From Atlanta: JVP chapter’s letter to Atlanta’s Presbyterians

May 28, 2014

Dear Presbyterian Friends, Colleagues and Community,

This is a response to a letter from Rev. Joanna M. Adams, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta and the church session.

We are Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) members in Atlanta who have been working with Presbyterians to support efforts for divestment and boycott from US corporations benefiting from the Israeli military occupation. On behalf of JVP Atlanta and our membership, we wish to make a statement supporting divestiture and boycott of selected U.S. corporations because these corporations support the occupation of Palestine.

We all have a higher calling to follow G-d’s word to not oppress the stranger. We believe the divestiture and boycott follow Micah’s words (6:8) of “do(ing) justice” and the words of Leviticus (19:18) V’ahavta L’re’echa Kamocha’, Love your neighbor as yourself; every neighbor is worthy of love and compassion.

US citizens are obligated to ask US corporations to be accountable for their actions

Caterpillar, Motorola and Hewlett-Packard have been selected for boycott and divestiture because they have chosen to profit from Israel’s ongoing illegal occupation of Palestine and from the Israeli settlements. Boycotts are a personal, nonviolent way to show our displeasure with that behavior and to say “not with my money.” It is not a way to advocate for one side against the other. Boycott and divestiture is a “third way,” as it sends the message, nonviolently, that companies that support oppression of civilians living in Palestine are not to be valued by Presbyterians in the US.

Many Jews understand, from their long history of oppression by their neighbors who had superior military forces, that those who stand by and say nothing are supporting the idea that “Might Makes Right.” The US corporations who have been selected for boycotting and divestiture are supplying the tools used by the government of Israel that support the military occupation of Palestine. Supporting boycott and divestiture will create a more positive means of addressing the occupation and send a message that as US citizens we do not support US companies’ ongoing involvement and support for the occupation for corporate benefit.

Focusing on particular US companies, Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and Motorola, that continue to profit from the Israeli occupation, is one clear way we can stand on the side of justice rather than silently agreeing with the status quo of occupation that continues to make a lasting and harmful impact on Palestinian and Israeli lives. Because it is specifically focusing on US companies, it gives us an opportunity as US citizens to follow our conscience and promote US leadership for justice and peace rather than ongoing Israeli military occupation and oppression of Palestinians.

How will the relationships between Presbyterians and Jewish people be affected if we support boycott and divestiture from US corporations?

Sometimes as friends we have to challenge one another to become the best people we can be. If we remain silent about issues that may disrupt the status quo, then we are not fully honoring the authentic relationships we have built. To put it more simply: “ friends don’t let friends drive drunk” because we care too much about one another to do nothing.

It is important to note that there are Jewish Israelis who have asked us, as U.S. Jews, Christians and others, to support Boycott and Divestment as a nonviolent strategy to pressure the state of Israel to end the ongoing oppression of Palestinians through human rights violations and different forms of violence. The Jewish Israelis who have heeded this call are doing it at great risk of being targeted by the Israeli government and society by vocalizing this support, and of alienation because they are speaking truth to power. Their call for allies in the United States and around the world is specifically to address the injustices they see toward Palestinians; it comes from their desire for a genuine just peace with Palestinians and for a state that acts ethically toward all people.

Silencing the inevitable support for the movement to boycott and divest from US companies that benefit from the ongoing Israeli occupation of Palestine only serves to alienate ourselves from Jews of conscience, Palestinians and others in the US and around the world who already understand that a 47 year occupation has been ineffective in bringing peace and must end.

Genuine relationships challenge and help all of us grow to be better people; taking risks for justice is imperative

The strangling status quo of military occupation will continue as long as the true and honest friends of Israel and of Jewish people are silent and inactive. While we acknowledge the patient, loving and forthright bridge building which has been occurring between First Presbyterian and The Temple or between other Presbyterian Churches and Synagogues, we also have to speak out when there is indifference and silence to ongoing suffering. When Martin Luther King, Jr. was asked by the Jewish and Christian religious leaders from Birmingham to be ‘patient’ he responded with the imperative that we have waited too long…”It is always the right time to do the right thing.” The Palestinians have also waited too long; many strategies have been tried over a long period of time to end the occupation. We believe the time for pressure in the form of divestiture and boycott is now because there comes a time when one must “take a stand” as Viktor Frankl wrote.

As Jewish people who also have strong relationships with Presbyterians, Palestinians and Israelis, we feel we have a significant role to play in addressing and helping to end this suffering. Sometimes alienation does come from taking personal risk; however, when one person stands up for rights and justice and others support this, there is also a chance to build real community and to contribute meaningfully to a movement that brings about change to enrich everyone’s lives. Supporting Boycott and Divestment from US corporations benefitting from the status quo under occupation is a call to end suffering and a chance to redeem the strengths of our traditions through meaningful and restorative action.

There are many relationships that have formed between American Jews and Presbyterians who are taking a real stand and speaking out with moral outrage at how the US benefits from the occupation and the occupation’s ongoing impact. This relationship is not based on ‘balancing’ a Jewish voice with a Palestinian voice, but on finding the spaces of justice in which to work that include Palestinians, Israeli Jews and us as Americans, and demanding a more ethical world that is both righteous and a call from our various traditions.

Expectations of Conscience

We expect that some Presbyterians who have been in a dialogue with Jewish community members for a long time might feel anxious about how some of their Jewish counterparts might respond to boycotting and divesting from the US corporations that benefit from the occupation. However, you will also stand more proudly for having spoken in support of ending the injustices of occupation as US citizens. And you will be standing with other Presbyterians, other Jewish people and Palestinians. The anxiety is the moving force of change that gives us the opportunity to work together to reflect on where we can be better in our humanity. Could we go back in time, would we be proud of remaining on the sidelines while the Cherokee, the Black South Africans, or as Niemoller said, the Jews, the Trade Unionists, or the Catholics were being persecuted? Substitute Palestinian for any of those communities. We, as Jewish people in the US, are in support of the Presbyterian overture for Boycotting and Divesting from US corporations that benefit from the occupation. We will stand proudly with you as you speak with a conscience and against oppression.

In response to the Statement Concerning Divestiture and Boycott Adopted by the Session of the First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta, April 15, 2014:

• The conflict between the state of Israel and Palestinians is one about human rights and land and the desire for Palestinian self-determination rather than remaining a population indefinitely controlled by the Israeli military under occupation. The conflict is not cultural or religious; it is a 47-year military occupation.

• It is not an inability of both Palestinians and Israelis to reach a peaceful solution as equal partners in a conflict (because it is unequal and a situation of occupation), but a decision to prevent Palestinian self-determination since 1948 as archived in Israeli official documents. There have been at least three Arab Peace initiatives to have comprehensive peace with Israel along the 1967 borders which the state of Israel has refused to engage meaningfully as a possibility to have permanent and peaceful borders and neighbors. There are powerful interests that prefer occupation to peace. The US government has been engaged in this for decades.

• There are those in Israel who are determined never to grant the Palestinians independence. Unfortunately, the language of peace has been used as a ploy to fill the West Bank with settlement after settlement until the facts on the ground are such that an independent Palestinian state on the West Bank (and Gaza) is impossible. We must acknowledge that there is no such thing as a gentle occupation –occupation corrodes the humanity of the occupier and makes the occupied vulnerable to brutality.

• Any form of violence is untenable whether it is rockets fired on civilian populations or the everyday systematic control and oppression of Palestinians by the Israeli military and state. Daily violence including imprisonment (Palestinian children who are 9 years old are now being detained), house demolitions, limited movement and military court are just a few examples. It is clear that the massive power that the Israeli state has over Palestinian every day life is a different form of violence. Additionally, the majority of Palestinians have shown a constant commitment to nonviolence to address the violations of their human rights. We are heeding this call and are grateful for their compassion under such oppression and are proud to stand with Israelis and Palestinians who are doing the same.

• Our role to engage this occupation in a meaningful way is not between Jews and Christians—Christians have a history with Jews that will always need specific tending to because of the 1500 years of anti-Semitism. However, the responsibility we have as US citizens is to act ethically rather than stand by as our government continues to support the Israeli occupation of Palestinians. Doing so may risk some alienation but may also create opportunities for people to act in an ethical way rather than profit from occupation. By supporting the “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” (BDS) movement, we allow people to do the right thing by refusing to contribute to ongoing injustice. Refusing BDS is not neutral–it is one sided and a form of advocacy. It is a refusal to be in alliance with Palestinian civil society that called for BDS and with Jews of Conscience in Israel and around the world, including the US. Investment in relationship building must include Palestinian voices and experiences also.

• Recognize that there is no such thing as positive investment in a system of occupation–it actually makes it impossible for the majority of Jews and Palestinians in the region to have a relationship. In order to build bridges, Palestinians have to have the same rights as Israeli Jews. We have to be committed to dismantling the system of oppression; otherwise there is no real way to have friendships, relationships and alliances.

JVP Atlanta would be happy to speak and/or meet with anyone in your communities. We wish you success in the Presbyterian GA in June to pass the resolution for boycott and divestiture from US corporations. We also look forward to working with you and continuing to build meaningful relationships as people of faith and conscience, supporting justice and peace.

In peace and solidarity,

Ilise Cohen, Steven Bell & Free Polazzo

Jewish Voice for Peace-Atlanta

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