This is part of Marc H. Ellis’s “Exile and the Prophetic” feature for Mondoweiss. To read the entire series visit the archive page.
We’re entering the church convention season again and divestment, Israel-Palestine style, is on the agenda. In the coming days, Christians of various denominations will struggle with and against one another on the most vexing of issues, how to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict once and for all. Jews will also be involved on both sides of the issue and at the conventions themselves. This is a new phase of Jewish-Christian partnership and, depending on which side you’re on, it bodes well or ill for the future of the Jewish-Christian dialogue.
But the devil is in the details of divestment. Not one of the churches that has approved divestment or who might in the days and weeks ahead has truly sacrificed on behalf of Palestinian freedom. In a common sense view, divestment means getting rid of something at a personal or communal sacrifice. Divestment as it plays out in the churches is simply shifting stock in their portfolios, usually with the guarantee, often vocalized in the convention debate, that the church’s portfolio won’t suffer at all. In fact, the accountants often raise the possibility that higher yielding stocks or bonds might be found. Instead of sacrifice, divestment might be profitable!
Divestment or, rather, shifting stocks should be supported if those involved realize that such shifting is symbolic. Symbolism is part and parcel of politics and religion. Shifting stocks is important. But more than symbolism is involved. The church shifting of stocks is decades behind the political curve in Israel-Palestine. What could have been revolutionary in the 1970s or 1980s, is now taken for granted by Israel and the American Jewish establishment. Though they won’t admit it, shifting stocks is known by both as a given. Symbolically, they have to fight it, of course. Any Israeli or Jewish establishment analyst worth their salary has to know that “divestment” has left the station.
The anniversary of the Gaza war shows that the international community and the churches have avoided the reckoning needed for the Palestinian struggle. Paradoxically, the shifting of stocks in the upcoming church conventions is part of this avoidance. Rather than divesting, the churches remain too heavily invested in Israel-Palestine and too dependent on the government of Israel. Church personnel, equipment and their institutions are all vetted and approved, or disapproved, by Israel. The churches continue to be heavily invested at how they appear to Israel, Jews and the American Jewish establishment. Rather than the Palestinian struggle, the churches are invested in not being labelled as anti-Semitic.
The churches are looking through the wrong end of their involvement. They can make a difference. It will be costly. Their stock portfolios are only the beginning.
What to do? By all means, cheer on the forces that seek to shift the stock holdings. But in doing so, call on one church at least to go all out and dedicate the next five years of its corporate life specifically to Israel-Palestine. Declare Israel an apartheid state. Pour church resources from a true divestment into the Palestinian struggle. Stop hedging church bets on a two state solution, security for Jews etc., and declare Israel a rogue state, supported by an unjust, imperial, United States. Publicly end the Jewish-Christian dialogue/deal with the Jewish establishment. Announce a new dialogue/vision of solidarity with Jews and Palestinians of Conscience.
Will this tip the scales of an unjust Israel? I doubt it. But it would be a real rather than a symbolic commitment to a just future for Palestinians and Jews in Israel-Palestine.
Call it divestment with a bite. Witness with a purpose. At a sacrifice.