unjustly targeted as a Jew. The opposite. Selective divestment is a form of nonviolent direct action that is aligned with my values as a person committed to Jewish nonviolence and the way I understand my tradition. One should not profit from anything produced through violent means. If your retirement fund is made fatter because you have money invested in Caterpillar, you should divest. Not to do so is violating Jewish law. Why can’t you invest in peace and divest in violence at the same time?
Those of us in the Jewish community who believe in co-existence respectfully disagree with the idea that selective divestment is harmful to Jewish Christian relationships. My experience is totally different. The divestment work Jews, Muslims and Christians do together across religious, cultural and racial boundaries has strengthened our relationships, not weakened them. I applaud the PCUSA in their effort to institute a policy of selective divestment.
May we love each other on the way toward ending occupation and establishing good relations. I pray that a sustainable peace comes quickly in our day.
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb