Cross-posted with The Palestinian Talmud:
The undersigned members of the Jewish Voice for Peace Rabbinical Council stand with our American Christian colleagues in their recent call to “make U.S. military aid to Israel contingent upon its government’s compliance with applicable US laws and policies.”
We are as troubled as our Christian colleagues by the human rights violations Israel commits against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of US – supplied weapons. It is altogether appropriate – and in fact essential – for Congress to ensure that Israel is not in violation of any US laws or policies that regulate the use of US supplied weapons.
The US Foreign Assistance Act and the US Arms Export Control Act specifically prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of US weapons to “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense.” The Christian leaders’ letter points out, in fact, that the most recent 2011 State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices covering Israel and the Occupied Territories detailed widespread Israeli human rights violations committed against Palestinian civilians, many of which involve the misuse of US – supplied weapons such as tear gas.
It is certainly not unreasonable to insist that foreign assistance be contingent on compliance with US laws and policies. Mideast analyst MJ Rosenberg has rightly pointed out that during this current economic downturn, Congress has been scrutinizing all domestic assistance programs - including Social Security and food stamps - to ensure that they are being carried out legally in compliance with stated US policy. Why should US military aid to Israel be exempt from the same kind of scrutiny?
While some might feel that requiring assistance to be contingent with compliance would compromise Israels security, we believe the exactly the opposite is true. As Israels primary ally, the US alone is in a place to create the kind of leverage that might challenge Israel to turn away from policies that impede the cause of a just peace for Israelis and Palestinians - and true security for all who live in the region.
As Jews we acknowledge that the signers of the letter, and the churches they represent, have ancient and continuing ties to the land of Israel just as we do, and that their concerns for the safety and dignity of Christians in Israel and in the occupied Palestinian territories is as compelling as our concern for the safety and dignity of Jews there.
We are troubled that several Jewish organizations have cynically attacked this faithful and sensitive call – and we are deeply dismayed that the Anti-Defamation League has gone so far as to pull out of a scheduled Jewish-Christian dialogue in protest. We believe that actions such as these run directly counter to the spirit and mission of interfaith dialogue. True dialogue occurs not simply on the areas where both parties find agreement, but in precisely those places where there is disagreement and divergence of opinion. We call on all of our Jewish colleagues to remain at the table and engage our Christian colleagues on this painful issue that is of such deep concern to both our communities.
We express our full support for the spirit and content of this statement and likewise call upon US citizens to urge their representatives to end unconditional military aid to Israel.
Signed (list in formation):
Rabbi Brant Rosen
Rabbi Margaret Holub
Rabbi Alissa Wise
Rabbi Elizabeth Bolton
Rabbi Lynn Gottleib
Rabbi Brian Walt
Rabbi Julie Greenberg
Rabbi David Mivasair
Rabbi Joseph Berman
Cantor Michael Davis
Rabbi Shai Gluskin
Rabbi Tirzah Firestone
Jessica Rosenberg, Rabbinical Student
Ari Lev Fornari, Rabbinical Student
Please read this blog post by my dear friend Rabbi Rebecca Lillian, who currently lives in Malmö, Sweden. You may know that Malmö has experienced its share of anti-Semitism of late and that some members of the Jewish community have left the city as a result.
Sadly, the Malmö Jewish Community Center was damaged last week by an explosive device and rocks that were thrown through the Center’s windows. Rebecca, who happens to live in the JCC, wrote powerfully about her experience of the attack – as well as the subsequent show of solidarity by Malmö’s Network for Faith and Understanding (which includes local churches and mosques.)
In her post, she also has some choice words to say about how the Jewish press and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in particular has been egregiously misrepresenting the situation in Malmö for political purposes:
The real jolt came after Shabbat, as I read the Jewish press. That ubiquitous hyperbolic headline about the blast “rocking” our building irritated me, but the articles were essentially accurate. I was disappointed that nobody had followed up with a story about the multi-faceted vigil. Readers all over the world who have been following the story of anti-Semitic hate crimes in Malmö should also learn about our concerned neighbors who literally rushed to our side. What made me explode, though, was that the Jewish Journal of LA had the chutspa to publish a Reuters photo of the vigil next to an indefensible rant by the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper.
Rabbi Cooper has already declared Malmö an unsafe travel destination for Jews. Now he suggests that those of us who live here might soon need to flee for Israel or elsewhere. “Ayn Soamchin Al Haness” — we cannot rely on miracles to secure the safety of Jewish children. “Clearly time is running out for Malmö,” he writes, along with other overstated claims.
Rabbi Cooper must know that it is dry season in the Jewish blogosphere. Pamela Geller, she of the Isalmophobic ads on New York City buses, borrowed from Cooper’s screed to come to the offensive conclusion that “Malmo has become as bad for Jews as Berlin at the height of the WWII. With its very large Muslim population, Islamic attacks against the Jews are part of the social fabric in Malmo. It’s pure hell.” Such mendacity desecrates the memory of those Jews who died in Berlin and dishonors those who survived. She cynically uses their name to buttress her anti-Muslim fabrications, which have zero to do with the Jewish community of Malmö.
Time has not run out for us. On the contrary, while the bursts of hate are anonymous and cowardly, the eloquent expressions of support are said aloud by well-known community leaders and residents from all over the region. It is time for Cooper and Geller and the countless Jewish bloggers who quote them to stop crying wolf.
Shortly after a gunman killed six worshipers in a Wisconsin Sikh temple and a Joplin Missouri mosque was burned to the ground, Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh felt perfectly comfortable uttering incendiary anti-Muslim comments at a town hall meeting last Wednesday, warning that “there is a radical strain of Islam in this country…trying to kill Americans every week.” Offering no evidence or backup for his allegations, he continued: “It’s here. It’s in Elk Grove, it’s in Addison, it’s in Elgin. It’s here.”
Then he poured it on:
I’m looking for some godly men and women in the Senate, in the Congress, who will stand in the face of the danger of Islam in America without political correctness. Islam is not the peaceful, loving religion we hear about.
Shortly after Walsh’s town meeting remarks, pellet rifle shots were fired at a mosque in Morton Grove, IL.
I don’t know about a domestic “radical Islamic plot” but by now it should be abundantly clear that there is a deadly strain of Islamophobia in our country. In such a climate, I’d say it is the height of irresponsibility for public servants to issue remarks such as these.
It was my honor to stand, together with interfaith colleagues, with my good friends at CAIR – Chicago to express our outrage at Walsh’s sick bigotry (clip above). If you stand with us, please, please let Rep. Walsh know how you feel.
The following post was written by JRC member and current trip participant Rich Katz, who also participated in JRC’s Uganda/Rwanda delegation four years ago. Before joining us in Rwanda on our current trip, he returned to Uganda to visit many of the people and NGO’s with whom we’ve been partnering. Below, he offers thoughts on his experience visiting our good friends at the Peace Kawomera interfaith coffee cooperative.
Visiting East Africa for the first time with JRC in 2008 was a remarkable experience. We made many new friends and we were able to work with and support several grass-roots organizations in Rwanda that provide direct service to alleviate conditions of poverty, HIV-AIDS, and the plight of widows and orphans in a country scarred by genocide. We also visited eastern Uganda to learn more about how the Peace Kawomera Cooperative Society is working to improve the lives of coffee farmers in the region. I returned there for a week before flying to Rwanda. The changes I witnessed were astonishing.
Four years ago, the co-op numbered about 500 farmers who were producing and shipping one container of high quality Arabica coffee to the Thanksgiving Coffee Company in Fort Bragg, CA, where it was roasted, packaged and distributed. They had just received a significant grant from USAID to purchase and install a central “washing station”, which is used by the co-op’s farmers to remove the outer pulp of the ripe coffee “cherry”. The money was also used to begin the construction of a warehouse & office building on the same site (below). Importantly , agronomist Johnbosco “JB” Birenge had been hired to train the farmers in more productive methods of growing coffee.
Today, I’m happy to report that the PK membership has grown to nearly 3,000 farmers, and they now ship four containers of organic, fair-trade certified coffee to Thanksgiving Coffee. The warehouse/office building (below) is functioning—although the office space is not quite finished—and the farmers have expanded their crops to include vanilla, cocoa and cardamom. The staff now includes a credit union manager, an entomologist and a seed development specialist.
However, not all is as rosy as it appears. The co-op is facing some unanticipated problems that require innovative solutions. First, the region is experiencing dramatic climate change that has pushed the harvest forward into July rather than late August, forcing changes in their other farming activities. Also, many farmers are increasing the land planted in cash crops by cutting down the shade trees necessary to grow good coffee and using them for firewood, charcoal and to fire bricks. Fortunately, JB, who is now PK’s managing director, was successful in securing a grant from the Stichting Progreso Foundation, a Netherlands-based organization that supports small holder producer organizations. The money is being used to purchase and raise seedlings (see below) that will be distributed to farmers for reforesting their land. In combination, the climate change and the loss of trees have meant that the annual rains are washing away the topsoil at an alarming rate.
On the bright side, PK has obtained a letter of agreement with Natural Flavors (Newark, NJ) to buy all of their vanilla and cardamon once the growing and drying processes have been perfected. A second USAID grant application has been submitted to purchase a washing station large enough to handle the increased volume of coffee that is being brought in by the farmers. Among other things, the grant will also be used to establish a small “cupping laboratory” in the office building so that farmers can actually taste the coffee that they grow and learn how their farming practices affect the quality; increase the number of women-led producer organizations in PK from 15 to 20; hire six field facilitators, who will visit the famers more frequently for purposes of training and problem-solving; and establish a nursery to test different variety of coffee trees for quality and yield, resistance to pests, etc.
All in all, the future looks bright for our friends at Peace Kawomera. Incomes are steadily rising, women are being given greater independence and authority, democratic institutions are being strengthened, products are expanding, and the quality of their coffee is outstanding. If you live in the Chicago area, head over to JRC and buy a bag of delicious Mirembe Kawomera coffee. You can also support their efforts by buying their coffee at the Thanksgiving Coffee online store.
Last week a group of US clergy, theologians and laypersons unveiled Karios USA, a powerful and important American Christian spiritual call for justice in Israel and Palestine. As a religious Jew, I am inspired by its prophetic courage, its unabashed call for justice and its heartfelt model of compassion. It truly deserves to be shared and studied by all who who seek a genuinely religious call for justice in this land that is so central to so many peoples and spiritual traditions.
Kairos USA is modeled on the religious testimony of Kairos Palestine, a document that was drafted by prominent Palestinian Christian leaders in 2009 (which was itself inspired by the 1985 South African Kairos statement). Despite these important influences, however, Kairos USA stands on its own as a uniquely American Christian call for justice in Israel/Palestine.
Indeed, this unique mission is evoked in the statement’s Preamble at the very outset:
In June 2011, a group of U.S. clergy, theologians and laypersons, cognizant of our responsibility as Americans in the tragedy unfolding in Israel and Palestine, and mindful of the urgency of the situation, met to inaugurate a new movement for American Christians. We have been inspired by the prophetic church movements of southern Africa, Central and South America, Asia and Europe that have responded to the call of their Christian sisters and brothers in occupied Palestine. This is our statement of witness and confession—and our response as U.S. Christians to the Palestinian call.
And more specifically, from the Introduction:
As U.S. Christians we bear responsibility for failing to say “Enough!” when our nation’s ally, the State of Israel, violates international law. Our government has financed Israel’s unjust policies and has shielded its government from criticism by the international community. At the outset of the current U.S. administration, our government led Palestinians to believe that at last we would pursue a political solution based on justice. But the “peace process” has continued to be no more than a means for the continuing colonization of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the imprisonment of Gaza and the intensification of the structures of oppression.
I have no doubt at all that like Kairos Palestine, Kairos USA will be excoriated by many self-appointed leaders of the American Jewish establishment. As for myself, now that I’ve read the document carefully, I can say without hesitation that I believe this statement is a truly sacred testimony, offered in good faith and with genuine religious integrity.
I was particularly moved to read how sensitively Kairos USA treads over some of the most complex hot-button issues in the Jewish-Christian relationship. For instance, on the issue of historical church anti-Semitism, the statement includes the following confession:
As Christians addressing the Palestinian cause we must also acknowledge our shameful role in the historic persecution of the Jewish people. We recognize the dehumanizing and destructive power of doctrines and theologies that denigrated Judaism. Our predecessors perpetuated anti-Semitic stereotypes, practiced scapegoating and cloaked prejudice, hostility and murder itself in the robes of our religion. We confess that our churches failed to resist, and sometimes even aided and abetted pogroms, mass dislocations of Jews, and the calamity of the Nazi Holocaust itself. In so doing, they betrayed the teaching and example of the one we claim to follow. We speak for and with our forbears in expressing deep remorse. With a commitment to never forget those failures and to be instructed by them, we pledge ourselves to growth in faithfulness, compassion and justice.
The statement goes on, however, to state that Christians’ honest desire to repent for the church’s historic crimes against Jews must not inhibit them from speaking out against injustices perpetrated by Israel against Palestinians. To my mind, this is a call for real and honest interfaith relations – dialogue that is not defined by guilt or emotional blackmail, but rather by a willingness to venture into and openly discuss the more difficult and painful places:
We acknowledge with sadness and distress that because of the powerful impulse on the part of Christians to atone for their sins against the Jewish people, vigilance against anti-Semitism today has come to trump working for justice in Palestine and Israel. The Christian need to rectify centuries of anti-Jewish doctrine and actions and to avoid even the perception of anti-Jewish feeling has served to silence criticism of Israel’s policies and any questioning of the consequences of U.S. government support for Israel. Differences between anti-Semitism and legitimate opposition to Israeli actions are avoided or explained away. Responsible discourse about Zionism is often denounced as hostility toward Israel and its citizens or branded as anti-Semitism. We believe that in our dialogue with our Jewish friends, family members and colleagues and in our relationships with the Jewish community on institutional levels, we must confront this pattern of avoiding, denying or suppressing discussion of issues that may cause conflict or discomfort. The fact that anti-Semitism still exists makes it all the more important to differentiate between actual anti-Jewish feelings and criticism of the actions of a nation state. Uncomfortable though it may be, we cannot be afraid to address the urgent issue of justice and human rights in Israel and Palestine with our Jewish sisters and brothers here in the United States.
I also deeply admire the statement’s willingness to directly address the charged issue of so-called Christian “replacement” or “supersessionist” theology (a view that promotes Christianity – and not Judaism – as the genuine fulfillment of Biblical tradition):
We are aware that in denying a theology of entitlement that gives the Jewish people exclusive rights to the Holy Land, we risk the charge of reviving the Christian doctrine known as replacement theology (sometimes known as supersessionism). In this view, the Church takes the place of Israel in God’s purposes, denigrating Judaism itself and condemning the Jews to suffering for rejecting the Gospel. Christians have rightly wished to distance themselves from this destructive and divisive doctrine. We repudiate the anti-Semitic legacy of the church’s past and the theology that undergirds it.
As a Jew who rejects a sense of Jewish entitlement just as strongly as I reject any religious viewpoint that makes an exclusive claim to the land, I particularly appreciate Kairos USA’s religious approach on this point:
Our core Christian belief is that God’s promise in the Gospel is a promise to all nations. This means that God’s kingdom work in Christ is a promise to everyone regardless of race. We believe that the Church has found in Christ a fulfillment of all that God promised in Abraham, and that both Jews and Gentiles have been invited equally into this promise of a world renewed in love and compassion. The Church does not replace Israel. Jews continue to have a place in God’s plan for the world. In Christ, all nations can be blessed (Genesis 18:18, 22:18; Galatians 3:8). In these times of growing international conflict and cultural mistrust, this is a significant promise. Theologies that privilege one nation with political entitlements to the exclusion of others miss a central tenet of the Gospel and inspire increased conflict.
I believe the above statement provides a crucial challenge to both American Jews and Christians. From a theological point of view, I believe it is time to reframe the issue. The real debate is not about which religious tradition or people has a more compelling religious “right” to the land of Israel, rather, it is between those who make exclusivist theological claims and those whose theology makes room for all peoples who live on or feel a connection to this land.
I also have no doubt that many in the American Jewish establishment will reject out of hand Kairos USA’s positive advocacy of BDS (“Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions”). But here again, I find that the statement deals with a hot-button issue with sensitivity and integrity:
Participation in the BDS movement by U.S. churches, notably in the form of initiatives to divest church funds from companies profiting from the occupation of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza, has generated critically-important discussions at local, denominational and ecumenical levels about the responsibility of the church to act. It has also generated intense controversy. Opposition, from Jewish organizations as well as from voices within the churches, has often been fierce, claiming that such actions will inflict grievous damage on hard-won positive relationships with the Jewish community. Many express fear that these actions may encourage anti-Semitism. We note with distress that many have confused these actions with anti-Jewish discrimination and persecution in the Christian past. But BDS is directed at Israeli policy, not the state itself or its citizens, and certainly not against the Jewish people. Divestment and other forms of socially responsible investing (SRI) are not directed against groups, nor are they intended to hurt individuals, corporations or states. They are, rather, directed at unjust, oppressive policies and are about promoting our own values and stated commitments by noncooperation with evil. Furthermore, methods to exert economic pressure on governments and companies, in addition to being a legal, ethical and time-tested way of influencing the political process and corporate behavior, serve to increase awareness, promote open discussion and create the grassroots support required to urge governments to take effective action and to change unjust policies. We urge congregations, clergy and church leaders to become educated about the BDS movement and to consider the many forms that it can take on personal, local and national levels.
As I American Jew who is deeply distressed by the American Jewish establishment’s abject vilification of BDS, I don’t think I could possibly put it any better.
I urge all people – whether religious and secular, Christian, Jewish or Muslim – to read, share, discuss and respectfully debate this important new American statement of faith. My deepest gratitude to those (including my good friends Mark Braverman and Father Cotton Fite) who helped spearhead and draft Kairos USA. May it inspire us all to reframe a new religious response to the sorrows of Israel/Palestine – and lead the way to a better future to all who call this land home.
My hometown paper, the Evanston Roundtable, has just published a thorough feature on “Untold Stories,” a program initiated by my congregation’s Peace Dialogue Task Force that features Palestinians sharing their personal stories of their lives under occupation.
“Untold Stories” was initiated after we invited two Chicago-area Palestinians – a man from Gaza and a woman from the West Bank – two speak about their lives during our Rosh Hashanah discussion groups. The presentation was so successful and well-received, the Peace Dialogue decided to make it an ongoing program – and eventually invite other faith communities in Evanston to participate as well.
From the article:
This fall, St. Nicholas Church will host another chapter of “Untold Stories,” knowing the narratives lend themselves to surprise endings. They allow (Palestinian presenter) Daniel Bannoura to learn that in Chicago, some of his best friends can be Jewish. And (JRC’s Peace Dialogue chairperson) Sallie Gratch can discover that her involvement with Palestinians and their stories “sticks closer to my Jewish values than anything I’ve ever done.”
After the United Methodist divestment resolution was voted down at the UM General Conference last week, I’ve received my fair share of gloating responses from divestment opponents. (Award for the most colorful goes to “Tzahal,” who sent in this attention-grabber: “BDS Fail, you f***ing KAPO”).
Actually, while many of us were disappointed by the final vote, I don’t view this as a fail. Not by a long shot.
First of all, as I reported from Tampa, I was deeply inspired to meet so many remarkable activists – Christians, Muslims, Palestinians, Israelis and American Jews – who constitute a new community of conscience working for justice in Israel/Palestine. This new interfaith/inter-ethnic coalition is growing rapidly and we are most certainly succeeding in raising conscience and awareness each time these kinds of resolutions are brought forth.
Beyond the final vote on this one specific resolution, we should consider it a success that these issues are increasingly being publicly discussed by our religious communities. My fellow activists and I had numerous conversations with delegates in the convention hall and we were heartened to engage so many people so honestly on this difficult issue. I was particularly gratified to speak with the numerous African delegates (who constituted 40% of the convention) who immediately understood the very real parallels to the legacy of colonialism in their own countries.
In addition, as my fellow activist Anna Baltzer recently pointed out, while the divestment resolution did not ultimately pass, the UM General Conference did adopt a resolution that among other things urged the US government to “end all military aid to the region,” called on all nations “to prohibit… any financial support by individuals or organizations for the construction and maintenance of settlements,” and “to prohibit… the import of products made by companies in Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.”
In BDS terms, this means that while the United Methodists did not affirm D (“Divestment”), they did support B and the S (“Boycott” and “Sanctions”). No small statement, this.
I am coming away from this experience more convinced than ever that divestment is a critical tool in our quest for a just peace in I/P. Over and over I’ve heard that divestment is an unduly harsh and polarizing tactic – and that the emphasis should be on positive engagement and investment. This, despite the fact that decades of political engagement by our government have failed miserably. This despite almost a decades worth of failed attempts by church groups to engage companies such as Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions and Hewlett/Packard – companies that literally profit from an oppressive, illegal occupation.
Add to this the testimonials of numerous Palestinian leaders who addressed “positive investment” by telling us it wasn’t charity they needed, but real, actual justice. In the words of Zahi Khouri, a prominent Palestinian Christian businessman and CEO of Coca-Cola Palestine:
It may shock you, but whenever there is a viable project identified in Palestine, we can raise the funds. We don’t need your financial help, your charity. What we need is to be able to operate freely. Divestment is the best, most immediate way that you can help us achieve that. We have been waiting for more than 40 years; we need action now.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu was so correct when he urged support of the divestment resolution by invoking MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Then, as now, those who sought justice were counseled by religious leaders to “be patient” and to address the issue of oppression through engagement and non-confrontational tactics. Then, as now, there was an assumption that those who wielded corrupt power could somehow be “convinced” to give up their power voluntarily. Then, as now, this kind of patronizing counsel rings hollow and false in the ears of those who continue to suffer daily from ongoing injustice and persecution.
No, this was not a fail. There is a movement is building and this was only the beginning. Stay tuned. Similar resolutions will soon be considered in Pittsburgh at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Indianapolis.
My new colleagues and I look forward to continuing this sacred work together.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has just written a powerful op-ed in support of United Methodist church divestment.
I have no doubt that he will once again incur the wrath of the Jewish establishment – especially since he criticizes the 1,200 rabbis who recently signed a public letter opposing church divestment:
While they are no doubt well-meaning, I believe that the rabbis and other opponents of divestment are sadly misguided. My voice will always be raised in support of Christian-Jewish ties and against the anti-Semitism that all sensible people fear and detest. But this cannot be an excuse for doing nothing and for standing aside as successive Israeli governments colonize the West Bank and advance racist laws.
I recall well the words of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail in which he confesses to his “Christian and Jewish brothers” that he has been “gravely disappointed with the white moderate … who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: ‘I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action;’ who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom. …”
King’s words describe almost precisely the shortcomings of the 1,200 rabbis who are not joining the brave Palestinians, Jews and internationals in isolated West Bank communities to protest nonviolently against Israel’s theft of Palestinian land to build illegal, Jewish-only settlements and the separation wall. We cannot afford to stick our heads in the sand as relentless settlement activity forecloses on the possibility of the two-state solution.
Hear, hear. His invocation of MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” is apt and spot on.
I’m particularly appreciative of the Archbishop’s shout out to “the brave rabbis of Jewish Voice for Peace.” It’s wonderful to see our letter of support garnering such widespread acclaim from so many quarters. And it’s especially gratifying to be showing a decidedly different face of the Jewish community to our brothers and sisters in the Christian community over this issue.
The divestment resolution is scheduled to voted on by the UM Conference plenum tomorrow. Stay tuned.
It was my honor to attend the opening of the 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church in Tampa, where they will be considering a resolution to divest church funds from three companies – Motorola Solutions, Hewlett-Packard and Caterpillar – that profit from Israel’s oppressive occupation.
I’ve been so inspired by the amazing people I’ve met in Tampa – Methodists from around the country, Palestinians, and many Jews – who constitute a new community of conscience on this profoundly important issue. This coming-together has been particularly important for me, because many quarters of the United Methodist Church have been unfairly demonized by the Jewish establishment over the issue of church divestment.
The resolution will be considered in committee some time over the next few days – and may possibly be voted on in plenary next week. If you, like me, stand with our Methodist brothers and sisters in our desire for justice in Israel/Palestine, please sign our Rabbi’s Letter that supports “conscientious nonviolent strategies, such as phased selective divestment, to end the occupation.”
You can read a thorough report about our efforts here on Tampa Community Radio. The clip above: my statements at a press conference yesterday which was convened by my friends at United Methodist Kairos Response – the primary sponsors of the UM divestment resolution.
My good friend and colleague Rabbi Mordechai Liebling has just written one of the most eloquent and thoughtful statements in support of church divestment I have yet read. Mordechai’s voice on this subject is particularly noteworthy becuase he has long been an important Jewish community leader on the issue of ethical investing.
Mordechai has previously served as the director of the “Torah of Money” initiative at The Shefa Fund and later became the Executive Vice President of Jewish Funds for Justice. He currently serves as the director of the newly created Social Justice Organizing Program at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College. His statement is all the more powerful because in 2004 he wrote a public article questioning the effectiveness of divestment as a strategy – and as late as two years ago, he still viewed divestment as counterproductive.
As he wrote in his statement, he has reconsidered his position for compelling reasons:
What happened that made me change my views? I changed a little, and the reality on the ground changed even more.
At the time I wrote the article I was organizing the Jewish Shareholder Action Network in my capacity as the Torah of Money Director at the ShefaFund. I was very involved in the world of faith-based socially responsible investments and learned a lot about shareholder activism.
When Protestant churches started considering selective divestment from corporations profiting from the occupation back in the mid-2000′s, I knew many of the socially responsible investment staff people in those denominations. I did not think divestment was a good strategy and said so to my colleagues. But things have changed since.
I was concerned about the potential that divestment measures would have in undermining the Israeli political center. I was concerned about Israelis feeling more isolated than ever and adopting a circle-the-wagons mentality that would make peace harder to attain. These concerns are valid and real. But in the last number of years, the Israel political center has moved to the right–even without divestment. The Israeli government has become more intransigent in its position; the settlers more aggressive. The Netanyahu government has already circled the wagons.
Given this reality, we need to take a look at new approaches. We cannot rule out options that are rooted in non-violence, promote non-violence and call for an end to unjust practices. Divestment is one such option. Palestinian nonviolent direct action is another.
If the reality on the ground in Israel and in the West Bank has changed, so have the attitudes of Israeli Jews and Jews abroad towards the use of tools such as divestments and boycotts. Previously very few Jewish groups would have supported such initiatives. Now we see a lively discussion inside our Jewish communities about the appropriateness of using these tactics to end the occupation and oppose settlement expansion. Countless Israeli artists refuse to perform in the Cultural Center of the settlement of Ariel in the West Bank. Boycotting settlement goods is now discussed in Israel, in the pages of the New York Times, and inside our very own Jewish communities. Symptomatic of its move to the right, the Israeli government has outlawed this practice, and the brave Israelis that speak about it, risk heavy court-mandated fines for expressing their views. But inevitably, the more intransigent the Israeli government, the more popular this and other nonviolent measures will become.
Now to be sure, boycott and selective divestment are not the same thing. The former is carried out by consumers; the latter by investors. Divestment from a corporation does not come in a vacuum. It is the logical step that follows after shareholders try to negotiate with a company to address their concerns and after shareholder activism fails. Back when I opposed divestment, I was concerned that divestment was being invoked when the first two steps had not been tried yet, or at least pursued to its completion. This is not the case today. To their credit, the churches have gathered a full record of failed corporate engagement and have experienced years of frustrated shareholder resolutions that do not achieve the desired change in corporate behavior. Now that step one and step two have failed, it is time to move to the inevitable step three, and that is divestment. Not doing so puts at risk the integrity of the whole socially responsible investment model.
I want to make clear that I would not support divestment or boycotts from Israel as a whole. I do not support turning Israel into a pariah state. And it is precisely because of this that I support the churches’ measure approach to selective divestment. The resolutions under consideration–divesting from Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, and Hewlett-Packard–do not single out Israel, and they certainly do not single out Jews either. They single out specific corporate complicity with the occupation. Churches hold tobacco companies in their no-buy list, not because they believe that smokers are bad people. They do not single out smokers for criticism. They do so because smoking is wrong. In the same way, bulldozing civilian homes and making people homeless is wrong too. It does not matter whether this happens in Israel or elsewhere. The problem is not with the place or with the people, but with the action. This bulldozing is taking place in Jerusalem, where Palestinian homes are being bulldozed to make room for more Jewish settlements. Not condemning wrongdoing simply because it happens in Israel is singling out Israel. Israel does not need affirmative action; it needs to be treated exactly the same as every other state, not better, and not worse. This means acknowledging when it does things right, but also taking corrective action when it does not.
I’m thrilled that Mordechai has now signed on to our Rabbi’s Letter campaign in advance of the United Methodist Conference in Tampa this week, where the divestment resolution will be presented once again.
There will be much more to report on this important story – please stay tuned.