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Presbyterian Divestment Vote Evokes Charges of “Anti-Semitism” As Well As Jewish Support

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
August 2014

In June, the Presbyterian Church (USA) became the most prominent religious group in the U.S. to endorse divestment as a protest against Israeli policies toward the Palestin¬ians. The General Assembly, meeting in Detroit, voted 310-303 to sell stock in Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Motorola Solutions, companies whose products Israel uses in the occupied territories.  
The church said that the motion was “not to be construed” as “alignment with or endorsement of the global BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) movement.” The church reaffirmed Israel’s right to exist and endorsed a two-state solution. Heath Rada, the church’s moderator, said of the vote: “In no way is this a reflection of our lack of love for our Jewish sisters and brothers.”  
Large American Jewish organizations lobbied to defeat the divestment vote. More than 1,700 rabbis signed an open letter saying that “placing all the blame on one party, when both bear responsibility, increases conflict and division instead of promoting peace.”  
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, head of the Union for Reform Judaism, addressed the assembly and offered to broker a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and the church’s two top leaders, on the condition that the divestment measure was defeated. According to The New York Times (June 21, 2014), “That offer appears to have backfired, with some saying afterward that it felt both manipulative and ineffectual, given what they perceive as Mr. Netanyahu’s approval of more settlements in the disputed territories and lack of enthusiasm for peace negotiations.”  
The Times reported that, “Of more influence was the presence at the church’s convention all week of Jewish activists, many of them young, in black T-shirts with the slogan ‘Another Jew Supporting Divestment.’ Many of them were with Jewish Voice for Peace, a small but growing organization that promotes divestment and works with Palestin¬ians and Christian groups on the left.”  
Rabbi Alissa Wise, director of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), spent a week inside the convention center and spoke at a prayer service. She said that divestment can serve a constructive purpose. “To me this helps Palestinians build their power,” she said, “so that Israel is convinced, not by force, but by global consensus that something has to change.”  
The response from the organized Jewish community was swift, and the rhetoric extreme. In a tweet (June 22, 20l4), American Jewish Committee Global declared: “All you need to know about the Presbyterian divestment step against Israel — extremist David Duke endorses it.” Rob Jacobs of the right-wing Zionist group StandWithUs stated: “Incredible! The former head of the Ku Klux Klan David Duke applauds Presbyterian divestiture.” Jeffrey Goldberg of The Atlantic went further and declared twice, without any substantiation whatever, that, “David Duke claims credit for devising the Presbyterian Church strategy.”  
David Duke, who had nothing whatever to do with the Presbyterian vote, must be pleased with the publicity Jewish groups have given to him. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu called the Presbyterian vote “disgraceful” and Forward (July 4, 2014) editor Jane Eisner, writing from Israel, wrote: “… how can I believe this isn’t about the Jews? And that, my Presbyterian friends, is anti-Semitism.” Jonathan Tobin, writing in Commentary (June 25, 2014) again referred to David Duke and said that “radicals tainted by anti-Semitism have hijacked (Presbyterian) leader¬ship … this move was motivated by intolerance and hate.” In its official statement, the American Jewish Committee said the vote was “driven by hatred of Israel.”  
While the organized Jewish community continues to charge critics of Israeli policy with “anti-Semitism,” there are an increasing number of Jewish voices to be heard defending the Presbyterian decision, sometimes even lamenting that the church did not go further.  
Writing in Tikkun, Cantor Michael Davis, a member of the JVP Rabbinical Council, stated: “I … support the right of our Presbyterian friends to freely explore their conscience on divesting from American companies that benefit from Israel’s illegal occupation of the West Bank … I believe, along with a growing number of Jews and Israelis, that BBS is the best non-violent option to stop the downward spiral to inevitable violence … Under international and American law, Israel’s occupation … is illegal. Any business involv¬ed in the occupation is therefore illegal too … Christians, like Jews, have a special interest in what happens in the Holy Land and a special responsibility to its peoples. The Presbyterian Church should be free to debate the issues on their merits without fear of being branded anti-Semites … Let us show our Christian neighbors the same respect we expect and enjoy from them. Hillel said: Love your neighbor as yourself, this is the whole Torah.”  
M.J. Rosenberg, writing in Tikkuk, states that, “There are hundreds of thousands, maybe a few million good Israelis who are desperate for outside help to end the occupation. This (Presbyterian) resolution provides hope … (it) targets only the occupation which is fair and right. I believe that being pro-Israel requires opposing the occupation. The resolution is pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian and, above all, pro-peace.”  
Responding to Forward editor Jane Eisner’s attack on the Presbyterians, Mondoweiss (June 25, 2014) editor Philip Weiss wrote: “As for the absence of political freedom in Syria and Egypt, Americans and Jews have a special relationship to Palestine. Israeli Jews established apartheid there with our complicity. What means does Eisner advocate for ending apartheid? The occupation has now lasted almost 50 years, and the creation of Israel involved ethnic cleansing and dispossession that has never been addressed (decades after Jews received reparations from Germany). As Eisner says, ‘divestment is not only about wielding punishment; it’s about shaping a moral conversation.’ O. K., let’s have it. And if you’re the liberal Jewish newspaper, are you making any room for anti-Zionist Jews?” •

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