The Jewish establishment brought out a big gun Thursday to oppose a measure that would see the Presbyterian Church divest from three corporations that contract with the Israeli military. Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the head of the Union for Reform Judaism, told Presbyterian delegates that there was something better than divestment: a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“If we are truly partners and you disapprove this divestment overture I look forward to sitting with your leadership in the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem. You can chose partnership and engagement or you can choose separation and divestment,” Jacobs said. “We should be partners in leading the interfaith world. These high level meetings are only the beginning of our faith communities working together for a two state solution.”
In response, the Israel/Palestine Mission Network, a Presbyterian group driving divestment, tweeted:
— IPMN (@IPMN) June 19, 2014
Jacobs, a leader in Reform Judaism–the largest Jewish movement in the U.S.–is set to meet with the rightwing prime minister next week.
The Presbyterian convention is scheduled to vote on the divestment resolution, which was overwhelmingly endorsed by the church’s Middle East Issues committee, this afternoon. Jacobs warned the church that divesting from Hewlett Packard, Caterpillar and Motorola Solutions would cause “a painful rift with the great majority of the Jewish community.” That message won him no friends among anti-occupation, pro-divestment Jews at the convention:
Couching his appeal in an acknowledgement that the occupation “causes pain and hardship to Palestinians every single day,” Jacobs tied the divestment measure to the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, and said the movement opposes the two-state solution.
Linking divestment to the larger BDS movement has emerged as a key strategy for the liberal Zionists at the Presbyterian convention in Detroit. The hope among liberal Zionists who are anti-divestment is that the BDS movement’s agnosticism on two-states or one-state will make the tactic of divestment a toxic one. Members of J Street–and the American Task Force on Palestine–have echoed Jacobs in tying divestment to BDS in an effort to defeat the resolution.
The resolution itself is indeed supported by BDS advocates, including Jewish Voice for Peace, which is on the record as supporting BDS but specifically focuses on boycotting and divesting from entities involved in the occupation. But the language of the Presbyterian resolution to divest only focuses on three corporations involved with the occupation, and specifically calls for a two-state solution. That call was made because of worries “that divestment would be seen as divestment from Israel,” as the head of the Presbyterian Church’s Middle East Committee said on Thursday. And the resolution itself states: “This action on divestment does not mean an alignment with the overall strategy of the global BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) movement.”
Jacobs’s stark appeal–divest and harm relations with Jews, or reject it and enjoy comity–comes as all sides mobilize for what promises to be a riveting debate Friday afternoon. Some 1,700 rabbis and other Jewish faith leaders signed a letter stating that “the role of peacemaker is irreconcilable with positions that promote economic coercion through boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS).”
Jewish Voice for Peace has its own rabbis’ letter, and has also gathered thousands of signatures on an interfaith petition in support of divestment.
In addition to the divestment measure, the Presbyterian delegates will vote on a number of other Middle East-related resolutions. One calls on the church to review its support for the two-state solution, while another would put the church on record as saying that the publication “Zionism Unsettled”–which has caused a great deal of controversy because of its harsh denunciation of Israel–does not speak for the church.