Forward Thinking

I'm a Rabbi and I Support Presbyterians' Partial Israel Divestment

By Margaret Holub

  • Print
  • Share Share

Jewish divestment advocates at the Presbyterian Church’s General Assembly in 2012 / JVP

A few years ago I was walking in the woods with a friend, a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church in Cape Town, South Africa. The Dutch Reformed Church was the leading promulgator of apartheid in South Africa, and they upheld the odious doctrine both politically and religiously almost to its end. I asked my friend what, with two decades’ hindsight, he wished his church had done differently during the apartheid years.

He replied sorrowfully, with a shake of his head: He wished his church had been willing to heed the words of rebuke of other religious communities around the world. But, he said regretfully, it was so very difficult to listen to these messages of chastisement when they felt so alone in the world.

As a rabbi who has studied in Israel and spent extended time in Israel and the West Bank over the past thirty years, witnessing first-hand some of the cruel details of Israel’s occupation, I was powerfully challenged by my friend’s words.

This week the Presbyterian Church-USA will be voting on an “overture” — their term — which is really a culmination of ten years of corporate engagement calling out three multinational corporations that manufacture equipment making it possible for the government of Israel to subjugate the people of Palestine: Hewlett-Packard, Motorola Solutions and Caterpillar.

When religious communities invest their funds, their choices bear witness to the world as they believe it should be. Choosing to remove your money from entities that offend your vision of a just world is not just an act of conscience; it is a speaking of the word.

It is powerful and painful to hear the word of conscience spoken in our direction as Jews. But we would be wise to listen, or at least to show respect, to the testimony being voiced by this selective divestment overture.

The Presbyterian Church-USA has long used the placement of their material resources to speak their vision of justice. Over the past 30 years they have spoken the language of conscientious investment to oppose apartheid in South Africa, to call for mine safety in the U.S., to oppose certain kinds of weapon manufacture and trade and to protest unjust regimes in Burma and Sudan. This year, in addition to considering divestment from the three corporations involved in the occupation of Palestine, the PC-USA will also be hearing overtures to divest from drone manufacturers and fossil fuel developers.

Their process is elaborate, one might even say ponderous. The PC-USA has been involved in escalating steps of “corporate engagement” with these three companies about their enabling of the occupation for a decade, and they are only now at the point in their process of contemplating divestment.

I will be joining a rainbow of allies within and outside the PC-USA at their General Assembly in Detroit this week to support their overture for selective divestment. Along with my friends in Jewish Voice for Peace, I will be joining hands with Palestinian and Arab-Americans, members of other churches and of the Muslim community and a particular concentration of young religious and secular activists in support of the divestment overture. The Church will also be hearing from people in the American Jewish community who oppose this overture. It is a mark of the church’s integrity that their process is so open to input from people outside their own ranks.

Our greatest hope is that the Jewish people would hear selective divestment from these corporations as what it is — a form of tochechah. It is a rebuke from our neighbors in the American religious landscape, calling us to task for a cruel policy that brings pain to their own brothers and sisters in the Palestinian Christian community and to all who live under Israeli occupation. Far from being hate speech, it is the speech of conscience.

We believe in fact that the Presbyterian Church has many new friends to gain in the Jewish community and beyond it through its courageous witness. We may not share all of our beliefs or political commitments. Such is the beauty and difficulty of coalition work, or of any kind of spiritual companionship. We have much to learn from each other, and in long-term relationships our differences are as important as our points of convergence.

We in Jewish Voice for Peace have come to the Presbyterian Church-USA in gratitude for their brave overture, in appreciation and friendship. We look forward to bearing witness and speaking out together — it will be a fine model of true interfaith partnership in action, arising from shared passion for justice and willingness to hear each other out.

Ultimately this entire effort is not about which organizations will sit at which tables with whom in the American interfaith world. It is about demolished homes and destroyed olive groves and soldiers forced to commit unconscionable acts against people who yearn for what the soldiers’ own families yearn for. It is about a seemingly intractable conflict that destroys lives. And it is about people asking themselves, personally and institutionally, how they are complicit in maintaining this unbearable status quo and using their own resources to speak out, honorably and conscientiously, to call for a change.

Rabbi Margaret Holub is co-chair of the Rabbinical Council of Jewish Voice for Peace.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Presbyterian, divestment, Jewish Voice for Peace, Israel

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.